IN-GROUPS, OUT-GROUPS, & SPORTS FANS

How your favorite sports teams influence your judgment more than you know.
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Tonight is Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and I’m swimming amongst Lightning fans back here in the Tampa Bay area. Let me preface this by saying that I’m pulling for the Lightning, but my #1 team is the Anaheim Ducks since I was born out there and started playing hockey in Anaheim. Yeah I know, we suck ass and this season was trash, but one good thing came out of it. It lets me look at all the teams in the playoffs in a completely objective manner. 

 

I love the dedication and passion Lightning fans show their home team, because it really is beautiful to see a community come together in the way that Tampa and its surrounding areas have. Only thing is, most of these fans here in the Bay only just started riding with the Lightning in the last few years, or even began this season. Earlier today I had a few separate conversations where I attempted to bring an objective comment to a group of Lightning fans and let me tell ya, it was shot down quicker than a black man in Alabama in each instance. If you follow the NHL, you know that the Vegas Golden Knights have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals and a lot of people are pretty salty about it. 

 

The basis for this saltiness against Vegas stretches across a few different reasons. Some are mad because they feel like Vegas was gifted a special team and it was unfair, others think they’re just lucky, but I found that most hockey fans are upset because they feel like Vegas fans are undeserving of such a great season, since they didn’t even have a team to root on prior to a few months ago. 

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But, then I started thinking. Who the hell isn’t going to root on a team that starts balling? We see it year in and year out across every professional sport, yet when it comes to a team in their inaugural season, it’s all of a sudden different? The argument that once Vegas is trash again, their fans would disappear, just wasn’t cutting it for me, because that’s just simply how it works for all teams regardless of how new or old they may be to their respective leagues. I mean after the Lightning won the cup in ’04 and were trash again by ‘06, the stadium was completely empty game after game. And this lasted for a solid 6-7 years.

 

It was then that I offered up this comment about Lightning fans being the same way, because prior to 5 years ago when they started making serious playoff runs, absolutely no one was at the games. At this moment, I was a damn target. I was “shitting on my own city”, I was “accusing lightning fans of being fake”, yadda yadda yadda. As I sat there shaking my head, I started realizing that this irony amongst Lightning fans was simply just human nature. For me to get mad at myself or my friends was silly since their feelings were coming from a place not many people know much about: the unconscious.

 

This conversation I was having was a real time psychological example of the biases between In-Groups and Out-Groups. An In-Group is defined as any group that people feel a part of and an Out-Group is defined as a group to which they are excluded from. We’ve seen In-Groups and Out-Groups across history and time and see it in our most basic, daily routines. For today’s purposes, Lightning fans are the In-Group and Vegas fans are the Out-Group. Putting yourself into an In-Group will only naturally affect how you see your own place in the world and how you view others. The power of this is insane. Despite having objective evidence that contradicts or points out flaws in a statement, members of an In-Group will still flat out deny it or get hella defensive over it. But like I said, this is only natural! I’m sure if my buddies are reading this, they’ll LOVE seeing that I take our conversations and use them to analyze human nature. (Sarcasm Intended)

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One’s affiliation with an In-group is an essential component in one’s own self-image. Maybe that's why my friends thought I was being a dick when I was simply pointing out something that I thought was objective. It’s crazy how our unconscious mind fuels our emotions when faced with something that goes against your self-image or In-Group.

 

A really cool example of this includes three different men who had all claimed to be Jesus Christ himself. Once introduced to each other, only one out of the three “Jesus’” realized their fault and gave up their argument. But, the other two, in the light of contrary evidence, continued to insist that they were Jesus. The 2nd “Jesus” commented that the others were obviously mentally ill and that he wasn’t while the 3rd “Jesus” completely avoided the issue altogether. While this example clearly plays on certain mental disorders that my friends don’t have (or at least I don’t think they do), it still immediately came into my mind while trying to make my point. Even when there is tangible evidence that stands contrary to your self-image or your In-Group, one will go to great lengths to dismiss it. Oh, how the unconscious mind loves to toy with you. 

 

Again this is all just conjecture, for all I know, I could be talking out of my ass right now. But, my whole point is that no fan should be out here trashing a team’s fan base when they themselves are in the EXACT same situation or will be when their team’s reign comes to an end. Because if you haven't been there through the shit, it makes it hard to argue otherwise. This goes for all you Golden State Warrior fans too! But, if anyone reading has been in the same boat as I was, don’t get upset or think you’ll be able to have that point read. It’s not the fault of your peers or friends, it’s just how the mind works and we don’t even know it. I just hope this article makes people realize that so even members of said In-Groups can be openly objective, because I think that’s a key component of human nature that’s missing and could be used to make an incredible difference on social, cultural, and political levels. I mean, just think about the impact that would be made if people stopped and thought about every argument faced instead of racing to fight against it. So, much love to all my boys out there repping the Lightning, but being a new fan of a team that hasn’t endured a bad season puts you in the same boat as these Vegas fans who also don’t know what a bad season is like. Go Bolts, Go Knights, Go Psychology.