Correlation or Coincidence: Are Teams Influenced By Tragedy?

You’re reading this because you either found a link online, or were pointed here by someone. We won’t even pretend that you have our site bookmarked or you’ve subscribed to our podcast. We talk sports and the news that corresponds to it. Every week we do our best to write about the current happenings and keep it all on-topic.

With all of this writing, a certain amount of research goes into each post we write. While reading about the Houston Rockets latest win over the warriors, writing a subsequent post about Tilman Fertitta’s move to give 300 seats at game 5 to the senior class of Santa Fe High school, the Las Vegas Golden Knights beating the Jets and advancing on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I noticed something in common between these two teams. A recent tragedy. Both cities are in the running for their championship after a tragic event affected their city and region. Intrigued, I started looking farther into this.

Correlation or Coincidence

Aside from the Rocket’s success, and the Golden Knights making it to the Stanley Cup Finals, there are other teams that had success in similar circumstances too.

  • In 2001, after 9/11, the New York Yankees went to the World Series, although they lost to the Diamond Backs in game 7.
  • In 2006, after Hurricane Katrina devastated their city, The New Orleans Saint won the 1st NFC Championship in their franchise’s history and had one of their most-successful seasons ever.
  • In 2013, following the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in game 6.
  • That same year the Boston Bruins went to the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals and took it to 6 games.
  • In 2016, following the attack on Dallas Police officers that claimed 6 lives, the Dallas Stars won the central division and made it to the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
  • The Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series last year in the wake of the devastating floods in Houston that caused billions in damages and took over 80 lives.

When a Broken City Needs a WIN

Most recently, the shooting at Santa Fe High School weighs heavily on everyone. Every channel is broadcasting images and videos, showcasing opinions on what should be done or changed in society. Everywhere you looked, on every channel, information on what, who, and why was a fixture on every screen you saw. The politics of it all have become a battlefield because of the decisiveness of the subject.

People want change, but getting anywhere in discussions proves extremely difficult. My social feeds are full of people calling for gun control, with the other side defending the Second Amendment ruthlessly; no one wins. Not my friends, not the perpetrator, not the victims, not even the politician that proposes new legislation.

I’ve said to my wife many times that when people are upset, angry, and very outspoken about anything, I feel that what they’re after can be boiled down to seeking a “win.” I mean that in the sense that they need to feel heard. They need to feel like they aren’t helpless, beaten, broken, and worthless. They need to be recognized and know that they matter. That’s why most of these arguments can’t be settled or resolved. Each side wants to win. (Us vs. Them)

They Need a Win. 

For many people the go-to escape from hardships and everyday life is sports. Sports teams are an integral part of life for that reason. Teams give people an additional identity. They unite people  that typically wouldn’t mesh together in pursuit of a common goal– a WIN. Teams do this by helping people put aside their personal differences, and encourage a spirit of cooperation and pride. When you put all of this together it almost appears as though the team knows the city needs them. The city needs a win, and instinctively the team plays with a deterministic drive to get it for them.

How Sports Teams Build Resilience in their Fans and City

A lot of science and research studies have gone into human coping and adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, and major sources of stress. Rebounding or bouncing back. The term for it is resilience. It isn’t necessarily a trait you have or don’t have, but a process and set of behaviors, actions, and a way of thinking that is acquired and learned. The American Psychological Association lists the following ways to build resilience, and I’ve added how I think that sports teams contribute and facilitate in building resilience among their fans.

Making Connections

Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

Teams become a symbol of their city and a part of their fans identities. In the simplest way, having a common love for a team or for your city helps humanize other fans, and brings people together with that common interest.

Helping People Avoid Seeing Crises as Insurmountable Problems

You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

Seeing your team in contention for a championship gives you hope. The horrific events are still on you mind and you need some good news. For sports fans, tuning in can take the tragedy off their mind and replaced it with a scoreboard, even if for just an hour or two. And there is a real possibility that something great and amazing could happen.

Nurture a Positive View of Yourself

Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

Win or lose, each hometown (and even the nation) still loves their team. Teams can become the poster child and spokespeople for the city. They tend to personify and fortitude and hive-like personlity of their constituents. They promote awareness and push forward the progress of healing. (#BostonStrong #VegasStrong) Through competing, they instill a sense of pride and hopefulness throughout their fanbase.

Maintain a Hopeful Outlook

An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

Giving fans something to look forward to throughout the days and weeks following a tragedy helps to build and maintain consistency in people’s minds. In some cases people will look to watching the series, playoffs, or finals as a type of obligation. Throughout the day, they’re hoping their team takes the W. Following through and meeting that obligation can be a small accomplishment which helps build resiliency. It carries on after the fact as well, and helps the healing process.

We are with you

All of this begs the question, “Do recent traumatic events in a city have an effect on the way the local team plays?” Causation does not equate correlation, but is it even quantifiable? I don’t know for sure, but I know awesomeness when I see it. While there will never be a clear answer to how or why, or even if there is some intrinsic effect a tragedy can have on a sports team, it sure does feel great for everyone to see it happen. Even if your team isn’t in the running, as a society we all want everyone to be successful and overcome challenges– especially those who have had to deal with heartbreak. We want to see good things for you, we want to see you win the championship.

You need a win, and we all want it for you.

The Houston Rockets face the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 tomorrow at 8:00pm ET/6:00pm PT.
The Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to the Stanley Cup Finals; they’ll face the winner of the game between the Lightning and the Capitals; game 7 is tonight.

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