Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Relationship between Sport Fan Dysfunction and Bullying Behaviors

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Relationship between Sport Fan Dysfunction and Bullying Behaviors

Article excerpt

Recently, Wakefield and Wann (2006) identified a subset of fans they labeled as dysfunctional fans, those spectators at sporting events that are overly aggressive with opposing teams, fans, and officials. These fans are typically disruptive, confrontational, complain a great deal, and abuse alcohol while attending sporting events. These actions often carry over into their social interactions and experiences. For example, a person who complains openly about the officiating at a sporting event, screams at fans of the opposing team, and uses physical aggression toward others in relation to a sporting event could be considered a dysfunctional fan. Subsequent research indicates that dysfunctional sport fans are highly identified with a particular team (Smith & Wann, 2006). However, unlike highly identified non-dysfunctional fans, dysfunctional fans act out in inappropriate ways (Wakefield & Wann, 2006).

In a recent study, Donahue and Wann (2009) examined the relationship between level of fan dysfunction and perceptions of the appropriateness of spectator verbal aggression in sport settings. Previous research (Rocca & Vogl-Bauer, 1999) had focused on the relationship between team identification--the extent to which a fan feels a psychological connection to a team (Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001)--and perceptions of appropriateness of the violent actions of spectators. This research found that higher levels of team identification predicted greater beliefs that verbal fan aggression was appropriate. Donahue and Wann (2009) attempted to extend this research by examining the impact of fan dysfunction. These researchers found that when level of dysfunction was included in the regression model, dysfunction was a significant predictor of the perception of the appropriateness of verbal aggression, but team identification was not. Thus, fans with high levels of dysfunction not only act in verbally aggressive ways (Wakefield & Wann, 2006), they believe that such actions are acceptable.

In the current investigation, we were interested in furthering our understanding of fan dysfunction by examining the relationship between bullying and fan dysfunction. Bullying involves repeated and unprovoked physical or mental harassment of others (Duncan, 1999; Olweus, 1979, 1991; Slee & Mohyla, 2007). Further, bullies often demonstrate aggressive tendencies, possess low self-control, and hold positive attitudes toward violence, seeing it as an acceptable way to solve a problem (Bentley & Li, 1995; Olweus, 1991). Bullies also have been found to report higher levels of loneliness than do non-bullies (Tritt & Duncan, 1997). Oftentimes, the bully's goal is the humiliation or control of the victim (Slee & Mohyla, 2007) and they routinely target weak victims, such as those with special needs (Bottroff, 1998).

Aggression may be consistent across the lifespan. As such, we examined the extent to which having been either a perpetrator or a victim of bullying as a child predicted level of fan dysfunction as an adult. The aforementioned descriptions of persons characterized as bullies and dysfunctional fans share some clear commonalities. For instance, both persons have a tendency to be aggressive, may lack self-control, and have positive attitudes toward violent actions. Furthermore, both bullies and dysfunctional fans are disproportionately likely to be male (Hazier, Hoover, & Oliver, 1992; O'Moore & Hillery, 1989; Smith & Wann, 2006; Wakefield & Wann, 2006). Given the potential similarities between bullying behaviors and the actions of dysfunctional fans described above, we hypothesized that the amount of bullying as a child will predict level of fan dysfunction as an adult. However, the relationship between having been bullied as a child and fan dysfunction as an adult seemed less clear and thus, we were not able to generate a specific hypothesis for this relationship. Rather, the relationship between being a victim of bullying and level of dysfunction was examined within the framework of a research question stating, "To what extent does having been a victim of bullying as a child predict level of fan dysfunction as an adult? …

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