Sports addiction

ALEX BLAISE

Cameron Hayward, 22,
has no qualms letting his
feelings about his favorite
team, the Philadelphia
Flyers, be known. On any
given day, one can find him
sporting a jersey from his
collection and talking about
the latest news involving
his beloved Flyers.
Hayward attends at least
five games a year, watches
every game of the season
regardless of their standing
in the Eastern Conference of
the NHL, and coyly admits
to calling out of work to
catch a playoff hockey
game. When not watching
them on television,
Hayward finds himself daydreaming
about his boys in
black and orange on a daily
basis.
But while his fervor for
the Flyers is clear, his love
of hockey (and during football
season, the Eagles) is
balanced by his lack of
interest in sports such as
baseball and basketball. “I
don’t really watch basketball
or baseball, but at this
point in the year hockey is
on twice a week and I’ll
watch that religiously,”
Hayward explains.
While his fanaticism is
shared by thousands across
the Philadelphia area – a fan
base whose passion for the
Philadelphia Phillies and
Eagles recently gave them
the Top 2 positions in GQ
magazine’s “Worst (But
Passionate) Fans” article – it
also raises a question: At
what point does passion for
sports turn into an addiction
to them?
Addiction is defined as
the compulsive need for
and use of a habit forming
substance, or persistent
compulsive use of anything
known by the user to be
harmful. Millions of
Americans struggle with
addiction on a daily basis;
it’s a fact of life. These
addictions range from
drugs to hoarding to gambling,
and include everything
in between. In an era
of constant technological
advancements, with people
going to extreme measures
to achieve pleasure and
enjoyment, addiction seems
more common than ever.
Addicts range from young
students to old folk – every
age range is represented,
with no one in particular
being spared. And while
we’ve all heard of addictions
to drugs, alcohol or
gambling, addiction has
taken on many new forms.
One new form that has
come into prominence is
sports addiction, egged on
by the advent of ESPN text
alerts, constant TV and
Internet coverage, and more
venues than ever before for
placing bets. While participating
in sports is a considered
a healthy activity,
sports addiction – which
involves (but is not limited
to) the constant watching of
sports and gambling on
sports events – can easily
become problematic for
those who fall into these
patterns.
While some see it as an
addiction, others maintain
that it is merely an interest –
not something one can
become “addicted” to.
Rick Murphy, 21, scoffs at
the idea of sports addiction,
believing that it is nearly
impossible to be addicted to
sports.
“An addiction is when
something compels someone
enough that they can’t
live without it. I don’t
believe in such a thing as
sports addiction,” Murphy
says.
While Murphy maintains
a healthy interest in sports,
watching casually three or
four times a week, he does
not watch TV on a daily
basis. He also feels it is different
if your paycheck is
tied to a sports club.
“It’s different when sports
are your life, if you’re a pro
athlete. It’s definitely not
like a crack addiction; it’s
more of a dedication,” he
says.
Hayward agrees, believing
that addiction is too
strong a word to describe
the passion most fans (particularly
those of
Philadelphia teams) have.
Though Hayward claims to
know over 10 people he
would classify as sports
addicts, he doesn’t brand
himself an addict. While he
admits to having missed
some important events
because of his love affair
with the Flyers, he believes
he has “unwavering pride”
for his team – not the “INEED-
TO-FIND-OUTWHAT-
IS-HAPPENINGRIGHT-
NOW” that sports
addicts tend to have.
With an addiction to hard
drugs and alcohol, users
who stop will go through
physical withdrawal symptoms
that make them easily
identifiable. With sports
addiction, the physical
symptoms are not as prominent
as other addictions –
however, it can cause a
myriad of emotional and
psychological problems.
Dr. Laurence Steinberg
believes that sports addicts
often let the fates of their
favorite teams affect them
in many ways that could be
unhealthy.
Since receiving his Ph. D.
in developmental psychology
from Cornell University
in 1977, Steinberg has been
teaching psychology at
Temple University. Though
only a fraction of his
patients are sports addicts,
Steinberg has helped counsel
a number of patients
with all forms of addiction.
With addictions ranging
from drugs and alcohol to
shopping, Steinberg has
seen it all.
“The line that is drawn
between a fanatic and an
addict can be traced to very
simple specifications,”
Steinberg explains.
“It doesn’t necessarily
depend on how much time
one spends watching each
week, but whether or not
the amount of time one is
spending is negatively
affecting their lives. If handling
your obligations have
become sidelined to your
sport of choice, it’s pretty
obvious that this lifestyle is
becoming problematic,” he
adds.
Though there are not yet
rehab clinics specifically
catering to sports addiction,
it can be just as detrimental
to a person as other forms of
addiction.
One example: A man in
China let his house burn
down as he watched the
World Cup in 2010. While
his wife and baby were
forced to make it out of the
house on their own, the
man had the foresight to
save one object from the
smoldering house, his television.
Soon after, the man
wasted no time finding the
nearest plug to continue
watching his beloved soccer.
Like other addictive
lifestyles, sports can provide
an escape of sorts,
enabling individuals to
avoid thinking about certain
feelings or problems
they do not want to confront.
And as with other addictions,
sports can release
pleasure chemicals into the
brain, making the watcher
feel good. Much like a
cocaine user who needs
more and more of the drug
to get the desired effect, the
same can be said for the
sports addict. The more the
activity is done, the longer it
takes for the user to achieve
the pleasurable feeling.
But the question remains:
how long will it be until
doctors find a difference
between “fanaticism” and
“addiction” and stop classifying
them as one and the
same? How long will it be
until sports addiction is
taken seriously enough to
require rehab and extensive
therapy to control?
These are important questions
when watching sports
becomes more about avoiding
the harsh realities of life
than about seeking pleasure,
and when, instead of
getting exercise and enjoying
the outdoors, life quickly
becomes lost in the haze
of a television screen.