Several years ago, ESPN had a great commercial that showed a man and a woman kissing on a couch, whispering things like, “Your lips are so soft.” As the camera zoomed out, we saw that the guy was wearing a scarlet and gray Ohio State shirt and the girl had a maize and blue Michigan shirt. “Without sports,” the caption read, “this wouldn’t be disgusting.”
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day (you’re welcome, clueless male reader), which got me thinking about the role sports can play in a romantic relationship. I decided to email some friends and family and was pleasantly surprised by the response—more than 30 people answered my nine-question survey.
While the level of fandom of those who participated varied, the majority are sports fans between the ages of 22 and 26. In other words, this survey is by no means representative of the country, or even sports fans, as a whole. This was intentional. I wanted to know how sports impacted the relationships of fans, particularly unmarried couples.
I asked questions such as “Does your partner like sports less/the same/more than you?” and “How important is it to you that your partner be able to play sports?” Of the 33 people who responded, 18 were female and 15 were male. About half said it was very important to them that their partner was a sports fan; the others placed little or no importance on this.
One male responder said it is nice to be dating someone who doesn’t care all that much about sports since he is so fed up with the performance of his favorite teams. As you could have guessed, he roots for the New York Mets and Jets. Another said that non-fans can’t understand the emotional attachment people can have to their teams, which could cause problems in the relationship. At least two people said a potential partner who wasn’t a fan would be a “deal breaker.”
The responses to the question, “How important is it to you that your partner root for the same teams as you do?” ran the gamut (see chart below). Some said they wouldn’t mind being with someone who roots for a rival team. In fact, several responses came from University of Michigan fans who date Spartans; Packer backers who date Lions fans; and couples divided between the various New York teams. Others said a partner rooting for a rival team would be completely unacceptable. An interesting response was from a Michigan alum, who wrote, “It would kill me to date an Ohio State or Michigan State fan, but at least they would know the Big Ten.” He compared it to dating someone who rooted for, say, Texas, and was unfamiliar with Michigan altogether.
My favorite answers were about the outcome of a game affecting the relationship. The “yes” and “no” responses were split down the middle, but those who said “yes” could recall specific instances where a loss ruined their day. “My current partner will throw tantrums apropos of a three-year-old should his team not play to his standard,” one female told me. Notice she doesn’t even say the team has to lose! Not surprisingly, her boyfriend is a New York Yankees fan.
The misery of Cubs fans can extend into romantic relationships. One Cubs fan told me her boyfriend was criticizing her team when they were on the brink of playoff elimination. When the game ended, he pretended to console her, trying to make light of the situation. She wasn’t laughing, and dumped him on the spot. The break-up lasted all of two hours, but it speaks to the power of sports.
Since this is a family-friendly blog, I won’t get into the details of the responder who told me his partner denied him certain “things” when his favorite team beat hers in a critical game.
As far as playing sports, while several people said they value a “physically active” partner, few said they required a partner who could hang with them on the court or field. In fact, one male said he had never competed against his girlfriend because he was “too embarrassed she would beat him.” They probably won’t be playing H-O-R-S-E tomorrow.
As for me and my girlfriend, a good chunk of our relationship revolves around sports, whether it’s watching games in person or on television, or shooting hoops at the park. Some of our most memorable moments together took place at sporting events.
But I don’t anticipate any sports-related activities on Valentine’s Day. I’ve already checked the schedule—there’s nothing good on.