When it comes to identifying something as primitive and primal as grief—an emotion that is not exclusively human and has been observed widely in species throughout the animal kingdom—it’s impossible to define a process that is unique to every individual experience.
That being said, there are, generally speaking, between five and seven stages associated with grief that have been widely identified and accepted by experts—emotional experts. And at any given moment there are sports fans all over the world knee-deep in the grieving process.
While this is only a temporary state of being for most fans, there are the exceptionally unfortunate few for whom grief—at one stage or another—seems to be a perpetual state of being. Like for Browns fans, who if it weren’t misery wouldn’t feel anything at all.
Not that the city of Cleveland has a monopoly on grief—it's just the majority shareholder. Let's split the difference and take a look at the six stages of fan grief as expressed via the interwebs.
Sometimes preceded or accompanied by shock, denial is often how fans power through the initial onslaught of emotion. In most cases denial quickly gives way the more painful stages that follow it, unless you’re an Ohio State or Notre Dame fan, in which case this is probably your only stop on the grief train.
Ohio State and Notre Dame are the 2 best teams in the country— Adam Lofreso (@AdamLofreso) December 6, 2015
Notre Dame is still the best in my heart and many hearts around the country. #NDMadeusProud— ☃Skyler☃ (@mrlampkin0012) November 29, 2015
The best Ohio State team to never be— Mike Higgs (@mikehiggss) December 6, 2015
Ohio State is still the best team in the country.......— Paulstradamus M.D (@small215) December 6, 2015
Ohio state is really the best team in the country— carter (@Carter_Ilich) December 6, 2015
I really think Ohio State is the best team in college football— Terrell Garr (@RumorRell) December 6, 2015
Seriously, there are thousands of these. In the words of Terrell’s wisest friend Marty, “that ship sailed cuz.”
II. Pain and Guilt
Many people coping with grief, sports fans in particular, advance directly from denial into anger, while others take some time to truly experience the pain and guilt that often come along with losing. Everyone has their own reasons for how and why they grieve.
Maybe it’s because they’re emotional masochists. Maybe it’s because they’re upset they wore the wrong socks, thereby personally impacting the outcome of the game. Maybe it’s something else altogether. But it all hurts just the same.
When the pain subsides, the anger rolls in and washes over us like a red tide that is red from rage, rather than an algal bloom. There are a plethora of ways in which fans are known to express their anger, damn near none of which are productive or even particularly reasonable.
I hope Tom Brady drinks bleach and dies.— Griggsay Online (@Griggsay) November 29, 2015
This referee better not catch herself in the same parking lot as South West Select Volleyball team🔪— kassidy granger (@kroygranger) March 29, 2015
I hope Lebron James gets herpes everywhere— Jazz (@Jazz_Lalli) May 21, 2014
I don't have a DeMarco Murray jersey to burn, so I did the next best thing and unfollowed him on Twitter. Traitor. pic.twitter.com/wDfDVMDwCj— Justin Hubbard (@JHubb93) March 12, 2015
Um...sick burn with the unfollow. Props for having the most proportional response to a free-agency loss, though!
This is Olivia Munn's fault. #Packers— Sam (@Sam_ThatWasEasy) December 14, 2014
None of my teams won today and I'm going to blame all of it on Olivia Munn. Not just the Packers, but my fantasy teams too. All her fault.— Matt Chic (@iammattchic) September 22, 2014
breaking up w Jessica Simpson was the best move for romo! go cowboys!— helen grazi (@hgraz) September 29, 2009
Lashing out at women irrationally is, perhaps, the least productive and most ridiculous of all the outlets for fan rage.
Except for, perhaps…
Probably not coincidentally, people tend to turn to a higher power after exploding into a fit of red-faced rage gets them nowhere, usually to apologize first, then ask for a favor. It's literally the only reason most people will utter the words, "I'm sorry."
“Dear God, I apologize for sending death threats to various players, coaches and opposing fans via Twitter, but if you give Johnny Manziel just a little of that Russell Wilson magic, I promise to go to church every week for all of eternity.”
Please God, let the Texans beat the ever-livin' hell out of the Cowboys. I'll do anything.
— Tyler martens (@TyMartens) October 2, 2014
Please God let the Cowboys win next week. I'll do anything
— Allure. (@AllureXoXo) December 22, 2013
PLEASE GOD!! Let the COWBOYS win!!! I'll do anything!! #CowboysNation— Talent Caldwell (@talentcaldwell) November 5, 2012
Please dear god I am begging you to make the cowboys trade for colt McCoy I will do anything to make this happen— Andy Driscoll (@driscollandy) October 28, 2012
Someone just informed me the Cowboys are not in the Playoffs today....how did I miss this...Heading to Church...God can do anything...— James L Walker, Jr. (@jameslwalkeresq) January 8, 2012
As you can see, Cowboys fans go to the God well a little too often, especially given Jerry Jones' steadfast support of one Greg Hardy.
V. Depression and Loneliness
With all that mess behind us, here’s where the crippling sadness sets in.
This is when all of the other feelings finally fade away, leaving nothing but an infinite black hole of devastation and emptiness.
The only thing sadder than depression and loneliness is acceptance, which only truly comes after a fanbase has been brutally beaten down long enough that sitting back and continually taking it on the chin is the only remaining option.
Acceptance among sports fans is about as common as championships in Buffalo. (Sorry, Buffalo! It just felt cruel to put Cleveland on blast again. Sorry, Cleveland!) So getting there is a special moment worth celebrating.
OK, maybe not celebrating. How about a conciliatory bro-hug of recognition instead?
Rock on forever, epic Washington State popcorn guy! You are a shining example of acceptance to all grieving sports fans.