Dehumanization and the Science Between Athletic Rivalries

Ever since sports have been around, there have been rivalries between the people who play it. The Yankees vs the Red Sox, the Steelers and the Ravens, Michigan State and Michigan, Mcgregor and Diaz. These are all rivalries that are synonymous with sports, ones that everyone in America knows and, when they collide, people love to watch. And it shows in ticket sales, according to this article. The average ticket price for a regular season baseball game is $39, a very acceptable fee, all things considered in 2016. However, this jumps up to over $100 in the first season series of the Yankees/Sox, showing a heavy demand to see the biggest rivalry in baseball go another year. The question is, why do we care so much about rivalries, or sports in general? Why does it happen? Is the correlation between rivalries and higher interest related? Or is it just due to chance, which we learned is always a possible answer? Likewise, is reverse causation an option? In essence, I’m asking if the rivalry creates the fanbase, or does the fanbase create the rivalry?

A major reason that we care for rivalries in sports is simple, it keeps us together. Rivalries are a way of linking ourselves to our past, something that humans desperately strive for. In human nature, it’s incredibly common for us to want some sense of routine and comfort. Likewise, we also enjoy rivalries due to the rituals it provides for us. If we associate a Ravens/Steelers game with a good memory, with us cheering with family or loved one in the stands as your favorite team won, it makes us want to see those two go at it again next year. Our mind will associate the good memory and sense of belonging with the team, making us fans of said team for life.


Like most of you, I associate my favorite teams in sports with my family’s favorite teams. I like the Yankees because my dad likes the Yankees, and he does because his dad did, and it goes on and on. The main reason for this, according to the same article, is because we learn most of things in life from our family at an early age. We do so in order to get closer with our family, the people who provide for us, giving us a bond that we share for life. Likewise, it’s often the team that is on TV or that you see live first, usually resulting in that now being your “team”, the team you most associate with that sport. It is very rare for people to go out of their family’s team and find their own, but it does happen. In reality, however, most of the time you stick to the same teams your parents like, showing that family bonds is a strong proponent for your team choice.


Why do fans go so crazy for ‘their’ football teams?

Shifting gears, I want to talk about what makes a good sports rivalry. The reason is three-fold, and the first reason a rivalry exists and people come in droves to see it is that there has to be a common between the teams. Whether it be that they’re in the same division (like the Yankees/Red Sox) or fighting over a title (McGregor/Diaz), people need to relate the two teams together in order to care that they’re fighting each other. Likewise, people need to see these matches often in order to care. When Texas and Texas A&M stopped their long series of matches every year, people stopped associating it to as a rivalry because they don’t play one another anymore. Teams need to play each other at least once a season, or in big match situations, and it always has to be important for people to care. Lastly, the people playing need to be on a relative skill level to one another in order to people to care for it. If the Yankees blew out the Red Sox for 10 years straight, people wouldn’t be excited to see them face off anymore because they already would know the results. It’s true that often sports rivalries have a very close win/loss record against one another-The Yankees only have won barely 50% of their games over the Red Sox in 116 years (about 50.6%), according to this article.


McGregor and Diaz going toe-to-toe in the biggest rematch in UFC history

In sociology, the classic idea of in-group versus out-group mentality makes you view this rival team or even rival team fans as lesser human beings. You become biased in your group over the out-group, making everything they do or like wrong and everything you do right. This can even turn into dehumanization, or the aspect of stripping away human characteristics from people in order to not relate to them. This is done on a larger scale in war in order to have soldiers not feel as bad about killing people, making them see the enemy as monsters over humans that have families. Similarly, governments will play propaganda videos like this one in order to make citizens hate the enemy, making them out to be evil and us the “good guys” in order to keep their support during the war.

In sports, however, this in-group mentality can also create dehumanization, making us feel above our rivals in some way or another. We often view normal sports calls as “bad calls” or “rigged” when playing our rivals. When we lose to them, we don’t accept that they were the better team. It all goes against our in-group mentality. Therefore, the correlation between violence between teams and their fans can be attributed to this dynamic.

So, in essence, you choose to follow sports rivalries because they’re always interesting, they relate back to good memories for you, and because they connect you with others, making you feel included. Basically, sports and rivalries keep us together and make us feel like we belong, something that is inherently important to us as humans. Obviously, the leaders of sports teams want you to be invested in the rivalries in order to create more revenue for them, making them richer in the process. Likewise, those covering it (ESPN, NBC, ABC) want you to tune in so they get more money. Basically, everyone wins, which is why sports and rivalries are so huge . This rivalry also creates the ‘rabid’ sports fans you see on TV, causing damage, fights, and even rioting when their team loses. When they lose, we feel like we lost too. That’s part of the in-group mentality mentioned earlier in the article. And we view the opponents as cheap, or hate them for no apparent reason simply because they’re our team’s rivals, and we are indoctrinated to do so by the media, by our family, and by our very own minds by dehuminization. The next time we play Maryland or Pitt in football, remember that the other fans are just like us, and remember their players are people too, and try not to get caught up in rivalries.

Thanks for reading:)


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One thought on “Dehumanization and the Science Between Athletic Rivalries

  1. Erin Johnson

    I relate to this article so much because I am a Ravens fan and I cannot stand Steelers fans. I am from the Washington, D.C., area and anything Pittsburgh related is so unwelcome. The reason this is so prevalent is because we end up playing Pittsburgh teams in the most important games of the season year in and year out. Also, my brother went to Clemson and the Clemson vs. USC rivalry is insane!!!!! The fans talk so much smack and my brother has been punched in the face by a Carolina fan before.

    Rivalries are what make sports so interesting in many cases. It’s the most anticipated game of the season and it gives fans something to look forward to. And having a team to represent makes you so proud. I know that I speak for all Penn State fans when I say this…..WE ARE until the day we die!!!!!!!

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