Sports Fans, Catastrophisizing, and Certitude

As most of you know, I am a big fan of sports. Well, SOME sports — primarily college basketball, college basketball, and some pro football, in about that order. (That includes WOMEN’s basketball, for those of you who haven’t seen the light yet.) As a result, I spend a lot of time reading three sites:

If you are a regular reader of most sports sites, even these, you will know that the comments sections can range from relatively informed and enlightened discussions, to out-of-control dumpster fires, complete with burning couches, generous name-calling, and even the occasional application of Godwin’s Law.

I can put up with most of this. After all, I’ve been reading online discussion forums since America OnLine was called AppleLink. There are two characteristics of people on sports boards that drive me crazy: catastrophizing, and certitude.

Catastrophizing — Whenever one of “my” teams plays a game in a major sport, the site has a game thread. Some of these threads can get pretty intense, as well as large. (Card Chronicle, for example, has been known to have 2,000 comments in a game thread for the men’s basketball game.) And invariably, if the team is playing poorly, there are people on there who immediately go to “this team has no chance of (a) winning the ACC (b) getting into the NCAAs (c) getting past the first round (d) ever winning another game in the history of the world.” (Take your pick.)

This sort of thing drives me bonkers. There’s a big difference between “that was a bad play” and “he is a lousy player.” There’s also a big difference between “that was a bad play” and “he is a useless human being.” Yet, there are people who go right from one to the other without hesitation. I am sometimes slack-jawed at the leaps of logic, or lack thereof, displayed by these “fans.”

And I’m getting to the point where I call them out on it. Doesn’t always do a lot of good; but if this sort of thing takes hold too much on a board, all the reasonable commenters will leave. So, I do my part to point out to them their over-the-top despair.

Certitude — This one is related to the catastrophisizing, but not quite the same. While some commenters are ready to say “this team has no chance,” the Certitude crowd just states opinions and positions as fact: “This is the worst foul-shooting team Louisville has ever had.” Never mind that there are numerous stats pages where things can be looked up; these people just put things out there, knowing that many other fans will let it pass rather than take the time to challenge the premise.

This is a form of the Gish Gallop technique used in debating, and can often be just as effective. Fortunately, there are many readers on my two favorite sites who are both smart and good at statistics. (Part of the reason they are two of my favorite sites.) They are not afraid to push back if your certitude is not backed up with good data.

So, there you have it — two habits of some sports people that make me nuts. I suppose I should not let it both me; it is, after all, the Internet. But, even though sometimes I can overlook it, I sometimes feel compelled to challenge back.

And here’s the interesting thing: these two habits drive me crazy in non-sports situations, too! And I’ve learned to be sensitive to them because (drum roll) for many years they were some of MY worst habits. Being married to a loving wife who is not afraid to call you out has helped me deal with these habits in my own life — so now, I’m going to be the loving fellow fan and call them out as well. Wish me luck!