Let’s get this out of the way: Bob Carrothers likes sports.
“Generally speaking, I’m just a sports guy,” said Carrothers, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio Northern University and the chair of the college’s department of psychology, sociology and criminal justice. “As a sociologist, we say start where you’re at. I’m a child of watching ESPN’s SportsCenter.”
He takes a day off each spring to go to Cleveland Indians’ opening day game with his mother and brother for 19 of the past 20 years. He worked as a Little League umpire as a teenager. He really likes sports.
He’s also a sociologist with a doctorate from Kent State who studies what they do to us. He’s a little worried about some people’s obsessions with sports. He’s seen all levels of sports become more professionalize, with a game available at any time via television and the internet. And he worries what the superfans watching a high school football game on ESPN might be doing to their lives and their kids.
“These are high school sports,” he said over the phone Thursday. “There’s not a ton on the line there. And you see it at even lower levels, that they’re not getting the real importance. These are 6-year-olds playing soccer, and they’re not going to put a 7-year-old in the World Cup. They have a way to go.”
He expressed his support for a message the Ohio High School Athletic Association put on its website Tuesday, “Parents and Adult Fans: The Biggest Challenge Facing High School Sports Today.” It offers tips, such as act your age, don’t live your life vicariously through your children and stay in your own lane with officials and coaches.
I truly enjoy sports. I spent my first 10 years in journalism as a sports reporter and editor. I enjoy watching my children play their favorite sports. I’ve even coached a few of them. Nothing bothers me more than so-called fans berating players, coaches and referees who are all there for the love of the game.
According to the OHSAA, 62.3% of high school athletic directors nationally said their least favorite part of the job was “dealing with aggressive parents and adult fans.” There’s a documented national decline in sports officials nationally, according to a survey by Ohio University’s Online Masters in Athletic Administration. One soccer official, Brian Barlow, has a Facebook page, Offside, dedicated to parents abusing officials verbally.
They're not helping their own lives either, Carrothers said.
“Most of the time, the fandom is going to have some negative impacts in life,” he said. “… If the most important thing in the world to you is the outcome of a game on Saturday afternoon, there are going to be problems. Societally, the most important thing should be your role as a parent, a spouse, a worker. I’d say if you skip your kid’s birthday because a game is on, we’re worried about you.”
Being a fan isn’t all bad, though. People who can balance their lives and their sports obsessions actually have the opportunity to showcase something special about themselves.
“A lot of sports fandom has less to do with the players on the field or the franchise or university,” Carrothers said. “It’s more to show your hometown is doing well.”
That’s why you can yell out “O-H” at an airport in Istanbul, Carrothers said, and hear someone yell back “I-O.” It’s why there are Browns Backers clubs all over the world. It’s why strangers who are fans of the same team bond easily. It’s as much about showing your pride in your upbringing as anything.
“As long as people take sports as a positive, like it and it makes them happy, it can be good,” he said.