‘Crazy’ Sports Fan, or Call for Help?

Publishers from Bleacher Report, Forbes, CBS and beyond have filled the internet with headlines about “crazy sports fans” since the beginning of digital sports journalism. Their lists are itemized for all-time, by league, and/or for specific tournaments such as March Madness and the NFL Draft. Granted, the use of “crazy” to describe anyone has rightfully subsided significantly as a woke society has done away with schoolyard name-calling, or at least publicly. Although, some residue remains when it comes to sports media (for example). We’re not here to discuss semantics. Instead, we want to shed light on underlying issues that could lead to someone being dubbed a crazy sports fan by broadcasters and journalists after being tossed out of an arena or stadium, et cetera. America should not be so quick to dismiss their bad behavior without understanding what may lead to it. Please read ahead for further insight.

Underlying Issues that May Compromise the Behavioral Health of Sports Fans and Lead to Bad Behavior During Games and Events

The Let-Down of Affective Forecasting

Affective forecasting is a term coined to describe a trait that some people have for predicting how they will feel in the future.

“Affective forecasting is when you try to predict your emotional state for the future. It’s a common experience outside of sports. ‘I’m going to be so happy when I get that job’ or ‘If I could just be a millionaire, I won’t be depressed anymore.'”

Daniel L. Wann | Professor of Psychology, MSU

Research has suggested that depression and anxiety symptoms may be linked to biases in affective forecasting. If a sports fan has tethered their expectations of happiness to a certain outcome such as a championship title for their favorite team, you can imagine the negative impact on their mental health should that outcome not unfold. However, there’s a flip side to this affective forecasting coin.

“‘Then they finally won it and it was great, but it wasn’t euphoria. Because when they won it, you’ve got a kid that’s home sick or you got a big project that you’re working on at work. You kind of forget that when the Cubs win the World Series, there’s actually other stuff going on in my life as well. So there’s no doubt that people look forward to these events and think they’ll be fantastic, and they will be, but it sometimes doesn’t measure up to our expectations.’”

The Psychology of Fanaticism

Researchers have found affective forecasting to be unreliable in decision making due to another term called projection bias. Projection bias refers to the tendency to project one’s current preferences into the future, which can lead to let-down even if said goal is attained. If a sports fan doesn’t achieve the desired state of happiness when an outcome is realized (a championship, etc.) they may feel as if nothing can get them out of their mental and emotional slump. This may cause them to fall deeper into depression which may cause resentfulness or irritability that could lead to bad behavior.

Sports Fan Depression?

You may have heard of something called sports fan depression, which is a term thrown around after major events such as the NFL Super Bowl and MLB World Series unfold. While it is certainly not a diagnosed mental health condition, it can feel that way for some fans on the losing side. It has even promoted the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) to publish a list of 5 Tips for Defeating Sports Fan Depression.

Ultimately, if someone is experiencing heightened signs and symptoms of depression during a sports event or tournament, they probably already have some form of depression. Bringing a preexisting condition of that nature into an environment where emotions run high, be it at a stadium or in a sports bar, can lead to irritability and aggression (symptoms of depression). For these individuals, therapy for depression becomes a critical component to managing concerning behavior around sports events (and life in general).

Acute Grief

In many cases, sports fan depression is a mislabelling of acute grief. Acute grief can be connected to an unfavorable outcome of a game:

“So in this particular sense, it’s more grief to begin with and what we would call acute grief, which is that initial intense feeling after a loss takes place. So that’s when you get that kind of crying, like, anger, frustration, disappointment, all those really complex feelings that we don’t like talking about and we don’t like admitting, especially when it comes to sports.”


Acute grief can cause people to lash out and become aggressive. This aggression may manifest as verbal harassment of opposing fans, athletes, coaches, and referees, but can also lead to physical confrontation. If acute grief is experienced by someone who is already struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental or behavioral health disorder the potential for more explosive behavior grows.

Alcohol Abuse Connection

Research has confirmed a correlation between alcohol abuse and violent behavior among sports fans. This probably comes as no surprise to most Americans. That being said, it’s important to recognize that other risk factors may be involved. Sociocultural characteristics are a risk factor, as are event/venue layout and security response to concerning behavior. In addition, studies have examined other factors that may cooccur with alcohol use and bad behavior in a sports event setting, such as thrill seeking personality, impulsivity, psychopathy, the false consensus effect, the Bedouin syndrome, and alcohol expectancies. Existing studies ultimately conclude that future research is required, but it’s reasonable to suggest that anyone who has a complicated relationship with alcohol use should steer clear of sporting events (in-stadium or at bars, etc.) until they get the help they need.

The Problem with Sports Betting

There is another thing that is leading to concerns about sports fan behavior – the proliferation of sports betting – namely online sports betting – in America. Ever since the federal ban on the activity was removed in 2018, threats against athletes, coaches, refs, and supporting staff have been on the rise to the point that the FBI has gotten involved. It’s important to note that aggression and violence (not just threats) are very real signs and symptoms of problem gambling. While in some cases threatening behavior is a matter for security and the police to solely handle, supposedly fanatical sports fans who harass and/or threaten may also require intervention for gambling disorder.

Kindbridge Behavioral Health is America’s leading counseling resource for athletes and athletic organizations, which involves helping mitigate the mental health fallout that can come from dealing with irate fans and sports bettors. However, we’re also here for the latter who struggle with their mental and behavioral health too. Reach out via the contacts provided below to speak to a Kindbridge care coordinator accordingly.

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