Fan co-dependency: Why we expect perfection from our heroes and idols says a great deal about us . . .

The model posits three habitual psychological roles (or roleplays) which people often take in a situation:

  • The person who is treated as, or accepts the role of, a victim
  • The person who pressures, coerces or persecutes the victim, and
  • The rescuer, who intervenes out of an ostensible wish to help the situation or the underdog.

from the Karpman Drama Triangle – Wikipedia

Amongst the many revelations that came about through my interview with renown sports psychologist Dr. Jack Singer this past week was the fact that fans are in reality enablers for athletes behaving badly.

Say again you make be thinking?  Are you suggesting that the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis’ involvement in a bar shooting or hockey’s Theo Fleury’s drug abuse are the fans’ fault?  That we as fans are responsible for our sports heros (and musicians, Hollywood stars etc.) poor conduct?!?

Why these are nothing more than multi-million dollar babies who don’t know when they have it good, and appreciate how the fans spend their hard earned money to support them in their luxurious lifestyles!

What they need is a collective kick in the pants, that’s what they need.  Lousy, spoiled no good #0@!

Conversely, athletes are sometimes prone to complain about fans who constantly and insensitively tread into their private lives without so much as a fleeting consideration that athletes are human beings just like them.

As an NFL professional, each and every Sunday I play through pain to entertain you unappreciative fans so that your life can have greater meaning when we finally hoist the Super Bowl trophy over our heads knowing that you will somehow leech onto our accomplishments on the field as if you did something more than sit on the sidelines with a beer and hot dog picking your collective noses!

What I do off the field and in my private life is none of your business so just back-off!!!!!

Does any of this have a familiar ring, if not for yourself then perhaps someone you know?  Certainly there is no shortage of public ravings against fans on the part of professional athletes.

Ironically, such behaviour within the context of a relationship or marriage would be deemed to be abusive and destructive, with pretty much every relationship expert suggesting that both parties go their separate ways before they do some irreversible damage . . . that is if they hadn’t already.  Does anyone remember the Wesley Snipes – Robert DeNiro movie the fan?

The trailer for this 1996 movie provides an accurate, albeit dramatic depiction of the roller-coaster ride that is the fan-professional athlete relationship.  An uneasy alliance in which the individual dynamics that converge (perhaps collide would be a better word) in a jagged exchange reflects the at times unhealthy co-dependency that is more indicative of the Karpman Drama Triangle than an innocuously distracting pastime.

Consider the range of feelings that were on display during last night’s sixth game of the World Series in which both player and fan alike were emotionally tossed about like an unanchored boat in a stormy sea.  For me, this connection was best illustrated by the announcer’s comment regarding former Ranger pitching great, turned team President and Owner Nolan Ryan.

Nolen Ryan Then and Today (insert)

As the old pro watched anxiously, one of the announcers made the comment that Ryan likely wished that he was on the mound during a crucial point in the game when the Rangers were for what seemed like the umpteenth time either an out or a strike away from winning it all.

Think about that for a moment.  Here you have a Hall of Fame athlete who, despite being one of only 29 players in baseball history to date to have appeared in Major League baseball games in four decades, wishing that he was pitching.  How many fans in the stands shared those same sentiments or at least the same nervous tension as the game and championship were, with each pitch, held in the balance?

Perhaps it is the purity of this crescendoed high that is the ultimate connection through which both player and fan come together in harmonious union.  And perhaps it is not so much this high or the game itself, but instead the longing to replicate this feeling that distorts its fevered innocence and joy.

After all, and in an earlier interview with three former professional football players, one of the many interesting comments that came out was made by former Offensive Lineman Milan Topolovech who admitted that it is a high to take to the field in front of a stadium full of people and try to hit someone.

Like an addict seeking to recreate or replicate that high, both the players’ and fans’ addiction to the game points to a much larger problem the extends well beyond the arena to include our views and values of life.

In the next instalment of this 2-Part Series I will examine this phenomenon from first the players perspective, and then step back, or in the case of a fan sit down, to gain the vantage point from the seat in the stands on what will undoubtedly be a revealing tale of crossed-similarities.


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