Sports are ultimately about community, lecturer says

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Youngstown State University Communications professor Dr. Adam Earnhardt speaks about his daughters love for sports. The lecturer used this anecdote to argue that people engage in sports fandom for several reasons, one of them being identity.

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

In the wake of the Philadelphia Eagles’ first Super Bowl championship, communications expert Adam Earnheardt turned his audience’s attention away from the field and to the stands at a lecture Monday.

Earnheardt’s talk was the debut event for UT’s new Center for Sports Communication and Media, CSCM Director Michael Butterworth said. Earnheardt, chair and associate professor at Youngstown State University’s department of communication, said people primarily watch sports to find a group to identify with.

“A big reason why we do this is to feel this sense of community,” Earnheardt said. “My whole family identity was wrapped up in being a Steelers fan … We bask in the reflective glow of our team’s success.”

Brittany Stevens, marketing and sport management junior, was one of around 35 audience members. Clad in an Eagles shirt, she said her dad lives in Philadelphia and is still reveling in the victory.

“I Facetimed my family and there were cheers,” Stevens said. “My dad had tears in his eyes. He goes, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment.’”

This phenomenon is not unique to professional sports. Earnheardt said college is where many students first become invested in a team of their own choosing.

“We go (to games) for social connections,” Earnheardt said. “We go to be with people. In college, we’re surrounded by people our own age and sports are something to get behind.”

Texas Pom member and journalism junior Talia Hill attended last weekend’s sold-out basketball game against the University of Oklahoma, which ended in victory for the Longhorns. She said it was the loudest home game she had ever been to.

“There was one time we were losing by 10 or 12 points,” Hill said. “The whole crowd got up and started cheering. From then on out, we just shut them out, got our points back, got a close game, tied the game, then started winning. It was just really cool to see how much the crowd and the fans impacted the entire game.”

Hill said sports connect her to people she would never talk to otherwise.

“It’s a common ground for everyone,” Hill said. “Sports bring people together.”

Earnheardt said sports are a safer topic for conversation than more controversial subjects like politics and religion.

The lecture series will continue April 30 with the Frank Deford Lecture in Sports Journalism.