January 28, 2018

Rachel Strella

Should Sports Rank Among List of Polarizing Topics?


I often advocate the avoidance of controversial topics on social media.  Bar rules apply – no politics, no religion.

There are times I think no sports could be added to this list. It’s crazy to consider, given that bars are where many congregate to watch games. Don’t worry. I’m not lobbying for this anytime, soon. I also notice not all sports could fall under this category. But, hear me out.

We witness inflammatory online conversations, especially this time of year, in anxious anticipation of the Super Bowl. As playoffs begin, some are heckling while others are downright outraged.

Take the 12/17/17 Patriots vs. Steelers game, for example.

My husband destroyed our living room.  My Dad did the same. I’ve never seen anything like it – over a football game! And, that was minor in comparison to the posts on Facebook. Steelers fans were infuriated at the loss. While the fans banned together and commiserated over the loss, they also ignited a fury of hate talk on the Patriots. Accusations of cheating and crooked refs overtook my Facebook feed.

Dare I say that sports are as polarizing as politics?

It’s Personal

I admit that I do not spend much time following either topic, although I fulfill my civic duty of both (sports by virtue of marriage, of course!). I do, however, have a special interest in people. What motivates them to do what they do?

Those who follow sports, or a specific team, do so because they have an allegiance to it. For some, it was their family upbringing which carried over to them. For others, it’s their hometown, alma mater or current city. Some, like my husband, pledged his loyalty based on a specific memory tied to a team.

While these reasons are different, they have one thing in common… there is an emotional attachment.

Those who follow politics do so for a variety of reasons, as well. For example, some stand firm on a specific issue such as gun control, health care, taxes or immigration. Others are loyal to a party or to a candidate. Many also want change, which was a prominent argument based on the outcome of the last presidential election.

Again, different reasons, but the same common theme. It’s personal.

It’s Tradition

The last presidential election had a primetime viewership of 71 million. And this was one of the most watched election nights in history. The September 2017 presidential debate between Clinton and Trump totaled a record-breaking 84 million viewers, not including those who streamed videos online.

The last Super Bowl had just shy of 112 million viewers. Over 60 percent more people watched the Super Bowl than the Presidential election. Granted, a portion of this number – about one-third – are outside of the United States.

If I shared all reasons why Americans find it more important to watch the Super Bowl than the Presidential election, I might run out of bandwidth on my blog. Generally speaking, I believe sports – namely the Super Bowl – are weaved into the fabric of our lives. It’s part of the American tradition like celebrating a holiday.

That doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games, especially if your team is playing. Or, if your team was in the running and lost. And, especially, if your team was already defeated by a long-time rival.

It’s Bound to Cause Friction

#Strella client, Paul Endress, posted a video blog predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl. His prediction has nothing to do with loyalty to a team, but rather on intention. I cautioned him about the promotion of this piece. It could rub opposing fans the wrong way. Time will tell as I watch his social media closely. (Kudos to him for his bravery, by the way)!

We are emotionally invested in our sports teams.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as a good sport? Or, do you see why sports could be as polarizing as politics and religion?

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