Sports Championships: The Highs and Lows of Winning and Losing

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I am one of millions who watched this year’s Super Bowl.  I was bummed by “my” team, the Patriots, not winning; but, both games and life are matters of win-some-lose-some situations.

On Monday after the game, some headlines were: “After loss, Pats’ roadies face a miserable trip home” and “For fans, another enormous letdown."  The reporters interviewed sad fans who were “speechless … dejected … shocked … in disbelief …  disappointed … crying … heartbroken…”  Then, the next day, the headlines announced, “Still showing true colors,” and “Despite super letdown, Patriots faithful welcome their heroes.” [1]

Baseball fans have also been described as ‘incredibly passionate about their teams … they suffer bouts of depression … after a big loss or after … endless succession of losing seasons.” I read research quoted that identifies a list of the most depressed baseball cities. [2]  The cities of the Nationals, Athletics, and Orioles are the first three; Chicago, home of the Cubs, who have the longest streak of not winning the World Series, is ranked 9th in this list of depressed cities.

Increased number of suicides associated with defeats and rankings

Dr. Thomas Joiner, a researcher at FSU, has studied suicide behavior for a long time, looking at many factors. Dr. Joiner and his staff found that the number of suicides decreases on Super Bowl Sundays, and are fewer than those that occur on non-Super Bowl football Sundays.  [3] Results of another study showed that teams making the playoffs and winning a championship were both associated with a lowered local metropolitan area suicide rate.

An article identified results for four sports associated with increased numbers of suicide: the loss a soccer championship in England was associated with an increase in deliberate self-poisoning incidents; a higher rate of suicide among young men was associated with the defeat in an early game of the professional hockey playoffs in Montreal; lower ranks for college football teams were associated with higher suicide rates in Franklin County (Columbus, OSU), Ohio, and Alachua County (Gainesville, FSU), Florida; and the fewest number of suicides were recorded on February 22, 1980, the day the U.S. Olympic hockey team upset the Russian team (“Miracle on Ice”) than on any other February 22nd before or after that day in 1980.

Dr. Joiner hypothesized that a need to belong is a powerful influence in whether or not people think about, and attempt, suicide. He writes that when people think of themselves as part of the membership of a group of fans for a particular sports team, this perception of belonging, membership, meets a person’s “need to belong”, and can lessen and eliminate suicidal leanings.

What to do when someone’s disappointment lingers

Most fans are able to move on after a few days of feeling a bit bummed/ down by the loss and bragging rights associated with championships. I have a friend who manages this well; he mocks me when I refer to “my team”  or “your team”, saying, “It isn’t my team.” However, he has held two season tickets for over 20 years; watched the Red Sox when growing up, never gave up hope, and reveled in the championships of 2004 and 2007.  I recall when the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs in 2008, and I asked him how he was doing, he said, “Well, I’ll be disappointed for a few days, but basketball starts soon.”

For those of you who are a bit burdened by your disappointment, or have a loved one who is continuing to suffer, here are some ways to move forward, if even only to the next sports season!

  • Get a sense of perspective. Yes, sports give us a group of like-minded comrades, and a place to be, something fun to do. But, think about what is really important: hug your children, give special attention to your mate, be grateful for your good health.
  • Distract yourself from the sports schedule. You might have to avoid the sports news on TV, radio, and newspapers for awhile. Start a new routine – leave the house, exercise, get back to a project that’s been waiting for your attention.
  • Get healthier: eliminate the junk food, fats, sugars that have probably been the bulk of your game day diets; get 8-10 hours of sleep a night; drink lots of water to cleanse your system of fats, alcohol, etc, and hydrate.
  • If your sadness persists, see your doctor or counselor.
  • If you are thinking about suicide, or your loved one is talking about suicide, get help immediately.

In addition to the emotional and social highs and lows, the research also shows that the bad diets, the testosterone boosts, and the excitement can also result in some physical challenges: heart attacks, circulatory and breathing problems, tendency toward aggression and violence, and inertia. So, it is important to get back on track, and get in training for your next season.

--Charlene G. Gooch, Ph.D., MFT


[1] Several reporters. February 6, 2012, and February 7, 2012. The Boston Globe, Boston, MA

[2] Britton, Mark. (1980). MGLS Estimates of Suicide and Homicide Rates in 30 Metropolitan Areas (1971–1990)

[3] Joiner, T.E., Jr., Hollar, D. & Van Orden, K. (2006). On Buckeyes, Gators, Super Bowl Sunday, and the Miracle on Ice: ‘Pulling together’ is associated with lower suicide rates. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 25(2), 179-195

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