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'Superfans' Goes Behind the Face Paint, Explores the Psyche of Sports Fans

Mike Morbeck

Anyone who watches sports - either in person or on TV - has seen them. The fans sitting in Lambeau Field on a 15 degree December day, with their shirts off, bodies covered in green and gold paint. Or the the guy driving down the street in a car painted in the Brewers’ color scheme.

"We sort of treat these people like circus freaks, right? Like, they're behind this glass - they're these weird people... I really thought, this can't be true, can it? These had to be normal people somewhat."

The term “fan” doesn’t seem adequate to describe how some people connect to sports teams. Writer George Dohrmann would have you use the term “Superfan.” Dohrmann is a Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter and the author of the new book, Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom.

As a long-time sports journalist, Dohrmann says he has encountered many superfans, but he generally interacted with them within the context of their fandom. He wanted to go deeper and look at the people behind the face paint. 

He says, "You know, we sort of treat these people like circus freaks, right? Like, they’re behind this glass - they’re these weird people. Maybe they’re deranged, you know? We make judgments about them. And so I really thought, this can’t be true, can it? These had to be normal people somewhat."

In Superfans​, Dohrmann profiles a variety of sports fans and gives a more complex view of who these people are and what inspires their fandom. 

He gives an example, "There's a woman in my book is, you know, just an insane Seattle Seahawks fan, like to the point that she has superstitions about what kind of Skittles she has next to her when she's watching the game, right?"

Dohrmann continues, "If you just talk to her about that she comes across as a little bit off, but then you talk to her about her substance abuse problem, she was in an abusive relationship, why she was drawn toward the Seahawks and why she embraces them so much - you can't help but look at that and offer at least a more balanced portrait of who these individuals are."

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect. Before then, she was a director and producer for Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm Chicago Public Radio.