The Tribalism of Sports

Minnesota split the border battle even with Green Bay this past Sunday, but losing the second game of the series always stings, let alone losing at all. It was in this matchup however, where we were reminded of the tribalism of sports. The border battle is a serious rivalry, one that’s gained a lot of steam in the last few decades, and now more than ever are we seeing its repercussions.

To start off, let’s define tribalism so we have a set guideline to follow. Merriam-Webster defines tribalism as “tribal consciousness and loyalty” or more simply put, strong in group loyalty. The way this term attaches itself to sports is the tribalism, and therefore loyalty, we develop for teams either in our city or state, teams that attract our attention and admiration through other means, and so on and so forth. This level of attachment builds up over time, and as we’ve seen in the recent matchup between the Vikings and Packers, when it’s in full effect, it can be quite the sight. Fans begin to talk trash, jeers and insults are thrown, and in some circumstances things get personal. Now how can football drive people to say such things, let alone sometimes acting upon them?

The human spirit is rather competitive, and since us football fans weren’t blessed with the God-given talent of these athletes, we have to settle with engaging with the sport the only way we can. We become fans, armchair quarterbacks, tailgating super fans that live and die by a team in silly uniforms violently crashing into each other for a few hours. It’s a primal instinct to not only be entertained by this, but more so to be so attached that you act as if you’re a part of it yourself. There are fan bases across the NFL that are often viewed as “less passionate” or a more absent group of supporters, such as Chargers fans or Jaguars fans. The Vikings and Packers however, do not have this problem.

The two old, storied franchises have devoted, loyal fan bases, for better or for worse. Either way, the intense rivalry that finds itself as the heart of this conflict is old, and even predates the teams themselves. Ask any Minnesotan or Wisconsinite (if you can find one sober) and they’ll tell you about the rivalry between the states. It’s petty and mostly all in good fun, but it’s always finding ways to be relevant in competition. In fact, competition’s probably been the healthiest way for these two states to bloody each other up instead of something stupid. So, we decided a football game twice a year was what was going to settle bragging rights, the holy reward.

This past matchup was nothing special historically, Lambeau Field is a notoriously difficult environment to play in, let alone as the border-state rival with playoffs on the line. Historically, there’s all kinds of moments to harken back to as examples of the heated exchanges, whether it be Randy Moss mooning Packers fans, or the Hell Rodgers has put this team through for the last decade. The matchups are intense, emotionally exhausting, and most of all, the ultimate contest for who gets to dog on who for the next few months, or year depending on the stakes of the game. This last one especially, is going to sting for some time. Jaire Alexander locking down Justin Jefferson and doing the griddy in the first damn quarter are signs that he’s going to be a very interesting piece of this rivalry for years to come.

Some of us Vikings fans experienced some, “interesting” banter during the game, and it happens. Like it or not, this rivalry is going to bring out a very competitive and oftentimes aggressive energy from both sides. It’s rare to find a game in this series that didn’t see intense trash talking on both sides, it’s a part of the sport, and more importantly the tribalism of sports in general. That idea of loyalty is taken very seriously in sports. We wear the jerseys, we buy season tickets, some of us go as far as to make players our profile pictures on social media with it being a big trend to even add the team’s record for that season in the username of one’s Twitter profile. Sports Twitter is a different beast altogether (follow us at @nfcnorthreport btw).

Social Media has seen itself as a prime catalyst and an exponential source of growth for the display of loyalty sports fans show. It’s much easier to talk trash when you don’t have to do it in their face after all. Some people take it immensely personally, and far too seriously because of the lack of consequences. These are the same people who make supporting these teams their entire personality, which is simply the most extreme of sports tribalism. They’re essentially stans of their teams, which brings me to a far more comedic, yet interesting revelation with this topic.

Sports fans are no better than stans of any variety. They’re birds of a feather with how obsessive they are with their respective properties. If I were to make a venn diagram of sports fans and K-pop stans, it’d be a circle. The aforementioned profile pictures and merchandise, the need to see them live, for God’s sake what’s the difference between a fan cam and a highlight reel? Nothing, and I find that hilarious. Point is, before you judge someone for an unhealthy obsession with a K-pop group, or pop artist, etc, take a look at your walls for whatever posters you have, your closet for whatever clothing you have, and your socials for whatever online displays you’ve made. Look in a mirror, and let people enjoy things, no matter how “cringe” or “corny” they seem. You like a weird thing. Think about the rules of football for one second and try your best to justify how it’s any better than being really into a band.

Some sports fans have found themselves developing borderline parasocial relationships with players, just look at the Tom Brady super fans. It’s all the same set of actions with a different flavor. What you like isn’t inherently more cool or “normal” than anyone else, as long as you’re not hurting anybody. Unless you’re a member of Bills Mafia, in which case, have fun breaking those tables you filthy animals.

The reason I’ve discovered this topic in the first place is my observation of European sports fans and their own personal experiences with this. They made that tribalism connection as sports in Europe are far more intense with how seriously they take things. In England, football (soccer) clubs are based within cities, and with how densely populated England is that’s meant that there’s countless clubs across all cities, developing serious rivalries with long histories. Seriously, Google the Newcastle-Sunderland derby or the North London derby, that stuff is MAD. We think the battle of Ohio is serious when every London club has another London club they want gone from the face of the Earth.

Tribalism is everywhere, it’s a primal nature within humans that we’ll never see dissipate as we keep finding ways to act upon instinct. Sports are the human substitute for war and conflict since throwing the pigskin is far more humane and peaceful than bloodshed, other than the Football War, look it up it’s pretty interesting. We’ve done it since the days of gladiators, and we’ll continue to do it for centuries more, if humanity makes it that far anyway. Regardless, Minnesota and Wisconsin will have to settle for 2 football games a year to settle their beef. It’s certainly better than nothing, as long as you don’t call anyone a slur or threaten anyone’s family, anyway.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x