Assistant Sports Editor
I was 11 years old and in the sixth grade when America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Needless to say I was a little clueless about what was going on. The only terrorism I had ever experienced was when I would shoot people and then steal their car in “Grand Theft Auto.” But this was not a video game, this was real. I remember some teachers crying, students flipping out, news reporters not knowing what to say, people weeping on TV. America was truly chaotic that day.
With the world watching as America mourned, all I thought about was baseball practice after school. I just wanted to run to something so I wouldn’t have to think about thousands of people dying. As it turns out, this wasn’t an uncommon response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
I had the privelege of sitting down with Murray State psychology professor Daniel Wann and asking him a few questions about how sports played a role in the aftermath of 9/11. Wann has done multiple studies on the psychology of sport fandom and sport psychology. He has even written a book titled “Sport Psychology”which is used in psychology programs throughout the country.
DS: Did you see any behavior change in sports fans after the 9/11 attacks?
Wann: “Not really when it came to sports, but certainly you saw an increase in national pride and things like that. They were all standing for the national anthem for several weeks and you could see the unity and the cohesion. (The fans) were still rooting for their teams but you could tell that 9/11 for a lot of fans put being a fan of a team in its place. (Fans would think) ‘maybe I shouldn’t get quite so upset about my team not doing well, look at the bigger picture with all these things going on.’”
DS: Do you think people may have turned to sports to get their minds off of the attacks?
Wann: “Absolutely. As a matter of fact, historically that’s the decision that people will make and the reason they give for attending a sporting event. You can think about LSU football and Hurricane Katrina or Major League Baseball and World War II, there’s lots of examples where powers of being have decided life has to go on – these people have to have something to think about other than the tragedy in their lives. There’s no question that sport can serve as a major diversion in times of stress.”
DS: So do you think people may have become emotionally attached to a team after 9/11?
Wann: “You know, it’s possible. When we do research on why fans select the team they select we find out that there are thousands of reasons. Given that I’ve talked to fans (who say) “Well, I like that team because their uniforms are nice,” or “I like that team because of the names of the players on it.” The reasons are so far fetched I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody was not that big of a fan but they went to a game post-9/11 and felt this camaraderie with the fans and the nationalism which would be enough to get them sort of going in the team spirit.”
DS: What changed for the athletes and how they played after the attacks?
Wann: “I think for the athletes, I mean, that’s their job and there is a sense of comfort in doing what you know, there is a sense of comfort in getting back to your routine, so some of the athletes that you would hear would be like, “Yeah, I want to get back to the routine, I want to get back to the games and the grind,” because it was a sense of normalcy. Uncertainty is really stressful so we seek out routines to buffer the stress and I think for a lot of athletes that would be the case. I also think there were a lot of athletes out there who understood the place of sport in our society and how if they would go and compete for three hours the rest of the world could forget about the troubles and the dangers for three hours.”
Once a month I will be chatting with Wann about current sports issues, fan and athlete behavior, and anything else you as readers would like to know, so please send in questions with any interests you have pertaining to sports and I will ask Wann.
I’ve sat through some Murray State games with some of you basket-cases and judging by your behavior you may be mentally ill (I am too, it’s cool).
Therefore, you need to email me questions so we can find out what is wrong with you. OK? OK! Get excited.