Fandom and Sport: Encouraging Hate
Participation in sports is often justified and encouraged on the basis that it builds character. Sports are good for people, these arguments claim, because sports create an opportunity for individuals to develop good character traits. In this paper I challenge the idea that sports are good for people. I do not challenge the idea that sports leads to the development of virtues in those who participate; instead, I claim that sports leads to the development of vices in those who spectate. In particular, I argue that fandom encourages and normalizes a form of hatred that is incompatible with good character.
This paper analyzes three common traits of sports fans: caricaturizing the other; wishing ill on another; and vitriolic speech. I show that these traits are both common features of fandom and morally undesirable. While I think most people would acknowledge the undesirability of these traits, many fans think that the context of sports constitutes an exception from this rule. Indeed, some sports fans glory in their hatred. I argue that there is nothing about the context of sports fandom that justifies this behavior. Quite the contrary, the hateful attitudes and behaviors that fans exhibit bespeaks a loss of humanity that comes with both psychological and moral costs.
While there has been much concern about the potential for fans to become violent, this paper addresses a different aspect of fandom: its harmful effect on character development. Because fans typically outnumber players, often by a long shot, this gives us reason to question whether, on the whole, sports are good for people. It also gives us an opportunity to rethink how fans are “coached.” Just as good coaching enables sports to contribute to good character, perhaps good coaching can enable sports fandom to contribute to good character. I conclude the paper with some ideas on how we can coach both youth and adult fans to make fandom consistent with good character.