Sport Fanatica

by Howard Fienberg

the MacDougal, Dec. 6, 1995, Issue 23.

Flipping channels on cable TV the other day, I made a peculiar observation. The comparison was between European football games and North American baseball games, the assumed games of choice for the respective regions. Obviously, they are drastically different sports, but what is most important is the behavior of the fans. Euro-fans scream; they shout and they cheer and they sing in unison (if not in key). They launch deat hthreats at the supporters of the opposing team, and, as numerous riots can attest, they sometimes try to carry them out.

Then one watches the baseball fan. They eat hot dogs and guzzle beer. They will cheer for their team, but support is weak and fickle. In fact, some such as myself will watch other events (ice hockey in my case) on their neighbor's portable television set. (Note: I HATE baseball.)

Thus is American sport a more couch-potato event, while Europeans rush the field, and their children scream profanities. Why?

One explanation holds that the nature of the popular sports are fundamentally different. Baseball is slow, plodding, and non-contact; football is fast-paced and exciting. The violence level differs as well: where ice hockey (another North American sport) players beat the snot out of each other in a winter free-for-all reminiscent of a boxing match, football players pat their opponents on the back for making good plays. The North American players embody and express the violence and excitement which might otherwise be exhibited in a euro-fan manner.

Another explanation is in warfare. Europeans in general have not had a good war for fifty years now. they get to fight each other only though the vessels of their football teams; as such, Manchester United versus Paris Saint Germaine takes on a much greater significance. back in north America, where wars are waged all too frequently, sport is mere entertainment.

Perhaps I am making too brutal a presumption on human nature, but I doubt it ...

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