Eric Stinton: Healing Through Sports - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


This past weekend was the first time spectators were allowed to attend outdoor sporting events since the pandemic began.

This is a good thing for the athletes. It’s a lot more fun to compete when people are cheering on the sidelines. For youth sports in particular, seeing and hearing support from your loved ones is invaluable. Two boys gave gut-punch quotes to KHON2 about the absence of their families at their games: “I was mad they weren’t here,” one boy said. “I kinda felt like nobody really cared about me,” the other boy said.

Of course, whenever kids are affected, so are parents. The little extra salt in the wound was watching visitors congregate for beach parties while local parents were stuck in the parking lot trying to watch their kids play soccer 50 yards away. In the ongoing jungle gym of our local mandates, allowing families to watch sports outside together is a small but meaningful step.

But the truth is, watching sports is not just good for the people playing; it’s also good for the people watching, in ways that are distinctly relevant for us here in Hawaii.

Journalist Larry Olmsted recently published a book entitled “Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Understanding.” The title gives a pretty good overview of the contents of the book, which cites various psychological and sociological studies on how being a sports fan improves social, mental and physical health; makes people more connected with each other; helps maintain better cognitive processing with age; and correlates with better academic achievement, including higher GPAs in college, better graduation rates, and higher incomes after graduating.

Said differently, watching sports provides benefits that address a lot of challenges that exist in Hawaii.

In 2019, Hawaii had the 15th highest high school obesity rate in the nation. While the rate of adult obesity ranked much lower at 48, that’s a deceiving stat because it’s compared to the rest of the country: we’ve seen steady increases in the rate of adult obesity since 1990. This has almost certainly been compounded by the pandemic. I’m sure I’m not alone in having some extra lockdown flab to prove it. The ability to get out and move around a little bit is significant, and watching sports is a great motivator to do that.

It isn’t just physical health that improves by watching sports. Dr. Daniel L. Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University in Kentucky, has conducted numerous studies on the ramifications of sports fandom since 1989, and has uniformly found that sports fans are happier people.

In three decades of research, Wann has “found no less than 24 specific mental health benefits” for people who “identify with a sports team.” These include higher self-esteem; fewer bouts of depression; lower levels of loneliness; more friends; higher levels of trust; less fatigue, anger and tension; and greater frequency of experiencing positive emotions.

“Sports fandom helps to meet basic psychological needs, things like the need to belong, to feel a sense of connection to those around us,” Wann said.

A lot of those benefits resonate with me. The initial lockdowns were imbued with anxious and delirious energy, but the longer the pandemic stretched, the more isolated, edgy and unhappy I became. In the last seven months, I experienced the loss of my grandma as well as two of my closest friends, one who died from medical complications and one from suicide.

While I always want to be sensitive to the reality that other people have had it much worse than I have, I’ve nonetheless spiraled into some dark places this past year. One of the things that has kept me afloat has been the routine of watching sports: the impossible magic of NBA basketball, the jaw-dropping instantaneity of mixed martial arts, the inspiring championship run of the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team. Though, it should be noted that the same mental health benefits Wann described also apply to fans of losing teams, which is unfortunately more common for us pitiable UH fans.

NCAA Volleyball Champions UH Mens Volleyball team poses with Governor Ige and First Lady Dawn Ige at Washington Place.
Members of the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team, which won the NCAA championship, pose with Gov. David Ige and First Lady Dawn Ige in Honolulu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Watching sports has been personally uplifting for me when I was by myself texting friends and family about Lebron doing Lebron things or Max Holloway punching his name into record books. But now that my friends and I have been vaccinated, being able to watch the games and the fights with other people again has been profoundly invigorating. I’ve never longed to jostle for parking at the Stan Sheriff Center so much before, and I can only hope for the opportunity to cheer for my students next year alongside their peers and parents.

Sports are equal parts foolish, frivolous, happy and hopeful. Which is to say, they are deeply human. They are one of the only places in modern life where genuine surprise still occurs. They connect us with one another and help us form stronger communities. I believe that problem-solving is best when it starts locally, and that we need each other to address the kinds of challenges in front of us. If sports can help push us in that direction, we should embrace it.

This isn’t to say that if we all cheer for Hawaii volleyball enough all of our problems will go away, or that the effects of the pandemic will be nullified. But there are virtues to both large-scale and small-scale action. Watching sports — from the courtside or the couch — is a small, easy and fun thing we can do to at least slightly improve a lot of serious challenges in the long run.


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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


Latest Comments (0)

There's a couple things that I have a problem with regarding fans and sports in general. The first is that it's generally an us versus them, win vs lose mentality / situation. I don't think that really helps folks get along, it helps them be divisive. The second thing is, take a look at the fans around you. Half of them are obese and the reason is is because they are not playing sports, they're watching them. I find it kind of hilarious that the author of that book says that the fans are getting exercise by going to watch these games. Sure they are, and look at what they're eating while they're at the games. You can get more exercise, and not be all riled up, by a hike in the woods.

Scotty_Poppins · 4 months ago

I agree with the idea that both participating & watching athletic competition has both physical & psychological benefits. This fact will become ever so apparent, after the past year when we have been deprived so much of it, esp. at the local level.But with that said, one can't help but notice the pic of a football scrimmage, as well as this comment:This comes on the heels of another opinion piece Mr. Stimson wrote just a couple of weeks ago, re: the tragic end of Colt Brennan.Stimson is free to enjoy whatever sports he wants. I just wonder if whatever he writes about in his CB commentaries (not just on sports, but every topic) is something that he truly believes in & practices himself.

KalihiValleyHermit · 4 months ago

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