Can ESPN really be good for you?

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Studies now say it can.

By Becca Owsley


  By BECCA OWSLEY bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com In living rooms, man caves and sports bars across America, a common pastime occurs — watching sports. Alone, in groups or with their families, most men love watching sports.  Studies now show there may be positive mental and social benefits to watching sports. A study of soccer fans in England, published on www.mentalhealth.org.uk, found sports can help viewers escape from the stresses of daily life. Anticipation is a mental health benefit as well, the study showed. Though watching the event can be somewhat ritualistic, the outcome is unpredictable, giving sports fans the “thrill of the unknown.” When their teams win, fans are able to “bask in reflected glory,” which can improve the mood of individuals and communities, the report stated. Local sports fans agree. “I am in a better mood if I am able to watch games, especially if we win,” said J.R. Smith, Leitchfield resident and Green Bay Packer fan. “I don’t necessarily find myself in a better mood when my favorite teams or sports are in season,” John Wright of Elizabethtown said. “I find myself in a better mood when my teams in those sports are winning.” While winning is good, the negative effect when a team loses, or catharsis, is not necessarily bad. It provides the opportunity to express and release internalized emotions that is often difficult for men to do. The study also said identifying with a specific sports team provides a connection and sense of belonging to a social group, which is why the events often are watched together, live or on television. “At times it is enjoyable to watch games with a group at home on the big screen — it is a good social activity,” said Andy Hayes, a University of Kentucky fan who lives in Elizabethtown. Watching sports in a group is more fun, Smith agreed, especially if supporters of the opposing team are present. “The benefit is that you can have some good-natured fun at the losers’ expense,” he said. “If you’re on the losing end, the fellowship is still fun.” The mentalhealth.org study also suggested that watching sports is a modern replacement for the male instinct for pack hunting. Building strong relationships and spending time with family are also positive dividends to watching sports. The Web site, www.dadsmagazine.com, said watching sports with your kids can create a unique communication opportunity in which dads can share childhood sports stories. It also provides a bonding opportunity. “Some of the best memories I have as a child are with family members while at sporting events,” Wright said. “You remember where you were and exactly what you were doing when big things happen in sports — the 1992 UK vs. Duke game, for example.” Smith has two sons in college, both of whom played sports. They watch games together and when they can’t, they call or text each other throughout the game. Hayes believes other lessons can be learned from watching sports. For instance, kids can learn the joy of winning and disappointment of losing at an early age. “It is also important for them to understand how they can contribute to a team with their specific skills and the importance that each person has in their contribution,” Hayes said. “This will usually affect their personal lives and teach them to be successful in what they decide to pursue as a career and be the best at what they do.”  In addition to health benefits, the study published at www.mentalhealth.org.uk warned that, when taken to extremes, sports viewing can be detrimental. Too much viewing can lead to health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle, one’s identity being too wrapped up in the team and violence resulting from escalated tension and emotions. However, the majority of studies on the subject maintain that watching sports can have a positive impact. A University of Chicago study, for instance, found that playing and watching sports promotes better language skills and improves brain function. Sports fans often find it easy to strike up a conversation with other sports fans, for instance, even if they do not know them. “Its very easy, especially with a man,” Write said. “Its really easy to talk about sports with friends because you know their favorite teams and can talk about their teams and how they are doing.” Hayes and Smith agree it is easy to talk to strangers at sporting events.  “I have met several people — some have become friends — from all walks of life,” Hayes said.  “It’s like the old farmers talking about the weather,” Smith said. “It’s an ice breaker and it gives you a connection.” Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.