Carolina Crazy

We all like to think that we carefully gather and evaluate facts and data before coming to our conclusions.  But we don’t.

Instead, we tend to suffer from confirmation bias and thus reach a conclusion first.  Only thereafter do we gather facts, but even so it’s only to support our pre-conceived conclusions.  We then take our selected “facts” and cram them into our desired narratives, because narratives are crucial to how we make sense of reality.  They help us to explain, understand and interpret the world around us.  They also give us a frame of reference we can use to remember the concepts we take them to represent.  Perhaps most significantly, we inherently prefer narrative to data — often to the detriment of our understanding.  Keeping one’s analysis and interpretation of the facts reasonably objective – since analysis and interpretation are required for data to be actionable – is really, really hard even in the best of circumstances.

That introduction is a helpful predicate to a perfectly obvious conclusion: fans are inherently irrational.  If we are exceedingly prone to various mental biases in life generally, when we’re in fan mode we can readily go off the rails entirely.  And when we’re in fan/rivalry mode, almost anything is possible.

With more than 30 years of perspective from my school days, I can now see what a great coach and a great man legendary UNC-CH Coach Dean Smith was.  The objective facts demand as much.  He won a then-record number of games and did it “the right way.”  More importantly, he was instrumental in the fight for racial justice even at a time when he didn’t have all that much clout.

But to me as a student in Cameron Indoor Stadium on game day, he was an arrogant blow-hard who sanctimoniously talked down to opponents, intimidated officials and got all the calls.  Of course, now that Coach K has passed him on the all-time wins list, I’m more willing to be gracious.  Even so, I’m still perfectly willing to argue that Dean — while terrific at recruiting and preparation — was overrated as a game coach.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the news this week of Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt being named Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman and Sportswoman of the year has been met with more than a bit of skepticism and consternation by many UNC-CH fans.  After the news broke, I couldn’t help but take a peek at Inside Carolina‘s message boards for a bit of reaction, since internet message boards tend to take typical fan insanity and rachet up the level of looney more than a few notches:  confirmation bias illustrated.

I was not disappointed.

Some representative comments follow.

  • “CongRATulations to coach summit.”
  • “To be fair, that Sweet 16 finish with the pre-season #1 last year was a pretty solid accomplishment.”
  • “Really.. Amazing!!  I guess it is sportsman-like to curse like a sailor at officials. I guess it is sportsman-like to teach players to flop to fool referees. I need a new definition.”
  • “Coach Rat would’ve been my 1,875,643,325,875,432…th choice.”
  • “Leave it to the rat to turn The SI Sportsman of the Year Award, a previously prestigious award, into just another cheesey award.”
  • “Does dSPN own SI too?”
  • “Sports Illustrated has hated us for years.”

Here’s my favorite:

“I guess it makes sense, if the definition of sportsman is ‘a d-bag who denigrates referees’. K is like the WWF (the environmental group): both make more money than they deserve, both are rotten to the core, but somehow both are believed to be saints.”

Of course, a silly Duke fan had to make a trollish appearance in the thread to tweak the faithful.  He noted that “I love any and everything that may ruffle the feathers of the Carowhina cheese and wine fans. Especially anything that pertains to Duke.”  That bit of delightful wit (Noel Coward’s legacy is not in danger) got him summarily banned from the site.

As fans, the more reasoned among us often try to “put some lipstick on the pig” and gussy-up our nuts with perfectly rational-sounding reasons why we are better than them, even though we have long-since decided that it is so, facts notwithstanding.  Indeed, some might argue that one of my favorite sites, the Duke Basketball Report, exists for precisely this reason (and I love it nonetheless).

As a Duke fan, I’m resigned to the reality that lots of people (and especially those wearing the wrong shade of blue) are going to think that Coach K is evil, that Duke gets all the calls and that the Cameron Crazies are a bunch of over-privileged poseurs no matter what a truly objective analysis of the facts might show.  It’s both human and all but inevitable.

I’ll even go so far as to say that it’s perfectly okay to be utterly irrational about your favorite team.   We’re fans — as in fanatics — after all.

About Bob Seawright

Bob Seawright first sat in Cameron Indoor Stadium as a student in 1978. He didn't miss a home hoop game while enrolled at Duke. His blog Above the Market is here.
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5 Responses to Carolina Crazy

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  1. Mike says:

    An article about a fanbase’s hurt feelings because of another fanbase’s hurt feelings because of an award? Whose feathers are really being ruffled here?

  2. BobSeawright says:

    Mike — *Nobody’s* feathers should be ruffled. This type of crazy is perfectly human and normal. We’re all prone to it. But thanks for reading.

  3. sanfransoxfan says:

    Bob – your first two paragraphs also perfectly define politics and political supporters, particularly since the mid-80’s (all sides to blame). The sad part is that as fans, we are only talking about “games” whereas politics lead to real-life decisions (or non-decisions) affecting us directly. That game should be taken seriously, and isn’t.

    Duke/North Carolina? Not so seriously. A rivalry to be enjoyed and treasured – it is after all likely the best part of either school, at least where men’s basketball is concerned. As to the true “haters” from both sides (IC and TDD come to mind), I find the numbers drop once you start looking at fans possessing actual degrees from either school. There is a certain built-in respect for a rival who worked as hard as you did to graduate while still being a die-hard supporter of their team.

    1. SFSoxFan —

      You make an excellent point. Confirmation bias plagues us everywhere. I wrote about it professionally here (among other places). My youngest’s honors thesis at Berkeley was on political polarization and the media (he’s continuing his research in grad school at Georgetown). Among the research discoveries he made was that the politically active believe or disbelieve a news report based upon the outlet that produced it in surprisingly large numbers. Thus, for example, liberals shown a story and told it came from Fox News would disbelieve it in far greater percentages than when shown the same story and told it came from MSNBC. Conservatives provided similar results but in the opposite direction.

      We would always be wise to factor in confirmation bias (and other biases) when performing analysis and making decisions. Unfortunately, we all tend to share a “bias blind spot” — the inability to recognize that we suffer from the same cognitive distortions that plague other people. The Carolina fans I quoted above likely believe that they are being cool and objective about Coach K in just the same way that I thought I was being objective about Dean-o all those years ago.

      They might make the foolish mistake of inaccurately [insert item of choice here], but we won’t.

      My youngest also had a great reaction to the above (he played football at Cal too): “I think you’re 100% right, except in regards to Stanfurd [since you’re from the Bay Area you will surely recognize that this is not a typo]. Cal fans aren’t irrational at all about them.”

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Coach McGuirk says:

    People who don’t get inside jokes have hated us for years.

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