RAGE AT THE SCREEN
Almost one-fifth of fans ‘always’ yell at the TV while watching sports, poll suggests
Tom Maguire and Jay O’Rourke don’t know each other, but they’d probably get along swell. Maguire, 53, teaches history and public policy at an affluent public high school in Westchester County, N.Y.
O’Rourke, 24, teaches calculus and geometry at an affluent public high school in Northern Virginia. They both seem charming and reasonable, self-aware and amusing.
They also both spent several nights this month yelling at the little men in hats running around on their television screens, a coping mechanism that nearly 6 in 10 sports fans nationwide say they practise at least “sometimes” according to a newly released Washington Post-UMass Lowell poll. The poll of 1,000 randomly selected adults, including 813 sports fans, finds that almost one-fifth of fans, 19 per cent, say they “always” find themselves yelling at the TV while watching sports.
And that includes two teachers who were passionately invested in this month’s Nationals-Cubs National League Divisional Series. Maguire, a lifelong Cubs fan, had words for his TV “20 or 25 times” during that series’s epic game 5. His wife doesn’t normally watch Cubs games with him, “but in the playoffs she does, and I’m fairly certain it’s because she’s afraid I’m going to have some sort of coronary event, and if she’s in the room she’ll be able to get 911 that much faster,” he joked.
O’Rourke, a converted Nats fan, yelled so loudly and so often during that same divisional series that his Adams Morgan neighbours told his roommate it was just too much, that he had to tone it down. O’Rourke hasn’t seen those neighbours since, but he worries about a chance encounter every time he takes out the trash. And he doesn’t even disagree with their assessment. After all, his playoff screams cost him his voice for a week.
“Even for me, that’s ridiculous,” O’Rourke said. “My students spent a week making fun of me.”
Both men laughed at their habit — yelling at Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker and Jerry Layne from your living room probably won’t change their decision-making processes — but neither likely will stop.
“Looking back on it, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” O’Rourke said. “But in the moment, it feels so right. It makes everything feel better.”
“For me — and I’m sure I learned this from my father — yelling at the TV and sort of expressing that frustration is cathartic and helpful,” Maguire said. “So when the game ends, I can say, ‘Ah, bloody hell,’ and go to bed.”
(Maguire’s father, incidentally, used to yell out “God bless America!” when the White Sox would frustrate him. His own expressions are perhaps slightly less wholesome.)
This sounds odd, right? Do we yell at the television during weather reports? Or during sitcoms? Or during political debates? (OK, bad example.) Do we yell at artwork on our walls, or at leaves falling from trees, or at the front page of the newspaper? (OK, bad example.) We don’t yell at the clouds. At least not usually.
But we yell at our televised sports. And it’s a response that binds a vocal chorus of all demographic, generational and even political backgrounds. Among fans, more than half of both men and women say they yell at sports on TV at least sometimes (56 per cent and 62 per cent, respectively). The numbers are roughly similar for whites and non-whites, for Northeasterners and Midwesterners, for Democrats and Republicans, for NBA fans and NFL fans.
“It’s worth just sort of reiterating that sports — even watching sports on television — causes really strong emotions and feelings and hormonal surges in people, and of course you react to these,” said Eric Simons, the San Francisco-based author of “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession.” “Despite that image of everybody shutting off their brains when they watch, in fact, this is exciting all sorts of stuff in your brain and your body.”
The Post-UMass Lowell poll also reveals how technology is changing the fan experience. While almost 9 in 10 sports fans watched a sport on television in the last year, about half checked scores online or on their phone, and over a third watched games or highlights on their cellphones. Younger fans and men are the most likely to reach for their phones to follow sports, with a 55 per cent majority of fans under age 40 watching games or highlights on their phones and 67 per cent checking scores online or on their phones. That compares with 22 per cent of those over 40 watching games or highlights on their phones and 41 per cent checking scores online or on their phones.
On the other hand, only 28 per cent of fans follow athletes on social media, although those numbers are higher for fans under age 40 (44 per cent) and for non-white sports fans (34 per cent).
Just over 4 in 10 sports fans, meanwhile, attended a professional sporting event in person over the previous 12 months. Men are more likely than women to have attended a sporting event in person (50 per cent to 36 per cent) while those most likely to attend games in person, by far, are those with incomes of $100,000 or more (68 per cent).
None of that is as jarring as our noisy dialogue with our glowing living-room screens. Groups of Americans more likely to say they yell at sports on TV include self-described “avid” fans, 81 per cent of whom yell at the TV at least sometimes and 32 per cent of whom do “all the time.” Other consistent yellers include those who bet on sports (76 per cent yell at last “sometimes”), those who play fantasy (73 per cent) and those who live in the South (67 per cent).
The avid fans, though, aren’t yelling to protect their wallets; they’re yelling to protect their hearts. And if you really ask them to think about it, maybe this habit seems a tiny bit less weird. O’Rourke was a casual Yankees fan as a kid in Connecticut but he never felt a real attachment; when he moved to Washington, D.C., he was drawn to the Nationals’ newness, the sense of building something, the chance to be in on the ground floor.
“It’s kind of like being a part of the city, especially with baseball,” he said. “If you invest yourself in 162 games, that’s a good half of the year you’re spending watching the team. It’s one of those things that’s always there for you. And it’s weird, but you kind of feel that sense of camaraderie, like you’re there with the team in the playoffs.”
Maybe that’s why he yelled loudly enough while watching Game 3 at an 18th Street restaurant that the waiter came running. Maguire, meantime, cited Roger Angell’s iconic 1975 essay, “Agincourt and After,” which tries to explain “the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.” More Angell:
“And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete — the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Maguire said of his habit, but it also shows that infantile and ignoble joy: the investment, the concern. “And I’ve always taken some comfort — recognizing the insanity of yelling through the TV at people who are a thousand miles away — that I’m expressing that caring.”
The Post-UMass Lowell poll was conducted Aug. 14-21 among a random national sample of 1,000 adults reached on cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, and is four points among 813 sports fans.
I’ve always taken some comfort — recognizing the insanity of yelling through the TV at people who are a thousand miles away.