Murray State professor of psychology, Daniel Wann, Ph.D., was a trailblazer in the world of sports fandom psychology. Sounds Good is introducing a new series on the subject, and Wann visits the Sounds Good studio to discuss why he chose a previously unstudied career path.
In the late '80s, Wann was a graduate student at the University of Kansas. At that time, very little - if any at all - research was available for those interested in looking at sports fandoms from a psychological perspective, which gave Wann a unique opportunity. "I think it always helps to get on the ground floor of something, and so when I started this line of inquiry back in, I guess it would have been the fall of '87, there wasn't really anything out there at the time," Wann explains. "There were people that had discussed sport from a psychological perspective, but there wasn't really anybody looking at it from a comprehensive fashion where they would say, 'okay, what is really going on here at a deeper level?' So it was kind of me against the world at that time. Certainly since then, other people have come on board and advanced the literature and advanced things that I had done originally, but I think it's fair to say I sort of started all of this back in the '80s."
Although Wann cemented his place as a pioneer in sorts psychology, even earning the nickname 'The Godfather' of the subject at numerous psychology conventions, the decision to begin research in this field was made due to the procrastination of a new grad student. "The whole line of inquiry started because I forgot I had an assignment due the first week of graduate classes. I was at Kansas, and our first assignment in our methodology class was to come up with a testable hypothesis. It was due next week and I had completely forgotten about it," Wann laughs. The next week the class met, Wann was the first to be called on to share his decision. After watching a Sports Center feature on rioting soccer fans, Wann quickly chose the psychology of sport fandom members, beginning a long, innovative journey in the field of sport psych.
When Wann first began studying the subject of sports psychology, it was often overlooked as less credible or serious. Wann recalls attending psychology conventions in the late '80s and early '90s where he was the only researcher presenting in his particular field. By the late '90s and early 2000s, more and more researchers were entering into the sport fandom world. 32 years after he began research never conducted before, Wann was featured in a mini-documentary, filmed by ESPN, on Sports Center during the 2019 NCAA finals.
"They sent it to me Wednesday before it aired Saturday at the finals," Wann says. "But I had to promise I wouldn't show anybody. Basically, I'm giving my approval, and then you can't show your family, you can't show anybody, and that was killing me. Because I saw how prominently played in that video my family was, and that meant so much to me. I know I'm a sports fan, people know I'm a sports fan, but to be shown enjoying Racer sports, Racer basketball with my family -- because it's what we do...it really is what my family does, is Racer basketball -- it was great. It was a once in a lifetime thing."
Wann's pride in the Murray State sports program is an important aspect of his life now and was equally important when deciding where he would teach upon completing grad school. "I had a number of offers, places to go teach coming out of grad school in '91. And I chose Murray State in part, not solely, but in part because they had, at the time, an initially successful basketball team," Wann explains. "The late '80s and early '90s were kind of the start of this run for Murray State, and you could see this community really rallied around the basketball team. As a researcher, you look into the stands and you say, 'well, here are an awful lot of people I could talk to. Here are people that care about this thing that I would like to know more about.' Coming from Kansas, it was pretty easy to find people to talk to you about college basketball. I thought I would like to have that continue when I get to wherever my first faculty position is. So part of why I cam here was the fact that they have that basketball tradition, and Murray State sports -- and basketball in particular -- were so important to the people of this community."
Sounds Good will host Dan Wann for a new series in sports psychology, during which Tracy Ross and Wann will cover "just about everything through the lens of sports fandom." The next conversation in this series will discuss the general summation of how people become fans. Join Tracy Ross and Dan Wann Thursday, September 19th at 12 noon on air or online to hear the discussion.
"If you line up 100 people and say, 'what led you to become a fan in general or what led you to become a fan of a specific team,' you'll get 100 stories. There's very little overlap. Which, on one hand, makes it sort of hard to discuss succinctly, because people will say, 'well, what's the number on driving factor?' Well, it's probably team success or geography, and that counts for maybe 10% or 15% of people. That's not a whole lot of people. There are so many different factors that go into play, and it makes it hard to talk about quickly, but it also, I think, makes for much more interesting conversation. More people with more stories, more interesting things to look at," Wann concludes.