How participating in crowd activities affects sports
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
I would describe all sports as physical activity, but I wouldn’t necessarily classify all physical activity as a sport. So, what’s the difference, then? Sports for me suggest a certain amount of crowd engagement. When athletes compete, there are spectators. It has a following, a culture. Likewise, I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a sports enthusiast. I’m a crippling introvert who mostly only leaves the house for school or work, so the aforementioned crowd I usually associate with sports makes me incredibly anxious. However, I recently attended a concert, which got me thinking about crowd affect.
Collective effervescence is a sociological concept articulated by Emile Durkheim that links a community through a type of unconscious collective communication. As quoted in an article by Michael Serazio for Communication and Sport, according to Durkheim, “The very act of assembling is an exceptionally powerful stimulant. Once the individuals are assembled, their proximity generates a kind of electricity that quickly transports them to an extraordinary degree of exaltation… There are violent gestures, shouts, even howls, deafening noises of all sorts from all sides that intensify even more the state they express.”
So, assembly generates stimulation. The more “violent gestures” and “howls” produced, the more a kind of quasi-religious chanting begins, which works to venerate the objects of the chanting—i.e. the athletes or sports teams. This establishes a hive-mind force amongst fans. In an admittedly more accessible article for the Atlantic, Serazio claims this unconscious group mind demonstrates a community’s need cling to an established identity.
Have you ever been in a crowd and felt a sense of unity and connectivity with your fellow fans? That’s exactly the effect described. Why else would you pay good money to attend a game live when you could easily just watch it from home, most likely with better views of the plays taking place via media coverage? You do it because you want to experience the energy of the crowd, the howling and chanting. Although it seems counterintuitive to most of what we’re taught about personal thought, you go there because it is comforting to not have to think as an individual for a while. After all, it’s hard for an individual to be ostracized in a group of like-minded people.