Sports Life Lessons: The View from a Team's Loss

Adam Rosenfield@@adamrosenfieldContributor IFebruary 24, 2010

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 20:  Werder Bremen fans show their dejection following their team's defeat after extra time at the end of the UEFA Cup Final between Shakhtar Donetsk and Werder Bremen at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium on May 20, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Like the rest of the athletics-crazed America, I love reading online sports articles. One of my favorite current sportswriters happens to be ESPN’s Bill Simmons.

While his mailbag and his homer tendencies towards Boston sports teams are items to joke about, the way in which he intellectually engages the reader through obscure sports statistics and his creative reasoning has the reader questioning differing aspects in the sports world.

A column I found particularly interesting—one of his hallmark pieces of writing—was the “13 Levels of Losing” article that is updated annually with more poignant examples that are used to cite his points regarding which losses hit worse for a specific team and their fans.

Notably, the 1986 Bill Buckner boondoggle ranked in a class by itself as “That  Game.” Simmons began this article before the success of the Red Sox, Patriots, and the Celtics, when Boston was a sports town which seemingly received all the bad breaks a sports fan couldn’t ask for.

With the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl win, much fodder was made over the impact the team made on the city, both in overall city psyche, as well as partial economic benefits.

While some in the media and the general United States brushed it off as simply part of the rebuilding process, a credible study performed by psychology professor Edward Hint of Indiana University found that:

“Fans identify so strongly with their teams that victory and defeat became personal. On a range of tests, fans basking in their team’s reflected glory after a win felt more optimistic about their own abilities, from mastering mental puzzles to resisting romantic rejection.”

Another study from the journal Economic Inquiry found that fans in cities with successful teams netted $160 dollar increase over their peers in total income. While not much in the grand scheme of a year, one could use this extra money to fund social endeavors for themselves in their city, plan a cheap vacation, or other activities of their choosing, while a fan of a losing team stays home.

Being a North Texas Mean Green Texas Longhorn and overall Dallas sports fan, this study caught me with particular intrigue.

The studies mentioned above mainly quoted the results related to NFL teams because that league was the only one where a team’s won-loss record had a quantitative effect on the fans’ well-being, and it just so happens much of the media coverage, as well as the vast majority of Saturday/Sunday Facebook statuses/Tweets in Dallas are focused on the Cowboys and college football.

Looking back on the four years of UNT football that I experienced, it made a lot of sense for me after reading the study that students seemed to have a huge disconnect to the university as a result of the football team, among other things.

While productivity in terms of income cannot be measured with college students due to a lack of income among many, attitudes and future alumni donations can be impacted by these performances.

When conversing with fans of both the Longhorns and the Mean Green, I noticed a large difference in their attitudes on life—mine included.

The Mean Green fans seemed to exude much more of a cynical attitude on life (yes, myself included) with little optimism on a variety of topics. The Longhorn fans seemed much more confident on a various array of subjects, and the body language conveyed a stronger self-awareness as well.

My attitude now paled in comparison to how I was four years ago. Then again, it takes a lot to be a die-hard Mean Green fan.

With regards to the rest of the Dallas sports scene: The city lives and dies with the Cowboys.

Though I consider myself a bigger Mavericks fan, the attitudes of many down here seem to be only impacted with every Cowboys win or loss.

Even in 2006, when the Mavs blew a two-game NBA Finals lead to Miami, the city morale was left unchanged because of the team’s average performance throughout their 30-year tenure in the NBA.

The same goes for the Texas Rangers, who are going on an 11-year playoff drought, and the Stars, even with a Stanley Cup in tow, are overlooked by many in the Dallas sporting public.

As an inquiring sports fan, I am left wanting more with this study.

What happens across the pond, where the national team reigns supreme over other teams?

How does it impact a country's morale, and if it does, what aspects of a country's psychological well-being are affected?

The most interesting commercial I’ve ever seen happened to be a World Cup 2006 commercial, where the narrator told about how warring factions made peace in the Ivory Coast after the country clinched its first-ever World Cup berth.

The questions are never-ending, especially when you consider a sport’s relative importance to a country.

What happens to citizens in India after a huge cricket victory over rivals Pakistan, the West Indies, or Sri Lanka?

If Australia defeats South Africa and New Zealand in Tri-Nations rugby, does their overall GDP improve as a result?

The possibilities are endless.


(The link for the Ivory Coast video is here .)