Why do fans boo?
By Stephen L. Carter
I am struck by all the speculation this past week about how Philadelphia fans will greet Donovan McNabb this Sunday. The consensus among reporters seems to be that they will boo him roundly, either because he has now joined the enemy (whether voluntarily or not) or because booing is simply their way. And despite McNabb’s own opinion that he will be cheered, I suspect that this is so. I have occasionally attended Eagles home games, and although individual fans are perfectly nice to invaders supporting other teams, it really is true that the crowd seems to boo everybody.
But, then, so do the crowds at FedEx Field. Redskins fans may be a shade less vehement in our hostility but we are hardly welcoming. I have been present at games where the crowd booed players Washington cut when they were introduced as starters for the visiting team.
Booing can arise at bizarre moments. In Scotland recently, fans booed the national anthem of Lichtenstein before a match, evidently because it has the same tune as “God Save the Queen.” In Montreal last spring, Canadiens fans booed the national anthem of the United States.
Why do fans boo, exactly? There are trivial explanations available – teaching some player a lesson for dropping a pass, for instance, or letting the other team know exactly how hated it is – but these only explain why the impulse exists. They do not explain why we yield to it.
Psychologists who study sports often apply the concepts of BIRG and CORF. BIRG is short for “basking in reflected glory.” CORF is short for “cutting off reflected failure.” The idea seems to be that when the team wins, the fans feel better about themselves – thus the BIRGing. Booing, then, may in a sense be the effort by the fans to be a part of the game. We cannot rush the opposing quarterback or block as our team tries to convert a third-and-one. We tell ourselves that, by booing the visiting team or cheering our own, we are doing our part, affecting the outcome of the game, and thus participating – that is, that we are BIRGing.
As Daniel L. Wann, Merrill J. Melnick, Gordon W. Russell, and Dale G. Pease point out in their fine book, Sport Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators, the more strongly a fan supports the team, the more likely he or she will try to influence the outcome of the game. Cheering and booing alike, then, may be seen as aspects of this central desire to be a part of the battle rather than a mere spectator. Sports teams, the authors point out, use such devices as cheerleaders and fancy scoreboards to try to get the fans to feel part of the game, and thus to try to participate – that is, to cheer or boo.
Sometimes, of course, fans boo their own team. This may be part of the experience of CORFing: the booing by the home crowd sends a message of withdrawal of support. True, the same crowd that booed a receiver a moment earlier for dropping a ball that hit him between the numbers will cheer an instant later when he scores a touchdown. This just shows that we are not really very good teammates – that our willingness to help the team depends on how well the team is playing.
A player who played hard only when the team was doing well would likely be benched. If the pattern continued, he would be cut. Fans who want to help the team win should follow a similar pattern. If we want to help the team win – to truly participate in the game – we might consider never booing our own players. And if we think that approach would make the game less fun, then there is something wrong with us – not the team.
Box Seats blogger
| October 1, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories: Redskins, Stephen L. Carter | Tags: Redskins, Stephen L. Carter
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