An Exploratory Investigation of Sportsmanship Attitudes among College Student Basketball Fans

Article excerpt

Some studies have shown that being a sports fan and more specifically one's level of team identification (i.e., a person's psychological connection to a team--Wann, Carlson, & Schrader, 1999) can have a positive influence on an individual's psychological and social well being (Wakefield & Wann, 2006; Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001). For example, Branscombe and Wann (1991) found that team identification was positively correlated with self-esteem and negatively correlated with depression. They also found team identification was positively correlated with "positive feelings" (e.g., happiness, contentment, and joyous) and negatively correlated with negative affect (e.g., sad, regretful, and hopeless). Individuals high in team identification also demonstrated lower levels of alienation. Additionally, Wann, Inman, Ensor, Gates, and Caldwell (1999) observed that highly identified individuals reported greater levels of psychological health (as indicated by measures of fatigue, anger, vigor, tension, self-esteem, confusion, and depression) than those less identified. As well, some have posited that identifying with a team increases a sense of community or social cohesion (Eitzen, 1999; Rader, 2004; Smith, 1988).

Contrariwise, there is also a dark side to sport fandom/sport spectatorship that warrants attention. Sport spectators engage in a variety of aggressive behaviors including verbal assaults, throwing objects at opposing players, holding up distracting signs, chanting derogatory statements, vandalizing, fighting, and sometimes even rushing the field to hurt a player or coach (Steinbach, 2008; Wahl, 2008; Wann et al. 2001; Young, 2002). Thus, there is a paradoxical nature of being a sport fan/sport spectator. On the one hand, some studies have demonstrated a link between sport fandom and improved psychological health/social well being. On the other hand, many sport spectators engage in a variety of harmful, aggressive acts.

In response to spectator aggression, major sport organizations have attempted to implement various sportsmanship initiatives and fan behavior policies. For example, in 2003, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) held the Sportsmanship and Fan Behavior Summit in an effort to decrease the amount of spectator aggression at college football and basketball games (Report on the Sportsmanship and Fan Behavior Summit, 2003). Additionally, in 2006, the NCAA's Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct Committee initiated an effort to improve sportsmanship in college football among not only players and coaches but also the spectators (Richardson, 2006). Also, at the professional level, the National Football League recently implemented a strict fan behavior policy against various forms of aggressive verbal and physical behavior ("NFL Implements," 2008).

The efficacy of some these initiatives and policies, however, is questionable given the persisting incidents of sport spectator aggression. Division I college athletics are particularly illustrative. Take for example, a large group of student basketball fans known as the "Pit Crew" at the University of Oregon during the 2007-2008 season. Numerous members were involved in making threatening phone calls to an opposing player's cellular phone as well as pelting the player's family members with popcorn cartons, empty cups, and also casting a variety of insults (Wahl, 2008). As another example, Illinois student basketball fans chanted profane language at an opposing player simply because he had chosen not to accept a scholarship from Illinois (Steinbach, 2008; Wahl, 2008).

Basketball is not the only sport where spectator aggression continues to be a problem in college athletics. For instance, during the 2007 football season, Rutgers students hurled verbal assaults at both the Navy players as well as those in military uniform in the stands (Steinbach, 2008). Newark Star-Ledger columnist, Mark Dionno, a Rutgers graduate and former Navy veteran stated, "It was the most classless thing I've ever seen" (Steinbach, no page number). …