Recently, in the British newspaper the Guardian, a soccer pundit was asked by a 6-year-old why grown-ups “like football more than saving trees.” We have our own answer: It’s because sports mean everything, so of course that equals more than stupid trees, kid. That said, we may be obsessed, and in that, we’re not alone—Eric Simons has written The Secret Lives of Sports Fans on the science behind sports obsession, tracking the physical and psychological effects of loving a team. But whatever the science says, we see five main signs you’ve given your heart to your rooting interest, and these books back up our thesis.
1. Your team is how you define yourself
Maybe you root for your alma mater; maybe for the team your mom loves; maybe you’re attracted to dreadful uniforms. Maybe you’re a fan of one particular player or coach, like David Beckham or Pat Summitt. Whatever it is, once a team gets under your skin, there’s no turning back, even if your team never wins (we’re looking at you, Grambling State fans). Nick Hornby spoke for all fans when he recounted his obsession with Arsenal football club in London in Fever Pitch (later execrably translated into a Boston Red Sox movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon).
2. You wear the replica shirt
Once you’ve hit upon your team, at some point you will deck yourself in their colors. Though we’re agnostic about whether grown men or women should dress in fake sports uniforms, the actual colors worn can sometimes mean more than a mere shade on the spectrum. When the Carter Cowboys of Friday Night Lights fame find their jerseys laid out for them before a big game, Buzz Bissinger remarks that it was “just like in the pros but better, these uniforms symbolizing something richer, something deeper, because if they lost they would never wear them again.”
3. You know the stats
As the Bible is to certain religions, so stats are to sports—call them its theological underpinning. Real sports fans have the numbers at their fingertips, but if you need a brush-up, the annual Sports Illustrated Almanac, covering all the major sports, will help. If baseball is your bag, and you really want to take your knowledge to the next level, graduate from Michael Lewis’ sabremetrics-obsessed Moneyball and go to the source: the Oakland A’s would have been nothing without Bill James.
4. You bet real money
Staunch belief in a team can lead you to putting your money where you mouth is. Sports wagering has grown in staggering ways in recent years—both on- and offline, the business is now estimated to be worth “hundreds of billions of dollars,” even though it’s only legal in Nevada and Delaware. We’re not suggesting you should do anything illegal, but Steve Ward’s Sports Betting to Win . . . just sayin’.
5. Your moods are governed by the game
In the end, you can probably judge your obsession level by how much a win or a loss affects your day/week/month/year/life. Again, you’re not alone, and perhaps this is the point: Sports obsession is a way of joining in, of being part of something shared and all-involving. According to that pundit in the Guardian article, we don’t care about trees enough because they are constant, and therefore not exciting enough. But surely no one could read Wayne Coffey’s account of the U.S. hockey team’s exploits at the 1980 Olympics and not find themselves on the edge of their seats (and that’s even if you know what happens)—take that, David Sibley.