According to a 2015 ESPN survey, roughly half of all Americans are professional football fans. In our region of 3.2 million people, that means more than 1.5 million might have been San Diego Chargers fans. However, there’s no question about whether that number has drastically changed since the team announced their move to Los Angeles.
Whether fans have decided to stick with the team after the move or burnt their Bolts gear in protest, most would agree that they feel sad, even devastated, about the move.
Such strong feelings are not new to professional sports. Psychologists at Arizona State University found that today’s sports heroes are like ancient warriors, fighting to protect their tribe. The team or players you root for represent your personal identity and the identity of your community — your tribe. Your self-esteem and mood improve when your team wins, and goes down after a loss or — in San Diego’s case — after what many see as a betrayal.
We talked to Dr. Amber Salvador, a clinical psychologist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, about San Diegans’ strong feelings for their former hometown heroes and why fans, in general, are so passionate about pro sports.
What are fans feeling about the team’s move to LA?
The loss of this sports team generates strong feelings for loyal fans. Chargers fans report that they feel shock, disappointment, anger, sadness, grief and betrayal. It’s like the breakup of a love relationship — the feelings are intense.
Why do people feel so strongly about the Chargers leaving?
The Chargers have been a part of San Diego for 56 years. Naturally, there will be a grieving process. Some fans have created an identity around the rituals and pastimes of the Chargers’ culture. They've spent time, money, energy and pride in identifying and investing in all things Chargers. They are losing that piece of themselves, like losing a job or an important relationship. It makes sense that people are disappointed and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.
How should fans cope with these strong feelings?
How you respond to the move will determine how you get past it. Talk to family and friends; release tension and negative energy through exercise; cry it out, if necessary; journal about the loss; and make a symbolic memorial with souvenirs or memorabilia. Do something positive to help symbolize your pain and accept the reality rather than responding in a destructive or violent manner.
When does grief over the team’s move become a problem?
If you find that your intense feelings are disrupting functioning in any area of your life you may need to speak to a mental health professional to be able to accept the move and carry on. This includes your sleep; your ability to concentrate and complete tasks at work; and effective engagement in your personal relationships. When you find yourself using negative coping strategies, such as drinking alcohol, using substances, yelling or withdrawing from others, it’s time to reach out.
What should you do if you’re concerned about a loved one’s reaction to the move?
Offer to sit and talk with a loved one who is truly grieving about the Chargers and ask questions. In particular, ask your loved one how you can best support them through their grief. Their feelings of disappointment, anger, shock and sadness are natural responses to the loss, and creating a space for them to talk it through may be just what they need.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Salvador about Chargers grief for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.