So how did I become a massive Michigan fan, and how did that translate to wanting Michigan State to lose every game for the rest of human time, and perhaps beyond?
I spoke with Duncan on the phone this week, and she told me that the creation of a sports fan has a number of requirements, including a specific geography, family affiliations and the sense of kinship one may get from being a fan of a team. She said that in many ways, sports fandom “forms similar to other kinds of identity, where you start associating with folks who have something in common. And then you can feel support from them. You feel that sense of winning when your team wins, or that sense of defeat when your team loses.”
In other words, if Duncan is right, I became a Michigan fan because I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and was thus surrounded by Michigan fans, a family of sorts with which I created a kinship around university life, classes and — you guessed it — Michigan sports. We socialized at Michigan games, and created bonds and relationships centered around watching Michigan sports that have stood the test of time.
And if Michigan and the school’s sports made up the in-group — the group with which I found kinship and belonging — Michigan’s rivals were the out-group. Sure, Michigan State and the University of Michigan are both public universities in the state of Michigan, but I found no kinship with the people of East Lansing (and, I presume, they did not with me).
In our conversation, Duncan elaborated on how our connections to our political identity are markedly similar — our political understanding is largely based on where we are and with whom we socialize.
“When your political party wins, same as when your team wins, you feel that sense of winning yourself. Or when your team loses, you feel that loss similarly.” She added that based on her research in sports and politics, those kinship ties also impact how we perceive bad news about our favorite teams.
“You know it’s gonna take more than simple facts for you to believe that your hero of a sports coach has actually looked the other way while sexual abuse happened. Or it’s going to take more than just facts for you to realize that your political party isn’t headed in the same direction or doesn’t share your same values,” she said.