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"IT'S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR":
FANS NEGOTIATING IDEOLOGIES OF RACE, GENDER, AND POWER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Producing a work this comprehensive is always a community process and
my dissertation is no exception. I would like to spend a moment thanking those
involved in this process for their important and unique contributions. I first thank
the members of my committee, Joe Feagin, Jaber Gubrium, Kendal Broad,
Hernan Vera, Michael Leslie, and Heather Gibson, for their endless insight and
for motivating me while allowing me the intellectual freedom to explore such an
unorthodox topic. I thank the family of Jerome Connor and the Sociology
Department of the University of Florida for recognizing my work with the Connor
I also acknowledge the support and inspiration of my colleagues. I thank
Carla Edwards, Lara Foley, and Sara Crawley who came before me, for allowing
me to see the process as they did it and for always being there to answer my
many and varied questions about "doing" dissertation. I thank Melanie
Wakeman, Kristin Joos, and Susan Eichenberger who went through this process
at the same time as me, for reminding me that I wasn't alone nor was I the first
person to do this crazy thing called writing a dissertation. I thank Leslie Houts,
Shannon Houvouras, Helena Alden, and Yvonne Combs who are coming up
behind me, for motivating me with their progress and many accomplishments.
Together with the professors, Connie Shehan, Barb Zsembik, and Kendal, they
comprise an amazing group of women who inspire me and motivate me in more
ways than I could ever mention.
I don't know how I would have finished if not for the "public shaming" from
the dissertation support group at the University of Maine (formed by a group of
displaced graduate students). I thank Jose Marichal, Marwin Spiller, and Jeff
Powell for providing a much-needed intellectual community to read and discuss
each other's work in a safe and supportive environment. I thank Adina Nack, my
research mentor, for helping me to talk my way through my dissertation data. I
must acknowledge the awesome support from Kanitra Perry from the University
of Florida and Julie Jones and Katie Gray from the University of Maine for
attempting to reduce the bureaucracy of academic life.
Of course, thanks go to my parents, Linda and Tim Tripp, for without their
love and continual prodding I would not be where I am today. I also thank my
sister, Megan Salisbury, to whom I continually try to show that I am neither
writing a dissertation on the obvious nor getting a Ph.D. in futility.
I thank my dear friends in Gainesville, Kevin Fraze, Jeff Ovia, Amy
Johnson, Pam Robertson, and D. Calvin Faucett, who helped me create a home
there for 5 years. I especially thank Ed Porras for supporting me in many ways
and for being a true partner to me. I thank Ed, Kevin, Oz Sabina, Cathy Lasky,
Greg Gilbo, Rena Ellgren, Rob and Erin Kielb, Steve and Kristy Tozer, Travis
Troup, and Becky Gandy for introducing me to the Gator community and
socializing me in the ways to be a Gator, even if I don't always follow the rules
Finally, I would like to thank the various participants in this study (from the
students to the Gator Clubs who welcomed me to their groups) for their insights
and for the fresh enthusiasm that helped maintain the energy from the "Swamp."
I thank the players, the oftentimes unrecognized participants in the process of
being a Gator.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C KNO W LEDG M ENTS .................. ......................................................... iii
A B S T R A C T ......................................................................................................... x ii
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ......................................................................................... 1
About the University of Florida and Gator Football................................... 3
Importance of Studying Football Fans........................................ 7
Hegemonic Notions of Masculinity: Gender, Race, and Power................. 11
Vicarious Connections and Masculinity ........................................... 12
Hegemonic Defined vis-a-vis Subordinated Masculinities and
Femininity ............... ... ................. .......... ............... 16
Incorporating and Reformulating Masculine Identity........................... 17
Boundary Maintenance and Harassment......................................... 19
O bjectification and D association ........................................ ............... 20
C o nclusio n ......................................................................................... . 2 1
2 M ET H O D S .. .................................................................... .............. 23
Narrative Analysis: Examining Interpretive Practice................................ 23
What Constitutes the Knowledge from the Field?............................. 24
How Can "Truth" Be O obtained? ........................................ ............... 25
Situating Myself as Participant and Observer ........................................ 27
Participant Observation ........................................................... ............... 29
D a ta C o lle ctio n .................................................. ............... ........... 3 0
U n it of A na lysis .......... ........ .......................................... .............. 32
Description of the Stadium Settings................................................. 33
Focus Groups and Key Informant Interview........................................... 35
D a ta C o lle ctio n .................................................. ............... ........... 3 6
U nit of A analysis .............. ..... .. .......................................... 36
Sampling and Description of Participants ........................................ 37
Analysis: Extended Case M ethod ........................................... ............... 40
S u m m a ry .................................................................................................... .. 4 2
3 "IN ALL KINDS OF WEATHER, WE'LL ALL STICK TOGETHER":
BUILDING ENERGY AND COMMUNITY .............................................. 44
Energy in the Event .................. ... ........... ............... 45
Energy from Exciting and Violent Plays........................................... 45
Energy from the Band ....................................................... ............... 47
War themes and intimidating songs .......................................... 47
Proximity of students in relation to the band................. ............... 48
E energy from the C heers.................................................... ............... 49
Intimidating the opposing players and fans ............................... 49
Reaction to the intensity of the event ........................................ 52
S eating in the stad ium .................... ............................................ 53
Breaking the Flow of Energy through Television Timeouts................. 55
Gator Community Emerging in and from the Event................................ 56
Nonmaterial Culture of the Gator Community...................................... 57
Values-"in all kinds of weather, we'll all stick together" ................ 57
N orm s and sanctioning............................................... ............... 59
Material Culture of the Gator Community ........................................ 60
C clothing and colors............. ............. .................................... 60
Flags, license plates, and car magnets ..................................... 63
Spatiality of the Gator Community ................................................... 63
History of the Gator Community ...................................................... 65
Generations in the Gator Community .............................................. 67
S u m m a ry .................................................................................................... .. 6 9
4 "IT'S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR":
FORGING A VICARIOUS CONNECTION ............................................. 72
Connecting to Laborers in the Event...................................................... 74
P ersonalizing the P layers ................................................. ............... 75
Interacting w ith the T eam ................................................. ............... 78
Responding to the players.......................................... ............... 79
R equesting to the coach............................................. ............... 80
C celebrating w ith the team ........................................... ............... 81
"It's Great to Be a Florida Gator!"..................................................... 83
Individual and Personal Linkages to the Event ...................................... 84
R responsibility to the Team ............................................... ............... 84
W working tow ard the W in .................................................... ............... 86
Skill and knowledge investments .............................................. 87
Em otional investm ent ................................................. .............. 88
Physical investment........................... ............... 89
Temporal and economic investments........................................ 90
Participating in Specific Roles within the Football Hierarchy .............. 93
"Referee" and "coach" fans ....................................................... 93
"O bnoxious" fans ........................................................ . .......... 95
True fans .................................................................. .............. 101
Twelfth man on defense ............... ........................ 103
S u m m a ry .. .................................................................... ........... 10 5
5 "IF YOU'RE NOT A GATOR, YOU MUST BE GATOR BAIT":
MAINTAINING THE GATOR COMMUNITY BOUNDARIES THROUGH
SUBORDINATED MASCULINITIES AND FEMININITIES...................... 108
O thering O opposing Fans ....................................................... .............. 111
Feminizing and Sexualizing Opposing Fans.................................. 112
Southernizing the Sexual Comments...... .................. .................. 115
Mocking and Patronizing Opposing Fans ................. .................. 116
O thering M ascots ...... .... .. .. ........ ....................................... 119
Feminizing and Sexualizing Mascots............................................. 120
Nooses and Violence Against Mascots..................... .................. 122
Emasculating the Opposing Players and Coaches .............................. 123
Feminizing and Sexualizing the Opposing Team.............................. 123
R eferences to gayness............................................. ............... 124
Comparing the opposing team to women's genitalia.................. 129
Mocking and Patronizing the Opposing Team ................................. 130
Social Distance, Anonymous Othering, and Harassing Intimates ........... 132
Maintaining Social Distance from Those Othered............................. 132
Non-threatening people as exceptions................ .................. 134
Blam ing the obnoxious fans ....... ... .................................... 138
"Playful Jabbing" of Intim ates ....... ... ...................................... 140
S u m m a ry .. .................................................................... ........... 14 4
6 "WE ARE THE BOYS FROM OLD FLORIDA":
REFORMULATING HEGEMONIC WHITE MASCULINITY .................... 147
Contextualizing and Strategizing in the Event................. .................. 149
Symbols of Strategists ...................... ..... ............... 150
Contextualizing Conferences and Polls .................... .................. 152
Conference loyalty ................................................... ............... 153
In-state rivalries ................ ......................... ............... ......... 156
Establishing Roles in the Power Hierarchy ..................... .................. 157
Fan as Referee ............................................................... .............. 158
Fan as C ritic ................................................................... .............. 160
F a n a s C y n ic ................................................... ................ . .......... 16 5
Backgrounding the Event ............................................. ............... 167
Social Class and Education Brought to Foreground ......................... 168
Socializing Brought to Foreground...... .................... .................. 171
M asculine drinking .................................................... . .......... 17 1
Flirting and sexual prow ess...... ..... ................................... 172
Joking and hum or ..................................................... ........... 173
Leaving the Context of the Game ....... ... ................................... 174
S u m m a ry .. .................................................................... ........... 17 5
7 "WHERE THE GIRLS ARE THE FAIREST":
MAINTAINING GENDER BOUNDARIES........................ .................. 177
Knowledge of the Game: It Is What You Know ................ .................. 180
Different Standards: Female Advantage?................. .................. 181
Standards as Harassment: Male Privilege................. .................. 184
Gendered Roles: Femininity within the Event ................. .................. 186
Socializing and Fam ily Bonding ....... ... .................................... 186
Em otional W ork ..................... ............. .. .. ........... .... ............... 190
Sanctioning and Surveillance: Gender Disciplining........................... 193
Gender Tokens: Exceptions to Strict Roles............................ .............. 200
Exceptions Establish the Good/Bad Fan Dichotomy......................... 201
Exceptions Harassed to Conform ....... ... .................................... 204
S u m m a ry ............................................................................... ........... 2 06
8 "FIGHT GATORS FIGHT, 'CAUSE DIXIE'S RIGHTLY PROUD OF YOU":
MAINTAINING RACIAL BOUNDARIES...... .................... .................. 209
Knowledge of or as Players: It's Not What You Know, But Who You Know214
Racial Roles: Lack of Black Representation ................... .................. 217
Racial Tokens: Exceptions and Racial Transcendence ............................. 219
S u m m a ry .................................................................................................... 2 2 2
9 "WE DON'T WANT DOCTORS, WE WANT FOOTBALL PLAYERS":
OBJECTIFICATION AND EXPLOITATION OF FOOTBALL PLAYERS..... 224
Extricating Pain from Violence ........... ............................................ 227
Assessing Instrumental Value of Players...... .................. .................. 229
Othering Opposing Players ....... .... .... ..................... 232
Race in the Process of Objectification...... .... ................................... 234
Aligning with Whiteness................................ 235
O thering Blackness........................................... ............... .............. 237
Racial Exploitation and Educational Opportunities ........................... 245
S u m m a ry ............................................................................... ........... 2 4 6
10 C O N C LU S IO N ..................................................................................... 249
Cultural Appropriation as Ideological Exploitation ................................ 249
Connecting Structure and Ideology...... .... ..................................... 254
Sexism and Racism in Sports .................. ... ................... ............... 256
Black Versus White Men and Sports: Competing Masculinities...... 257
Women Negotiating with Masculinity and Sports.............................. 258
Fem inism Functionalism and Power ....... ... .................................... 261
Im plications for Policy Suggestions...... ..... .................................... 263
Areas of Future Research ....... ....... ....... ..................... 267
A P P E N D IX ...................................................................... ..................... 269
LIST OF REFERENCES ................ ............... 270
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................... 281
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
"IT'S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR":
FANS NEGOTIATING IDEOLOGIES OF RACE, GENDER, AND POWER
Chair: Joe R. Feagin
Major Department: Sociology
This research attempts to bridge two strains of literature-the social
psychology fan literature on vicarious connections and the feminist sport
literature on hegemonic masculinity-to understand the ways in which fans
connect to masculine displays on the field while reformulating the boundaries and
expectations within ideological notions of masculinities and femininities. As such,
the research questions seek to explore the process of connection and
disconnection within larger ideological notions of gender and race,
complementing theory and empiricism concerning both.
First, how do fans establish a vicarious link to masculinity within the event
enacted on the field as well as in the stands? Second, how do fans maintain this
connection particularly in relation to the other team? Third, how do certain
members reformulate notions of masculinity as hegemonic? Fourth, how are
gender and race used to create boundaries between hegemonic notions of
masculinity and subjugated masculinities and femininities and how are those
boundaries maintained to create hegemonic, white masculinity? Finally, how are
the football players, creators of some of the most masculine exemplars in the
event, denied access to the very notions they help create?
In order to describe the processes connecting to masculinity, reformulating
hegemonic masculinity in the context of subjugated masculinities and
femininities, and disconnecting from the masculinity on the field, this research
analyzes participant observation from the 2001 season of University of Florida
football as well as focus groups with self-identified fans, both current students
By using the extended case method, the results of this research provide
insights into theories concerning the intersectionality of race and gender more
generally and in sports as well as how ideology and structure interact. As such,
these results suggest that future policy and research suggestions should remain
attentive to the complexity of these relationships.
It is the first game of the 2001 season, early evening on a balmy Saturday
in September. The Florida sun will set soon in its usual celebration of orange
and blue, but it has already created enough heat to tire the players and the fans
who will watch them toil here in the stadium affectionately known as "the
Swamp." Stretching on the field, the unranked, unlucky opponents from Marshall
University are no match for the Gators. There is an unmistakable sense of
expectation in the air, when dressed in his traditional yellow oxford and striped
orange and blue tie, Mr. Two Bits (George Edmundson) charges onto the field,
back from retirement for the opening game of what is anticipated as a National
Championship season. The crowd goes wild and over 80,000 people all yell in
unison, "Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar. All for the Gators, stand up and
holler!" Then, referring to the preseason college football rankings, the cheer
director asks the anxious crowd, "How's it feel to be number one?" The decibel
level increases tenfold as the crowd roars while the team rushes onto the field,
because the video of an alligator's gaping mouth displayed on the JumboTron
reminds the crowd, "in the Swamp, only the Gators get out alive." The game
This tiny cross-section of Gator football fandom shows how energy,
tradition, community, emotions, and identity intertwine in the fan experiences.
We see these elements elsewhere; but here form a more powerful whole. There
is more excitement in seeing the performance live rather than on television. The
watcher is well aware of the nuanced traditions that revolve around a particular
team and school. Most important, though, the sheer scale makes the experience
in the football stadium more intense, multiplying the effects of the factors
In this case, size really does matter, creating experiences that forge the
identities of the followers. Perhaps the only experience that competes is
nationalistic pride. National pride is particularly evident in times of outside
assault, such as the events surrounding the September 11th attacks on the Twin
Towers and the Pentagon and the subsequent "war on terrorism." But even
here, the Gator landscape co-opts nationalism and makes it a part of Gator
fandom. Most importantly, while most Americans must uneasily wait unspecified
amounts of time for aggression, Gator fans have only to wait until the next fall
season to be guaranteed the conflict that helps solidify groups. In this spirit, the
official web page for Gator sports (www.gatorzone.com) once contained a
countdown clock for the spring "Orange and Blue" scrimmage and the first game
of the fall season.
By merging notions of community and tradition in an energetic and
emotional cauldron of 85,000 fans in one stadium, those inside and outside the
stadium develop notions of their individual and popular identities. In this
research, I focus on the ways in which fans do identity work within the context of
football games. Of particular importance are the ways in which fans negotiate
their Gator identities in terms of gender and racial or ethnic affiliation.
About the University of Florida and Gator Football
The University of Florida (UF) is located in North, Central Florida in a city
called Gainesville, situated just east along Interstate 75. The oldest state
university in Florida began as the consolidation of a few smaller institutions, East
Florida Seminary and Kingsbury Academy (1853) and then Florida Agricultural
College (1860s). The college was officially moved to Gainesville and established
as a state university in 1906. The original student body of 102 students has
grown over the last century to over 46,000 students, making it one of the five
largest universities in the country (Gatorzone 2002b).
UF officially allowed the admission of women in 1947. Since that time, the
ratio of women to men has increased to 52 to 48. This ratio is consistent with the
state averages of females within the Florida population, which is 51.2% (U.S.
Census Bureau 2002).
In 2001, 7.2% of students were African-American, 9.6% were Hispanic, and
6.8% were Asian-American or Pacific Islander. Compared to the state data from
the 2000 census, 14.6% of the state population was Black or African-American,
16.8% were of Hispanic or Latino origin, 2.8% were Asian, Native Hawaiian, and
Pacific Islander. The amounts of Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately
lower than would be expected from the Florida general population.
Approximately three-fourths of the UF student body is White, non-Hispanic,
compared to 65.4% of the state population. Like many other institutions of higher
learning, UF is very White (Feagin and Sikes 1994).
A large school, UF also boasts of its academic competitiveness. The
university houses 21 colleges and schools with more than 100 undergraduate
majors. With a distinguished record in agricultural research, the university also
contains the leading law and medical schools in the state. Graduates from the
university can be found throughout the country. Alumni throughout the U.S. as
well as five foreign countries have formed 104 official Gator Clubs uniting alumni
and their families for social and athletic functions and supporting current students
through scholarships (University of Florida Alumni Association 2002).
Gator Clubs are integral to the Gator alumni experience. Most season-
ticket holders are also members of Gator Clubs in their area. They may gather to
watch the games together on television or to travel to Gainesville and to the
various away games. The support Gator alumni give to their alma mater is not
merely emotional. Gator alumni donate substantial amounts, providing for 240
athletic scholarships annually and contributing to ongoing improvements to
facilities such as the $50 million expansion to the Ben Hill Griffin football stadium
On average, most of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
sports programs spend more money than they raise. With respect to Division I-A
schools, such as UF, in 2001, 65% of schools participating in the survey reported
expenses that exceeded their revenues when controlling for institutional support
(Fulks 2002). On average, 69% of the revenues in men's sports came from
football programs. Football uses 56% of the resources for men's sports (Ibid).
On average, football programs bring in more revenue than they spend. One of
the single most important sources of revenue after ticket sales is alumni
contributions (Ibid). UF claims to be among the few schools whose revenues
exceed their expenditures, noting that they have been able to put $19.43 million
dollars back into the university's academic programs since 1990, the beginning of
the winning "Spurrier era" (Gatorzone 2002b).
The University of Florida (UF) is one of the founding members of the
Southeastern Conference (SEC) established in 1932. In addition to the
University of Florida, the SEC is comprised of the University of Georgia, the
University of Kentucky, the University of South Carolina, the University of
Tennessee, and Vanderbilt University in the East and the University of Alabama,
the University of Arkansas, Auburn University, Louisiana State University, the
University of Mississippi, and Mississippi State University in the West. In 2001,
eight of these teams went to post-season bowl games and five of those won their
competition (Southeastern Conference 2002). In comparison, the Big Ten
(actually eleven teams) sent six teams to bowl games and won only two, losing
three to SEC teams. The Big Twelve sent eight of its teams to bowl games and
won three of those games. Arguably, the SEC is consistently one of the most
competitive conferences in the division (Ernsberger 2000).
It is with this sense of pride in the university for its athletic, academic, and
financial accomplishments that fans enter Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, known to most
as the Swamp. The stadium holds over 85,000 fans and is in the process of
adding more seating by the 2003 season, bringing the capacity closer to 90,000.
While not the largest stadium in the NCAA or the SEC, it is reported to be one of
the loudest and most "obnoxious" experiences in all of college football (Smith
As noted above, the university has a mostly White campus, therefore, the
majority of fans are White. Because many fans give away or sell their tickets,
there is no accurate record of racial composition of the crowd. During my
research, I took informal counts of different sections of the stadium, but even this
has its limitations because people are always moving around and some sections
are more costly than others. Some of the most expensive seats, I did not did
access. My counts ranged from 0 to 20% Black fans, averaging less than 1 % of
the crowd. There is no doubt that there are people from various racial and ethnic
backgrounds in the stands. However, the proportion of Blacks in the stands is
much lower than that on the field; and lower than the racial composition of the
The SEC began desegregation in 1967 (Harris 2000). The SEC was one of
the last conferences to desegregate and did so under the pressure of the U.S.
Justice Department and the threat that their teams would not be as competitive
with newly desegregated teams (Watterson 2000). The University of Florida
responded positively to the University of Kentucky's 1963 request to play
interracial teams. UF was not responsible for holding out, but they did not start
the revolution either. Nationally, Blacks make up 40% of the players on football
teams (King and Springwood 2001, 10), but some statistics indicate that Black
players are more prevalent in Southern teams, such as the University of Florida
(Harris 2000). At the University of Florida for the 2001 season, over 60% of the
team was Black.
Gender is another dimension of the experience. The action on the field is
almost entirely conducted by men: players, coaches, officials, and announcers.
Some women gain access to the field as cheerleaders, band members, team
trainers, and sportscasters, such as Jill Arrington for CBS Sports. However, the
proportion of women in the stands is much greater than the proportion of women
on the field. Through my informal counts, I noted that approximately 40% of the
crowd consisted of women.
Above, I attempted to paint a broad picture of the context of the university,
the football program, and the stadium. The actions and experiences of fans must
be contextualized to be fully understood. In what follows, I put away the large
brush and opted for a more detailed look at what occurs in the football games. I
started by answering an important question: Why is it important to look at fan
experiences at college football games?
Importance of Studying Football Fans
With 115 teams in Division I-A college football, every Saturday in the fall is
an opportunity for around 2.5 million fans to file into their favorite stadiums to root
for their teams (National Collegiate Athletic Association 2002). Even more fans
gather in groups or alone in homes, restaurants, and bars to watch their teams
compete on television. In the 2002 Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the big
four bowls drew millions of viewers according to the Nielsen Ratings: 21.6 million
viewers for the Rose Bowl (National Championship Game), 17 million viewers for
the Fiesta Bowl, 14 million viewers for the Orange Bowl (with the University of
Florida vs. the University of Maryland), and 13.1 million viewers for the Rose
Bowl (Kielar 2002). To put these statistics in perspective, almost one in one
hundred people in the U.S. attended Division I-A football games each Saturday,
and close to one in ten people in the U.S. tuned in to the Rose Bowl to find out
the winner of the National Championship competition. Thus, while the majority of
people in the U.S. do not watch football games, that does not mean that football
spectators are an abnormality. Clearly, football spectators are quite common in
the popular culture landscape.
While many spectators, coaches, players, and athletic administrators argue
that football is just good, clean fun, there is clearly much more involved. Football
games, as mass spectacle, draw millions of fans each week into the stadiums
and in front of television sets. Colleges participate in the business of football by
investing huge amounts of resources into programs and negotiating various
sources of revenue to support their programs. Football programs are an
ubiquitous reality on many campuses, located on some of the biggest and
smallest colleges and universities. Clearly, football is important to the U.S., but
even more, it is an important space for the negotiation of racial and gendered
With millions of spectators participating in football games, millions of dollars
are sure to follow. One indication of this manifests in the naming of the bowls.
The Rose Bowl remains one of the only bowls to maintain its non-corporate
name. With names such as the Nokia Sugar Bowl, the FedEx Orange Bowl, and
my personal favorite, the Chik-Fi-La Peach Bowl, the games become a place
where advertisers can control what images viewers watch between the plays of
their favorite teams. This commercialism changes even the feel of the game. As
the University of Florida increased its airtime, with an increasing amount of
games picked up for national coverage, fans were forced to learn about the
television timeout. These are timeouts that do not necessarily fit into the natural
flow of the game or abide by any rules. Rather, broadcasting companies can
force a timeout if there has not been enough commercial time. Since, the timing
of these are oftentimes arbitrary, fans have been known to cheer to the point of
exhaustion before realizing that the game was not in play. Fans eventually
learned that when the official in an all-white uniform, sometimes wearing a red
cap, stood on the field, it meant there was a television timeout.
However, the commercial nature of the games is merely one dimension of
the financial aspects of college football. As noted above, college football brings
in the most revenue for athletic programs. As well, college football programs
spend the most money. NCAA teams are restricted to 85 football scholarships
on the field, having come down from 105 scholarships due to Title IX compliance.
However, most coaches note that this is more than enough to fund all the starting
players, as well as most of the second and some of the third string players,
considering that on average only 55 players ever make it out to the field each
game (Nielsen 2002).
To help fund their programs, university athletic programs turn to alumni,
students, institutional support, televising, and bowl games as potential sources of
revenue. How each school negotiates these sources dictates its varying levels of
success. Some rightly call college football a business because of the large
amounts of money changing hands.
While the amount of money and spectators involved in college football
makes it an important realm to study, the most compelling reason is the impact
upon the collective consciousness of the nation. Clearly, the vast scope of
football spectatorship is beyond the reach of this research: to truly attempt to
collect a representative sample of the millions of fans across the nation would
require resources equaling that of the expenditures for a football program.
However, a representative sample is not necessary because this is exploratory
research attempting to show how the spectacle of football is an arena in which
current racial and gender identities are reinforced and new ideas are formulated
as groups interact. These identities are shaped in relationship to the game and
the crowd interaction to fuse together notions of race and gender.
In particular, this research understands the stadium experience as a cultural
event in which the vicarious connection between spectators and players creates
and perpetuates intersecting notions of race and gender. Three research themes
emerge from this perspective:
* All fans share a vicarious relationship with the players that is enhanced
through fan participation at football games. Fans use the vicarious
relationship with the players to connect to examples of masculine power.
* While all fans can use spectatorship to make the vicarious relationship to
the players, the types of connections appropriate depend on the race and
gender of the fan. Some fans are not as able as others to make the
vicarious link to players and require more negotiation.
* Furthermore, the vicarious link only goes from fan to player, not the other
way around, creating an exploitative relationship between fans and players.
The theoretical framework for this research relies upon the notion of hegemonic
masculinity as an ideological construct that functions to legitimate a structure of
gender and racial privilege and oppression. Within this theoretical framework, I
address the ways fans construct hegemonic masculinity as specifically White in
contrast to subordinated masculinities and femininities through their vicarious
connections to the masculine event of the game.
Hegemonic Notions of Masculinity: Gender, Race, and Power
The term hegemonic masculinity encompasses ideological notions of
gender and race (as well as a myriad of other socially constructed identities) at
the same time. By starting with differences between men, Connell (1992) argues
that these differences consist of different manifestations of masculinity, "multiple
masculinities" that are, in turn, understood only in relation to historically situated
notions of femininity. Thus, gender cannot be conceptualized as a simple
dichotomy of "male" versus "female;" rather it is relational such that "certain
constructions of masculinity are hegemonic, while others are subordinated or
marginalized" (Connell 1992, 736).
In other words, the gender order is a hierarchically arranged set of
typifications in which men and women struggle for ideological resources. Within
this struggle, gender itself, specifically claims to the ideals of masculine, is
negotiated, for expressions of masculinity serve as justifications of dominance
and power, that is, privilege. Even subjugated masculinities are by definition
masculine and as such maintain privileges associated with masculinity. As a
result, men and masculinities cannot be seen as one, homogeneous group. As
Messner (1991) showed regarding athletic careers, prowess in sports after high
school and college is subordinate to business success. Both are aspects of
masculinity, but once particularized, the values associated with them become
clearer, such that on average society places a higher value on the masculinity of
White, upper-class men over poor men of color.
Within this theoretical framework, I posit the participation of fans as
ideological workers negotiating notions of gender and race as a process. As
such, this research seeks to answer some fundamental questions concerning this
process. First, how do fans establish a vicarious link to masculinity within the
event enacted on the field as well as in the stands? Second, how do fans
maintain this connection particularly in relation to the other team? Third, how do
certain members reformulate notions of masculinity as hegemonic and White?
Fourth, how are gender and race used to create boundaries between hegemonic
notions of White masculinity and subjugated masculinities and femininities and
how are those boundaries maintained? Finally, how are the football players,
creators of some of the most masculine exemplars in the event, denied access to
the very notions they help create? Below, I examine the crucial components of
this perspective: vicarious connections to masculine ideals, creating and
recreating intersecting notions of gender and race, and maintaining notions of
masculine exclusivity. In the chapters that follow, I describe the process that
connects these themes into a larger notion of ideology construction,
maintenance, and exploitation. I turn first to the literature on vicarious
connections between fans and sports teams.
Vicarious Connections and Masculinity
In the social psychological literature, researchers address the notion of
vicarious connection as a means for fans to take part in the achievements of their
team (Kimble and Cooper 1992). This association with the team is described as
"basking-in reflected-glory," BIRGing, while the opposite dissociation from the
team if referred to as "cutting-off-reflected failure," CORFing (Wann and
Branscombe 1990, Cialdini et al. 1976). After Wann and Branscombe (1993)
operationalized vicarious connection as a scale measuring the degree of
identification fans have with their team, researchers investigated the many
factors contributing to why fans become identified with "their" teams and how
they remain loyal to their team (Jones 1997, Wann and Schrader 1996, Wann et
Subsequent research in this area attests to the strength of this connection
correlating with or mediating many other types of fan behavior, such as:
attributional bias of wins and losses to intrinsic or extrinsic forces (Wann et al.
2001, Wann and Schrader 2000, Wann and Dolan 1994a), affect (Madrigal
1995), perception of team's performance (Wann and Dolan 1994b), enjoyment of
performance (Wann and Schrader 1997), confidence in team's performance
(Wann and Wiggins 1999), as well as attendance patterns (Laverie, and Arnett
The connection between fans and their team is best demonstrated in fans'
attempts to assist their team through various behaviors, particularly crowd noise
directed at the opposing team. While the actual efficacy of fan participation is
somewhat disputed, research suggests that crowds often attempt to become a
part of the team (the twelfth man on the football team) and cause penalties on
the opposing team (Wann and Schrader 2000, Salminen 1993, Lehman and
Reifman 1987, Mizruchi 1985, Greer 1983, Kroll 1979, Schwartz and Barsky
1977). In addition to the empirical support for the notion of vicarious connection,
this body of research suggests that because of the high identification with the
team's performance, fans must do significant work in ego maintenance when
their team loses. Wann and Dolan (1994a) argued that
Because highly identified persons maintain their allegiance even in trying
times, they must develop other strategies, such as selective attributions, to
maintain their positive social identity, whereas those low in identification are
less likely to use these strategies because they simply 'jump ship'
subsequent to negative outcomes (790).
Therefore, the literature suggests that these vicarious connections are tenuous
and must be continually negotiated. However, why do highly identified fans need
to maintain positive identities in the face of a loss? Notions of masculinity help
clarify this issue, that is, fans connect to power in the form of extremes of
While most of the literature on sports crowds focuses on the violence
precipitated by participating in the sport experience, there is beginning to be a
theoretical shift away from the limited explanatory power of a simple modeling
theory toward the notion of vicarious connections, particularly with respect to
claims to masculinity (Wann et al. 1999b, Stott and Reicher 1998, Wann 1994,
Phillips 1983, Lewis 1982, Smith 1978). Studies connecting domestic violence
with spectatorship (while methodologically problematic) have made the
theoretical shift to notions of what Messner refers to as vicarious masculinity
(Welch 1997, Drake and Pandey 1996, White et al. 1992).
By using Connell's (1992) notion of hegemonic masculinity and the desire
to connect to that source of power, we can hypothesize that fans in crowds
experience a special kind of masculinity, a vicarious masculinity. Although they
do not perform the acts of masculinity, they associate with them because they
are men as well. This runs somewhat contrary to many arguments that state that
only emasculated men perpetrate violence as a means to regain control and
power over some aspect of their lives (Majors 1990). Theoretically, the vicarious
connection to hegemonic masculinity suggests just the opposite-that it is those
in positions of privilege that feel entitled to the physical domination of those they
oppress. This work extends this argument by more clearly incorporating notions
how race plays out in this ideological construct of power.
From the social psychology literature the notions of connection,
identification, and negotiating identities emerge as important concepts in
understanding fan behavior. However, the significant gap in the literature on
vicarious connection lies in the inability to explain how fans connect, that is, the
process of connecting. Chapter 3 explores the energy-filled community formed
from and around the games. I argue that it is within this setting that the vicarious
bond between fan and team forms. Chapter 4 continues to show the ways in
which fans attempt to connect vicariously to the team on a personal level within
the broader space of an energetic community.
Yet first we should ask why fans identify with teams to begin with, in other
words, what benefits do fans receive from their connection and identification with
a winning or even losing team? Chapter 3 explains how many fans enjoy the
sense of community as one of the positive functions of the connection to the
team. In addition, many suggest that feelings of power influence their continued
and enthusiastic participation. While fans may connect to their team for various
other reasons, Chapters 5 and 6 move on to examine the role of power as well
as notions of hegemonic White masculinity in contrast to femininities and
Hegemonic Defined vis-a-vis Subordinated Masculinities and Femininity
Hegemonic White masculinity derives value from multiple sources of
masculine exemplars from men in all levels of the structural hierarchy. In fact, it
can be thought of as an idealized composite of masculine characteristics to
which all men can add. Of course, not all men can cash into that "bank" of value
equally. By attending games and participating in the event in which players
create extreme examples of masculine physical prowess, stoicism, and most of
all, success, fans connect to the bank of masculine examples from which they
can attempt to create hegemonic notions of White masculinity.
Theoretically, the gender order maintained by hegemonic masculinity
necessarily devalues anything feminine and this is most clearly maintained in the
strict segregation in sports. As Messner (1990) maintained:
For middle-class men, the tough guys of the culture industry-the Rambos,
the Ronnie Lotts who are fearsome "hitters," who "play [while] hurt"-are
the heroes who prove that "we men" are superior to women. At the same
time, these heroes play the role of the primitive other, against whom higher
status men define themselves as modern and civilized (103).
In other words, White, middle-class men have the privilege to associate
vicariously with Black men in terms of their prowess on the field. However,
nowhere do privileged men claim that the less privileged are allowed the privilege
to associate vicariously with prowess in the boardroom. This unidirectional flow
of masculinity is essential in maintaining a racial system of oppression as in
football: it creates multiple opportunities for White men, while minimizing
opportunities and pigeonholing Black men (Messner 1992).
Chapter 5 examines how fans continue to define their community and their
selves in relationship to "other" fans, teams, and mascots. While strengthening
the borders between in-group and out-group, the fans also more carefully define
appropriate levels of masculinity, often feminizing or sexualizing the "other." In
this sense, they ideologically construct a dichotomy that valorizes masculinity
and devalues femininity. However, as noted above, hegemonic White
masculinity is not merely a simple dichotomy, but rather a complex intersection of
gender and race.
Incorporating and Reformulating Masculine Identity
As "the culturally idealized form of masculine character (in a given historical
setting) which may not be the usual form of masculinity at all" (Connell 1990, 83),
hegemonic masculinity "stabilizes a structure of dominance and oppression in the
gender order as a whole" (Connell 1990, 94). In this framework, male-dominated
sports are pivotal to the construction and maintenance of hegemonic masculinity,
because the athletes provide the extremes of strength, stoicism, and intellect to
which all people (men and women) are compared and by which they are
evaluated. In this sense, the performance of men on the field is exploited for its
ideological value, and that ideology is then returned to them as a justification of
their structural oppression (Feagin 2000).
Of course, hegemonic masculinity is not a static, lived reality of those in
control. Instead, it should be thought of as an ideological justification of privilege
and control by a few, and this ideology changes when circumstances warrant
reconceptualization. What was at one point conceived as masculine, becomes
feminine or an inferior form of masculine to justify the shifting nature of the
structure of domination. The contested and continually fluctuating nature of
hegemonic masculinity and how it becomes distinctly White is exactly the focus
of this project: I analyze the narrative moves that men and women of various
racial and ethnic backgrounds make to vie for symbolic power.
Chapter 6 uses the term "reformulation" to describe the process by which
fans incorporate masculine exemplars from the players into a more complex,
hegemonic notion of White masculinity. At the same time, they start to associate
masculinity on the field as subjugated or subordinate. So while they associate
with privileged forms of masculinity, relating to power and control, they create a
hierarchy of power with themselves on top and players close to the bottom.
I borrow the concept Gerschick and Miller (2001) outlined with respect to
hegemonic masculinity and the ideological work people must do to maintain
notions of power, particularly within changing circumstances. As such, one must
reformulate his or her conception of masculinity to fit into his or her abilities and
level of resources. For that reason in Chapter 6 highlights the ways in which fans
reformulate notions of masculinity to incorporate their contributions to the game,
while minimizing other forms of masculine displays. However, hegemonic White
masculinity and the power it represents is not available to everyone. Therefore,
Chapters 7, 8, and 9 examine whose claims to masculine power are rejected and
how race and gender play into that exclusion.
Boundary Maintenance and Harassment
As noted above, hegemonic White masculinity is constructed in the context
of subordinate masculinities and femininities. Chapter 5 explores the
feminization and sexualization of others as a means for solidifying the boundaries
between those in the group, "us," and those outside the group, "them."
Simultaneously, fans engaging in sexism and homophobia add to the masculinity
of the space. Aggression, violence, and physical proficiency of the players and
taunts from the fans serve to create a hypermasculine space. Chapter 7 goes
into greater detail concerning the ways in which fans use masculinities and
femininities to establish correct behaviors and roles.
Similarly, while the relationship between race and hegemonic masculinity is
not absolute, as noted in Chapter 6, typically hegemonic masculinity is
associated with Whiteness and subjugated masculinity with Blackness, creating a
notion of hegemonic White masculinity. Combined with the fact that the majority
of students and fans are White, this establishes the composition of the stands as
distinctly White (in stark contrast to the composition on the field). Therefore,
Chapter 8 mirrors Chapter 7, investigating fans' perceptions of this racial space
in terms of Blackness. Both chapters note that White women and Black men and
women pose threats to the homogeneity of the space. As such, fans employ
surveillance and sanctioning as types of harassment to preserve the White,
Although all fans described in this research discuss some benefits from
their participation in the community, upon further probing they reveal that the
stadium environment also becomes a harassing space, particularly in terms of
gender and race. The popular media have focused on sexual harassment,
particularly quid pro quo harassment at work or school. However, the academic
literature more broadly defines harassment as behavior intended to make
individuals of a particular group uncomfortable, intimidated, unwelcome, and
ultimately, nonexistent (Collins 1998, Benokratis and Feagin 1995, Feagin and
Sikes 1994, Lorber 1994, Feagin 1991). Harassers communicate to their targets
that they do not belong in a particular space. This consists of yet another way to
maintain boundaries and, as detailed in Chapter 9, the players are not exempt
Objectification and Dissociation
By disconnecting from the players, fans dissociate from identifying with the
players, such that men on the field do not get a chance to fully utilize their own
masculine examples-they are excluded from claims to hegemonic masculinity,
creating a one-way flow of power. Disconnection takes into consideration
Kelman and Hamilton's (1989) work on massacres, in which they note that mass
crimes such as the My Lai Massacre and the Nazi "final solution" result from an
extreme adherence to authority and a resultant lack of personal responsibility.
Important to the current discussion, they also discuss the notion of
dehumanization, in which an oppressing group strips an oppressed or exploited
group of their fundamental qualities or characteristics of humanity. This is
implicitly an ideological process, and is one that can take advantage of existing
stereotypes or can create fresh dehumanizing stereotypes to fit the specifics of
Chapter 9 looks first at how, in general, players are objectified, and more
specifically, how race becomes an important variable in increasing the level of
objectification. This allows for those making claims to hegemonic White
masculinity to disconnect from individual players and their personal suffering. As
such, this creates a special type of exploitation on the ideological level, one in
which players labor to add to a larger notion of power and masculinity from which
they are denied.
Current sports sociologists dismiss the simplistic notion that football is just
"a fun diversion, a pleasurable release, a cultural time-out that is mere
entertainment" (King and Springwood 2001, 8, see also, Oriard 1993). Instead,
the move has been to analyze sports as a cultural space in which ideologies
concerning race and gender are continually reproduced, contested, and resisted
(King and Springwood 2001, Birrell and McDonald 2000, Sailes 2000, Messner
and Sabo 1990). To get at these conflicting ideologies, researchers have taken
to "reading" different cultural texts from autobiographies to newspaper articles. It
is from this strain of research that my work emerges. The text of this research
comes from what spectators do during games and how they talk about their
experiences at games. From this text, some of the ways that race and gender
are negotiated are explored.
Notably, I look at the process in which fans connect to masculinity,
reformulate hegemonic White masculinity in the context of subjugated
masculinities and femininities, and disconnect from the masculinity on the field.
As argued further in the conclusion in Chapter 10, while the focus of this
research is very much grounded in the ideological production and negotiation
process, this serves to buttress a more systemic institution of race and gender
privilege and oppression in and outside the context of football. First, however, let
me address the research methods I used to uncover these texts of gender, race,
This research follows an analysis of interpretive practice, focusing on the
texts constructed by Gator fans before, during, and after the games, and always
about their experiences at the games. I performed participant observation, focus
groups, and a key informant interview to study the ways in which football fans
construct themselves vis-a-vis the players, each other, and the other team. The
implications of this research lie in how the football fans create a gender and race
hierarchy within the realm of football that can be used ideologically in the game
Narrative Analysis: Examining Interpretive Practice
The type of data collection I used is traditionally associated with
ethnographic methods. Furthermore, my methodological and epistemological
approach is grounded in narrative analysis. To properly describe the perspective
I use and why it is appropriate for this research project, it is necessary to
compare narrative analysis with traditional ethnography.
By definition, ethnography is a descriptive methodology that seeks to
interpret or evaluate a social group through direct observation of the activities
performed by members of that group (Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw 1995, Emerson
1983). Ethnographers attempt to tell a story. Narrative analysis, on the other
hand, "takes as its object of investigation the story itself" (Riessman 1993,1).
The strengths of narrative analysis lie in its critique of positivistic notions
concerning knowledge and its analytical strategies for getting at the meanings
made in a situated process.
What Constitutes the Knowledge from the Field?
Epistemologically, naturalistic ethnography is based on the notion that there
is an objective reality and with the proper methods we can get closer to that truth.
They attempt to answer localized "what" questions about communities and the
people living within them. In other words, they carefully describe the social
worlds of particular, historically specific, communities. They are not searching for
generalizable truths-they do not assume that the knowledge collected at a site
can be abstracted to explain actions in all circumstances. Quite the opposite,
they argue that knowledge is local and cannot be abstracted.
Ethnographers are starting to get away from the notion of a "Truth" with a
capital "T;" instead, "the task of the ethnographer is not to determine 'the truth'
but to reveal the multiple truths apparent in others' lives" (Emerson, Fretz, and
Shaw 1995, 3). This is really only a slight shift from traditional positivism to a
postmodern, reflexivity-informed post-positivism (Guba and Lincoln 1994). Thus,
from the perspective to gain insight of the overall truth, researchers simply have
to incorporate increasing amounts of the situated truths.
Narrative analysis takes a more critical position in relation to traditional
ethnography. This position posits a more self-reflexive notion of research in
which the researcher uncovers meaning and actively assists in constructing
knowledge with his or her participants. No matter how close a researcher gets,
no matter where he or she is geographically, the researcher is always the
researcher, an outsider whose presence influences what is said and what is done
(Holstein and Gubrium 1995). Therefore, the type of knowledge that narrative
analysis uncovers is not assumed to reflect an underlying reality. What is
analyzed in narrative analysis is the meaning construction of the participants
through the stories they tell.
How Can "Truth" Be Obtained?
Analytically, ethnographers believe that the best methodology is to catalog
the everyday nuances of people's lives, histories, and contexts. Ethnographers
do not seek to imbue meaning on the lives of the people they study. Instead,
they assert that the meaning is already there and all they are doing is relaying
it-ethnographers are sociological mirrors, reflecting the information from the
field back to academia.
On the other hand, narrative analysis, based in ethnomethodology
(Garfinkel 1967), looks at how meanings are made through stories, rather than in
stories. It is not that narrative analysts ask that we let the narrative speak for
itself; the key is that it cannot speak for itself. As Gubrium and Holstein (1997)
noted, "As a meaning-making device, a narrative assembles individual objects,
actions, and events into a comprehensible pattern; telling a story turns available
parts into a meaningful whole" (147). In other words, stories are created in order
to be interpreted; it is the purpose of researchers to locate how the stories are
being used in the particular context they are told.
But traditional ethnographic reporting tends to extract the knowledge of
those observed by taking apart the bits of the stories as "truth." Through a
traditional ethnographic analysis, "the analyst creates a metastory about what
happened by telling what the interview narratives signify, editing and reshaping
what was told, and turning it into a hybrid story" (Riesmann 1993, 13). This
means that ethnographies attempt to tell a story by using parts of the stories of
others, which necessitates quoting the respondents when it suits the purpose of
the ethnographers. They use the content of the stories, oftentimes losing the
context in which the story was told.
However, through "analytical bracketing" the researcher suspends
commonsense assumptions about what he or she perceives as reality to allow
the participants or respondents to demonstrate how they construct their own
reality. The content of what is said is momentarily ignored so that the researcher
can "focus on how they are used as facets of the organization and management
of the social settings" (Heritage 1984, 141).
Note that the content is important but must be put aside to understand how
it is being used. And of course, context is important as well. Because speakers
often use indexical terms, that is, terms whose referents are usually found in
contextual knowledge in order to understand the meaning of the content, the
contextual (insider) knowledge must be identified (Heritage 1984). However, this
is really secondary to comprehending how the information is organized and used.
Only then can the researcher try to assess why the story is being told.
While narrative analysis lies within ethnography, at the same time it
represents a challenge to traditional notions of observing the field. Critiques from
narrative analysis have forced traditional ethnographers to assess the type of
knowledge they can obtain through observation: truth with a "t" rather than a "T."
More importantly, by making truth and reality problematic, narrative analysis
alters the ways in which knowledge can be studied. Instead of letting the
"natives" speak for themselves, narrative analysis seeks to address the project of
creating those very stories. Finally, narrative analysis is open to more types of
data; it is not wedded to participant observation. In sports literature, for example,
researchers are reading and interpreting the texts of newspapers, commercials,
sports radio and television programs, and autobiographies (Birrell and McDonald
2000, Oriard 1993). In our everyday lives, narratives surround us, and each is a
potential source of analysis. Here, I have chosen to focus on fan narratives
constructed in and about football games.
Situating Myself as Participant and Observer
As a social researcher, I realize that I am not just passively and objectively
observing the spectators in the stadium and the participants in the focus groups.
I am a part of the discourse that is constructed in all of those settings; I am one of
the many voices in the conversations I have detailed in the following chapters
(Holstein and Gubrium 1995). As such, it is important that I describe my
perspective in order to give insight to the context in which I collected the data.
The 2001 season was not the first time I had been to a football game. I
have watched football since grade school, having gone to my first Gator game as
a non-student with a middle school girlfriend and her older brother, who is an
alumnus of the school. As a child, I remember watching my mother yell at the
television as the Miami Hurricanes played. Later, I was a statistician for my high
school football team, learning a great deal about the rules of the game. When it
came time for me to choose a college, however, I was frustrated with the level of
consumerism surrounding football and opted for an undergraduate institution that
had no football team.
Then, the Gators began to rise in popularity through the 1990s because of
the winning tradition started by Steve Spurrier (head coach 1990-2001). Through
this period, I noticed my father and his sister revive their interest in their alma
mater, watching and listening to games against Florida State and Tennessee
with nail-bitten fingers in their mouths. Still, it was not until I was into my second
year of graduate school at UF that I attended my first Gator football game as a
I quickly associated with a group of alumni and students who regularly
attended games. I became the bloc chairperson for this group in 1998 through
2001, organizing and distributing tickets. I steadfastly refused to attend away
games, sticking to my principle that no one should ever have to pay more than
ten dollars for a game. In 2000, I did go to the Tennessee rematch in Knoxville,
the Georgia rivalry in Jacksonville, and the SEC championship game in Atlanta
when I started to think about this research project. Initially, I had thought of using
those experiences in the research, but I ultimately decided to focus on one
season. Therefore, it was not until doing this research that I attended every
game in a single season, traveling as far as 700 miles to observe the spectacle
of the game from as many perspectives as possible.
Consequently, I come to this research project as a fan myself. However, I
have always tried to maintain reasonable boundaries of fandom that coincide
with my ideals concerning gender, race, and the financial aspects of exploitation.
I also come to this project as a sociologist and feminist. It is with this "bifurcated
consciousness" that I study the narratives created by spectators (Smith 1987):
while enjoying the game and receiving some benefits from it, I am also critical of
the structural inequality within it and the limits of the benefits I may enjoy. Being
an outsider within, I was able to draw upon my knowledge of the game, the
university, the history, and the traditions that I had learned over the years.
I come from the perspective of interpretive practice for the participant
observation. This is important because it maintains the contextualized nature of
knowledge production. The narratives that come out of fan talk are not
constructed as a result of being questioned by a researcher. They are
spontaneous creations of meaning in the context of everyday talk. To ask a
person what he or she thinks about football players might arrive at some of the
same stories that arise in the football game context, but they may not; one may
come up with stories in the context of an interview that reflect what the
interviewee thinks the interviewer wants to know or should know. Since my main
research objective is to describe the process by which fans connect to,
conceptualize, and disconnect from the masculinity of players, narrative analysis
of the conversations at and surrounding football games helps to elucidate "how"
or process questions.
Of course, fan talk is not spontaneous; to say so would lose its grounding
within the game. It is not that fans just start yelling things at random. Their talk
is in response to the action on the field. Fans are basically in dialog with the
team, the coaches, the other team, and each other. These types of dialogs occur
throughout the game with many people yelling at the field as if the people on the
field could hear them and would listen to them if they could hear them. This
dialog, as unconventional as it may seem, can be analyzed as a narrative that
arises from the context of the game, indeed, the game is the other, unwitting
participant in the dialog (Riesmann 1993). Furthermore, I loosely define these
conversations or dialogs to include all forms of communication including words,
signs, symbols, and non-verbal communication in body language.
People construct narratives to establish their selves in particular situations.
As Holstein and Gubrium (2000) assert, the self is "a project of everyday life,
whose local by-product is more properly articulated in the plural, as 'selves"' (13).
Football fans construct many selves within the context of their talk: they are
generally speaking, football fans, that is, spectators of the game; they are
specifically that team's fans, showing their support for and connection to that
particular school; they are students, alumni, and parents of students that attend
that school; they are loyal; they are partiers; they are thrilled; they are angry; they
are masculine; and, they are feminine. Not every fan is all of these things and
not every fan is limited to only these things. The object of this participant
observation is the process of how fans construct various selves through fan talk.
For participant observation, I studied the subject matter at the scene of the
action. No recording devices (video or audio) were used for data collection. I
attempted to bring a tape recorder to the games to record my observations, but
found it cumbersome and suspicious to use during the game. Furthermore, after
the September 11th attacks, there was heightened security in all stadiums and,
thus, it was more difficult to bring in equipment such as recording devices.
Therefore, much of the data are comprised of field notes written from
memory directly after each quarter of the game. For most of the games, I
brought a pen and a small notebook to take notes during the game. Most of
these notes consisted of what happened on the field and the corresponding
reaction from members of the crowd around me and what I could hear and see
further away (e.g., if the whole crowd seemed to moan on a missed touchdown
pass). Sometimes I would also write down specific comments of people in the
crowd. Oftentimes, I would wait until between the quarters to write down those
comments so that the spectators around me would not get suspicious. By taking
notes as plays occurred during the game, many spectators around me assumed
that I was a journalism student working on a submission to the school paper, an
incorrect assumption I negated if asked directly.
I did not solicit any information or ask fans to clarify any of their comments.
I simply wrote down what I heard and saw in the context of the game.
Furthermore, I did not write down comments when I knew people were just
conversing about issues not related to the game. I would mention if it seemed
that most people were socializing and not talking about the game, but I found it
intrusive to write down the details of personal conversations. The only
questionable entries concerned intimates teaching a significant other or child
about the game, either in terms of the rules of the game or the traditions of the
school. However, the fan community is rather open about teaching new
members, so this seemed to me to be public discourse as well.
Most of the items I recorded were the ones that were clearly meant to be
public. Comments yelled to the field, cheers, collective moans and gasps, and
hand gestures in the context in which they were uttered or performed were
recorded in my notes. As a result, my notes do read somewhat like a journalism
student's notes, such that for most of the events I give play by play descriptions
of the games. I also asked two White, female colleagues to take notes at two
separate games against the University of Louisiana Monroe and the University of
Georgia. This was an attempt at checking the reliability and validity of my notes.
All three of us noted similar patterns.
One benefit of participant observation is that I am an insider in the respect
that I have an understanding of the "recipe knowledge" of the game, that is,
some of the underlying assumptions on which fan talk is built (Heritage 1986).
This means I literally did not have to ask about the rules of the game.
Furthermore, as a fellow fan (albeit, a female fan), rather than conspicuous
researcher, surrounding fans were not guarded with their comments. Finally,
because I did not intervene, fans were able to construct narratives on their own
terms, rather than having to fit them into a research questionnaire. The
narratives created are uncensored, reflecting the extreme emotions and energy
of the game.
Unit of Analysis
For participant observation, the unit of analysis cannot be an individual
actor. Especially within the context of an open game, it is impossible to locate
single subjects. The multivocality of fans precludes using them as the unit of
analysis for study (Holstein and Gubrium 1995): fans make continuous narrative
shifts speaking as Gators, men, mothers, students, business owners, and
endless other selves. While tracking these narrative shifts is interesting work in
and of itself, it makes for attributing discourses to one voice, to say the least,
difficult. Therefore, the unit of analysis is what the spectators said, that is, the
narratives they created with each other and the action on the field. I did not
observe behavior to make judgments about fans. Rather, I detailed what was
said by whom. My assessments of "who" was talking was based on my
perceptions of their gender, race, and age. I noted these details to provide
context, not to attribute causal relationships between gender, race, or age and
the comments said. Indeed, because this is not a probabilistic sample I cannot
make claims to generalizability. How and when fans use specific talk further
clarifies the interpretations of those narratives.
Description of the Stadium Settings
I participated in a total of twelve games. There were six games in
Gainesville. The East Stands of the stadium are reserved for student tickets.
Students have individual tickets and blocs comprised of from twenty-five to over
a hundred students. Many students sell their tickets, so there is often a mix of
students, alumni, opposing team's fans, and community residents.
The most prized alumni tickets are in the West Stands and Touchdown
Terrace in the North Stands. The band is located in the Northeast End Zone.
The opposing team's fans are seated in the far north side of the East Stands and
the lowest part of the East Stands serving as a buffer in-between the student
section and the opposing team.
For the Louisiana Monroe University (LMU), a non-SEC game; Mississippi
State University (MSU), a pay-back for loss the previous season; and the
University of Tennessee (UT), a big rivalry game I sat in sections primarily filled
with alumni and Gainesville community members. For the Marshall University
(MU), a non-SEC game; Vanderbilt University (VU), the homecoming game; and
Florida State University (FSU), a big non-SEC rivalry game I sat in mostly
student sections. This provided equal amounts of time in the alumni and student
sections for both big and small games. For some games I had multiple tickets
and was able to move to more than one section during the course of the game.
For those games, I would spend half of the game in one section and the rest of
the game in the second.
There was one game each at the stadiums of the following four teams: the
University of Kentucky (UK), Louisiana State University (LSU), Auburn University
(AU), and the University of South Carolina (USC). In Auburn I sat surrounded by
Gator fans in the visitor section. In retrospect this was good because I had a
safe seat away from the AU fans rushing the field to tear down their goal posts
after they won. However, in Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina I was
seated in the middle of the opposing teams' alumni, towards the end zone in the
UK and LSU stadiums and right on the fifty yard-line in the USC stadium. All
three of those stadiums were fairly positive; by the end of each game I did not
feel scared and found the fans to be in pretty good humor even as (or perhaps
because) the Gators won.
The game against the University of Georgia (UGA) was played, as it has
been for over 50 years, in the neutral territory of the Alltel Stadium, the stadium
for the professional team, the Jacksonville Jaguars and also used for the annual
Gator Bowl. I sat on the Gator side in the end zone just below the rickety
temporary stands erected especially for this game. The final game was the
Orange Bowl, played in the Miami Dolphins' Pro-Player Stadium against the
University of Maryland (UM). Here I sat in the corner toward one of the end
By traveling to away games and sitting in various parts of the stadium, I
attempted to sample widely. This was purposive and did not provide a random,
representative sample. Because there is no clear data on the composition of
spectators in the stands, it is impossible to truly create a representative sample.
However, the analysis which follows does not represent an attempt to generalize
from the data. Instead, the varied positions in the stadium provided me with
more narrative resources to assess in terms of their use in race and gender
identity construction. In a sense, I collect a tool chest of narrative resources.
Focus Groups and Key Informant Interview
One shortcoming of participant observation is that I was unable to take
completely verbatim field notes as the talk was occurring. Therefore, many of the
narrative exchanges have been paraphrased and reconstructed rather than direct
quotes. Another constraint of my methodology is that a great deal of questions
remain unanswered because I did not ask fans to clarify their discussions. To
help attain some of the answers to content questions, I supplemented the
participant observation with focus groups and an interview.
The focus groups were conducted in varying environments. I held some on
the university campus in conference rooms and at tail-gating events. They took
place in off-campus conferences rooms, participants' homes, and restaurants.
All participants were recruited in a search for Gator fans. This was a purposive
sample, not a random, representative selection.
The questions used for this research were aimed at addressing the
research topics listed in the previous chapter. I used a semi-structured interview
protocol. I conducted and transcribed all the focus groups. I began with more
general questions and only brought up the more specific and probing questions
for clarification of issues. Generally, the first question, "What does it meant to be
a Gator fan?" opened up many different aspects of gender as well as notions of a
vicarious connection to the team. Most of the probes came out of this first
question as a way of picking up what participants had already said and
rephrasing it as a question for the rest of the group. This method of questioning
allowed the participants to start defining things themselves rather than simply
answering preset questions.
Unit of Analysis
Below I describe the participants of the focus groups. While it is important
to carefully describe to the fullest extent the people who took part in the focus
groups and interview, they are not the units of analysis. Because of this, I did not
try to find correlative relationships between what participants said and their
gender, race, age, or other various demographic factors. The unit of analysis,
like the participant observations, is the discourses themselves, not the
participants who uttered them.
Just because I did not establish causal linkages between gender, race, and
the discourses does not mean that this study is not concerned with race and
gender. Quite to the contrary; men, women, Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics are
all able to articulate the rules regarding gender and race with respect to
spectatorship. Women may be more attentive to gender issues and Blacks more
attentive to race issues, but this is not necessarily the case.
As with the participant observation, these discourses must be
contextualized. The description of the participants which follows helps to provide
the context of the dynamics in each group. Also, the participants did not simply
answer questions in isolation from other participants and the facilitator. I
engaged in active interviewing, understanding that my very presence influenced
the direction of the discussions in the groups (Holstein and Gubrium 1995).
Therefore, in the analysis in the following chapters, it would not make sense to
merely cut out individual quotes and attribute them to particular demographic
characteristics. Instead, I showed them in the context of my questions and
comments as well as other participants' comments. Typically, any editing I have
done to the quotes simply reduces redundancy, while attempting to maintain the
entire context of the discussion.
Sampling and Description of Participants
I used two methods to recruit participants for focus groups and interviews.
First, I went early to tailgating events surrounding the stadiums and asked
naturally occurring groups if they would like to participate in my research. The
benefit to this type of focus group is that I reached fans who were already
thinking and talking about the game experience. I constructed two groups
through this method. One group had nine mixed-gender participants and the
other had four male participants, making a total of thirteen participants. Almost
all of these participants were White except for one man in the mixed-gender
group who was Hispanic.
Both of these groups consisted of alumni, although some of them had
friends in the group that had not graduated from UF. Both groups were filled with
relatively recent graduates, ranging in age from mid-twenties to late thirties. The
group of men lived and worked in an urban city in North Florida. A third of the
participants in the other group lived and worked in Gainesville, while the others
traveled from urban environments in South Florida, West Florida, and Central
Georgia. The group of men had been members of the university band. All of the
participants were middle to upper middle class professionals and
The bulk of the groups were recruited through the second method which
was to sample students from the university and members of the alumni Gator
Clubs. Students were asked in classes to participate in the research. Four
groups of students participated. One group consisted of four women, two Black
and two White. One group had one White man and two women, one Black and
one White. Another group consisted of one Black man and two women, one
Black and one White. Both of the Black participants in this group were
coincidentally Jamaican and talked about this fact both before and after the focus
group. The final group consisted of one man and one woman, both White. The
man labeled himself a "nontraditional student" because he had worked for
several years before enrolling in the UF education school. These students came
from varied backgrounds, but for the most part seemed to be middle-class.
Finally, I contacted Gator Clubs to recruit participants. This formed two
groups, one consisting of two men and another consisting of six women. All of
these participants were White and middle-class. The two men were
professionals in a large, urban city in the East. In the group of women, five of the
participants were involved at one point in time with the public school system in a
Southern Florida rural town and the sixth participant worked at the local bank.
This made a total of twenty-one recruits through this method. A complete list of
participants can be found in the Appendix.
I was also able to interview the current president of a prestigious Gator
Club. He attempted to construct a focus group for me, but was unable to bring
his members together. He expressed concern about me interviewing participants
in the all-male club where women are strictly forbidden. He was very willing to be
interviewed over the phone and was very helpful. He was also a White, middle-
class man, but he was very adamant about distinguishing himself from the upper-
class Bull Gators. He worked hard collecting money for scholarships, and did not
consider himself upper-class.
Like groups before games, the Gator Club participants were naturally
occurring and participated together in game activities. The student groups were
familiar with interacting together because they were from the same classes,
although they often had different game experiences. The proximal distance from
the game may have taken away some of the emotional connection of the
participants, but there was no way to measure whether or not this was true.
There were no Blacks in the alumni groups and only one Hispanic in all of
the groups. The under-representation of Blacks, Hispanics, and other non-White
groups is due in part to the relatively low amount of participation in spectatorship
by these groups. However, while most spectators are White, not all of them are
White. Relative to the amount of Blacks in the student body as reported in
Chapter 1, a disproportionate amount of Blacks were in the student groups.
Therefore I over-sampled for Blacks in the student groups. Likewise, to assure
that I heard the voices of women, I over-sampled for women in the student
groups. Furthermore, I constructed an alumnae group that was entirely women.
While I attempted to recruit varied participants, this was not to make
universal claims about gender and race with respect to spectatorship. As noted
above, the unit of analysis is the discourses created in the focus groups,
although their experiences certainly inform their narratives. Ultimately, my goal
was to describe the methods participants use to create notions of race and
gender with respect to the game. By varying the types of people and the
compositions of the groups, I was able to obtain more narrative resources used
in ideology construction.
Analysis: Extended Case Method
Fortunately, through this research I collected a great amount of rich data.
Every researcher wants large samples of data to make his or her conclusions
stronger. Unfortunately, the larger the amount of data, the more specified
searches through it must be. There is not the space in this document to
adequately report on all of the emergent themes in the data I collected. Instead, I
had to focus on particular parts of the discourses recorded.
This does not mean, however, that I only discuss the themes that make my
point and merely dismiss the rest. My analysis of the data was guided first by the
theoretical and empirical literature presented in Chapter 1. As such, I started by
employing the extended case method approach (Buroway 1991) by comparing
the data to the existing theories. As a result of constant comparisons, I
attempted to locate inconsistencies and gaps in the theories, basically looking for
instances in which the data does not fit existing literature. By doing so, I am able
to construct the process which serves to encompass and bridge together the
existing empirical literature more carefully explicating the theory of hegemonic
I return to the research topics that emerge from the literature in Chapter 1:
* All fans share a vicarious relationship with the players that is enhanced
through fan participation at football games. Fans use the vicarious
relationship with the players to connect to examples of masculine power.
* While all fans can utilize spectatorship to make the vicarious relationship to
the players, the types of connections appropriate depend on the race and
gender of the fan. Some fans are not as able as others to make the
vicarious link to players and require more negotiation.
* Furthermore, the vicarious link only goes from fan to player and not the
other way around, creating an exploitative relationship between fans and
Therefore, I focused on the ways in which spectators in the stadium and in focus
groups use discursive tools to negotiate ideological understandings of race and
gender. In particular, I systematically analyzed the vicarious linkages spectators
make to each other and to the action on the field. I also address the elements of
the spectacle of football that make it conducive to negotiating race and gender
ideology. Hence, the vicarious connections must be contextualized.
Because I wanted to detail a process within context, I focused my analysis
on the participant observation first. Comparing all the games, I attempted to
locate emergent themes explicating the processes of connecting to the event,
formulating and reformulating masculinities and femininities, and disconnecting.
After isolating the themes that shaped the chapters to come, I compared this
framework against the narratives from the focus groups. Where the participant
observation provided more of the process, the focus group participants helped
elucidate the meanings behind the process in terms of race, gender, and power.
This chapter explained my position in relation to methodology,
epistemology, and analysis. In terms of data collection, I used narrative analysis,
in which I was an active participant in the narrative constructions I recorded. To
explore the ideological process discussed in Chapter 1, I engaged in participant
observation within the context of the games. To further explicate the meanings
involved in this process, I conducted six focus groups and a key informant
interview. The sampling for both these methods was not representative,
therefore, the following observations are not generalizable. However, this is not
the point of this type of exploratory research. As noted above, I used the
extended case method as a means for theory bridging and building, rather than
theory testing that is traditionally associated with quantitative studies. By
constantly comparing existing theory to my data, looking for gaps and
inconsistencies in theory, I located the following trends used to organize the
coming chapters: (1) connecting to the event through community building,
energy, and personal linkages to the game; (2) formulating masculinity through
feminizing, sexualizing, and emasculating the opposing team, fans, and mascots
(3) reformulating masculinity to hegemonic notions of control and authority
associated with Whiteness; and, (4) disconnecting from the event by denying
claims to hegemonic White masculinity to White women and Black men and
women through gender and racial harassment and objectification of the team.
"IN ALL KINDS OF WEATHER, WE'LL ALL STICK TOGETHER":
BUILDING ENERGY AND COMMUNITY
Research on football fans consistently show the positive functions of the
connection football fans make to each other and their team ranging from a sense
of belonging to feelings of self-respect (Wann et al. 1999a, Hirt and Ryalls 1994,
Wann and Branscombe 1993, Branscombe and Wann 1992, Hirt et al. 1992,
Cialdini et al. 1976). For people of a society in which institutions constantly break
down and change, identification with a group that spans the generations with
unchanging traditions and unwavering participation provides fans with a sense of
stability. As "crazy" as fans seem to outsiders, they represent consistency within
an anomic society. As illustrated in this chapter, one of the most positive
functions of the connection to a football team lies in the community formation and
identification fans make with the energy the team produces, particularly in a
The crowd and team work together to build a cauldron of energy in the
stadium, palpable to all who enter, particularly the opposing team and their fans.
The energy created through the violence of the playing on the field, the band,
and the cheering produce a masculine, intimidating space. However, within that
space, notions of community are also forged. The Gator community incorporates
many of the elements of typical societies including nonmaterial and material
cultural elements that serve to define the space, history, and generations of the
group. As one of the first things many fans discuss in terms of their experience
as Gators, I start below with a discussion of energy.
Energy in the Event
Taylor: The adrenaline rush that I get when I walk in that stadium, too. It's
like, you just feel the energy.
Connie: Yeah, it's totally exciting.
Like these alumni participants, almost every focus groups' participants cited the
energy in the stadium as the main reason for their involvement as football fans,
as opposed to other sports. James provided an example of the energy within the
stadium and how it relates to a community of emotions:
It's almost like you can feel the energy though. It's kind of like when you
walk into a room and people have been fighting and you can feel the
tension. It's almost like there's something else there that you can feel. My
best example of that is. .when we played South Carolina, and they got two
punt returns back in for a goal, like right off the bat. And I mean, you could
just feel it in the entire [stadium], eighty thousand people, you could feel the
depression and the lull. And then when all of a sudden the punt kicker ran,
instead of kicking it, grabs and then runs it for a first down. I mean, you
could just feel the energy almost like a whirlwind, just like pick up.
The event in the stadium becomes alive with the participation of the fans,
coaches, referees, and players along with the emerging action on the field and
reaction in the stands. However, this "energy" is notably masculine in nature.
The ways in which energy is created, fueled, and maintained within the event-
violent and exciting plays, the band, and the cheers-all reflect and serve to build
extreme notions of masculinity.
Energy from Exciting and Violent Plays
Some of the responses to the big plays and big misses are more like a
dialog with the game; the fans simply react, almost without thinking, to the action
on the field. However, the importance of the big and especially the violent plays
is that they add to the energy of the game by infusing it with masculinity, for
violence is the extreme form of masculine power displays. The following came
from my field notes in which I sat in the alumni section at the game against ULM.
I noted the relationship between violence, aggression and the fans' reactions:
The one thing that fans on the alumni side were fairly expressive about was
good hits. This was usually an "Oooh!" or "Yeah!!" shouted fairly
spontaneously from a male fan when one of our defending players would hit
(i.e., aggressively tackle) the quarterback, running back, receiver, or kick
returned. In other words, aside from touchdowns, the fans on the alumni
side only seemed to really cheer when there was an extreme moment of
violence or aggression from the Gator players toward the other players.
While a football game is really won through persistence and solid plays
(particularly a good ground offense with running plays), crowds respond to more
exciting and fast plays. Long passes or punt returns, in which the plays become
easier to see because they spread over larger areas of the field, often get the
fans to their feet cheering wildly. All the fans, even those with little expertise, can
easily identify these big plays and cheer loudly. This helps build the energy, or
what announcers often call momentum, of the game. You will hear collective
grunts, groans, and cheers that come out as "natural" or spontaneous reactions
to the action on the field but are actually very much scripted and appropriate
responses that fans learn over time. With these types of plays it is as if the
crowd is responding to the actions of the players, not the players themselves.
However, the problem remains that violence tends to receive the most
accolades from the crowd, as in the following example from field notes I recorded
in the student section during the homecoming win against VU:
There was a flag on Earnest Graham's run. The quarterback, Rex
Grossman, was under pressure again and threw the ball out again. Then
Jabar Gaffney juggled a pass and it was intercepted. Earnest Graham
picked up the player who intercepted the ball and dropped him to the
ground. The crowd cheered, "Yeah!" On the replay they repeated the
"Yeah!" and also laughed at the fact that our player picked him up. A White
woman actually said, "Look, he picked him up, as she laughed.
This indicates the ebb and flow of the energy levels with big plays later in the
game. While the fans' energy should deflate in the face of losing possession of
the ball, instead, they laugh and cheer at the tackle. Of course, the energy is
only sustained with continued big plays. Here men and women were especially
excited by shows of power in violence, and it did not matter if it was violence by
or against UF players. Fans also respond to the band.
Energy from the Band
As an alumnus band member, George, exclaimed, "We [the band members]
lead the cheers!" As one of the loudest units in the stadium, above even the
voices of the announcers, the Pride of the Sunshine band plays an important role
in stimulating the crowd and the team. The ways in which the band engages the
crowd take on masculine tones as well.
War themes and intimidating songs
The songs that the band plays reflect an extreme notion of masculinity,
primarily through intimidation, the act of a superior to invoke fear in the weak by
aggressive means. One of the long-standing songs heard in the Swamp and in
any stadium in which the Gators play is the theme to Jaws. Fans quickly
recognize the refrain and begin to extend their arms in an up-and-down clap,
referred to as the "Gator chomp." The chomp reflects a predatory notion of
eating one's prey. If that connection does not seem clear enough, the band also
plays the ever-popular song, "Gator bait" to which the fans also chomp.
Of course, the band also plays less foreboding songs meant to encourage
the team or simply entertain the crowd during a break in play. However, in the
heat of the competition between teams, especially during close games, the band
tends to play songs meant solely to invoke fear from the opposing team. The
band acquires songs from various movies, almost always finding those in which
masculine characteristics of intimidation, physical threat, heroism, and stoicism
predominate. For example, in the 2001 season, the band played theme songs
from the following movies: Cape Fear, Jaws, and The Gladiator. In addition, they
occasionally played the drumbeat to the song, "Beautiful People," originally
written by the king of darkness himself, Marilyn Manson.
Proximity of students in relation to the band
While the band represents one of the loudest entities in the stadium, it pales
in comparison to the din of the crowd cheering on the defense. The
effectiveness of the band, therefore, depends upon its proximity in relation to the
crowd. Many fans enjoy sitting near the band so they know when to do the
appropriate cheers. Doing the cheers in time with the band allows these fans to
get closer to the action by participating directly in intimidating the opposing team
and their fans. In that context, the following explanation by female students
participating in a focus group makes sense:
Anne: But I kind of like being near the band.
Anne: Because, like, I sat further away from the band and like you can't,
like, it's delayed reaction of, "Do, do, do, do, do," [long pause] "Go Gators!"
It's like later.
Laurel: .What about you?
Susan: Both. 'Cause you get more riled up when you're by the band ....
Anne: I had fun over there [sitting directly above the opposing team's
players] because we picked on the Vanderbilt people. 'Cause we were like
kind of by the sidelines sort of.
Shelia: I was, too.
Anne: You pick on [the opposing players]. [laughs] It's funny.
Shelia: It made it a little more exciting. [laughs]
These fans prefer to participate either with the band or by directly harassing the
other team's players. Fans enjoy being a part of the masculine display of
bravado, provoking fear in others and a sense of power in themselves. The
proclivity toward intimidation reveals itself in the cheers fans perform as well.
Energy from the Cheers
Whether led by the cheerleaders, by the band, or started by the fans
themselves, cheers fuel the energy in the stadium. As well, they further construct
the space as masculine by adding to the menacing nature of the experience.
Just as with the band, intimidation and proximity remain key factors. Additionally,
the fans' cheers and excitement clearly reflect the intensity of the game itself.
Intimidating the opposing players and fans
Before the game begins, the cheerleaders help bring the crowd into
connection with the team and other fans. Mic-Man (Richard Johnston) stands in
the middle of the field inciting the alumni and student sections to compete for
loudness, coordinating the fans to cheer "Orange and Blue," which is heard for
miles around. The student section yells "orange" and the alumni section yells
"blue." Later in the game, the students will oftentimes challenge the alumni by
starting "Orange and Blue" without the cheerleaders. Students in one focus
group joked that this is the only time that the alumni get motivated to stand and
Anne: Yeah. [laughs] That's like the loudest cheer they do, I think.
"Orange and blue." "Orange!"
Marcy: They even do that in the student side. But like you said, by the time
you hear it, it's like, "Blue!!" [louder, with Anne] Where you're like, "Oh my.
This is awful." [all laugh]
Laurel: Yeah, you always hear, like the students starting, trying to start
"Orange and blue," to get the alumni going. ... .1 wonder if that, I wonder
how intimidating that is for another team, to hear that.
Marcy: Just looking up and seeing all that orange and blue ["orange and
blue" at the same time as Anne]. I'm like, "Oh, my."
By competing with each other, the alumni and student sections create what these
students agree is an intimidating atmosphere.
To complete the sense of the perilous Swamp at the beginning of the game,
a video of alligators in the water is played along with the theme from Jaws. As
an alligator opens its mouth wide, the announcer states, "In the Swamp, only the
Gators get out alive." Like the songs the band plays, this cheer is meant to
invoke notions of predator and prey. At the same time, the Swamp's reputation
as one of the most grueling experiences for both player and fan (in terms of heat
and noise) raises the expectations of masculine survival of the fittest.
The fans really only ever respond to the cheerleaders during "Orange and
Blue." For the most part, the fans tend to ignore the cheerleaders. For one
reason, it is difficult to hear what the cheerleaders say over the din of the crowd.
While the cheerleaders and the band conduct some of the cheers, the fans also
pride themselves on starting action themselves. These actions occur more often
when the team wins and the fans do not feel a responsibility to help the players.
Some examples include tossing around balls, doing the wave, throwing toilet
paper, and rushing the field.
Whatever the type of cheering and whoever initiates it, the goal remains
intimidation of the other team. The following alumni discussed their perception of
the opposing team's experience due to the imposing nature of the stadium:
John: Especially for somebody who's never seen a place like that, like the
first time I think I went there and it was empty, I was just like, "Oh, my gosh.
This place is HUGE."
Taylor: It's intimidating.
Connie: Very intimidating. I mean it has to be so intimidating for those 50,
100 guys standing out on the field going, "Oh, no."
While not the largest stadium in college football, most announcers, fans, and
opposing teams agree that, because of the construction of the Florida stadium, it
is one of the loudest in the nation (Smith 2001). Of course, the cheering from the
fans composes the other reason for the intimidating nature of the experience.
Through coordinating cheers and getting loud on defense, the fans work to scare
the other team. However, sometimes the cheering in the stands, while still very
well organized, is not orchestrated; instead it is a response to the intensity of the
Reaction to the intensity of the event
Much of the cheering sounds like a dialog with the action on the field. Fans
groan, moan, and writhe in pain in response to a bad play on the field. Likewise,
they scream and high-five for great plays. They may wait breathless on the edge
of their seats and sigh in relief on close plays. The concerted reactions by the
crowd encompass set reactions to the intensity of the game. My field notes from
the homecoming game against VU illustrate the conversation with the field: "Rex
Grossman passed to a receiver and the crowd anticipated the catch with, 'oooo'
and showed disappointment when the receiver dropped it with, 'oh!' Some fans
actually looked away or slumped their bodies when they said, 'oh.'"
People attend to discussions in similar manners. One rule of speaking
concerns the appropriate response when engaged in a dialog (Holstein and
Gubrium 2000). Conversation often entails turn-taking in which one person says
something and waits for an appropriate response from the other person,
indicating that the listener understood what the speaker said. If the listener does
not make moves to show s/he remains attentive to the conversation at hand, that
conversation begins to break down.
As a conversation, the football game involves players speaking to the crowd
in many ways, most of all through plays on the field. Culturally bound to respond
appropriately, the crowd shows they understand what the players attempt to
communicate to them. A student, Melissa, explained how she responds to the
If they're running, I'm up with them, watching, you know. I'm like, "Ahhhh
[high pitched scream]!". .It's just. .not even conscious, you know. I'm
watching the game, and then you know, they catch the ball and I'm up, you
know .... Cause I'm not really thinking about it, it's just, you're all absorbed
In this way, fans feed off the energy created on the field, and likewise, the energy
created in the stands fuels the players. However, not all parts of the stadium
respond to the actions similarly. One of the crucial factors includes where the
Seating in the stadium
As noted in my methodology section, I made a concerted effort to sit in
different sections of the stadium. This was done because, as an insider to the
Gator scene, I already knew that people acted differently depending on where
they sat. I had previously heard rumors of the alumni section and their lack of
participation but I had never experienced it until this research. While there may
exist other ways of categorizing the stadium, I chose to rely upon this distinction
made most often by fans themselves.
Student section. UF has one of the largest student ticket allotments in the
nation at 21,000 tickets per season (Smith 2001). Of course, some students sell
their tickets to Gainesville citizens, opposing fans, or alumni. However, even with
many non-students in the section, it still invokes a reputation for drunken
rowdiness and obnoxiousness. No doubt, the placement of the students near the
opposing fans and directly below the opposing team serves to frighten the fans
and fluster the team.
Furthermore, the energy of the student section helps to connect all the fans
to each other and the game. A student, Susan, explained:
I definitely feel more of a connection like, with the game as a whole
because of the crowd. Like, I don't get anywhere as near as riled up or
even enthusiastic about football as when I'm at the game, as opposed to
watching it on television. There's so many things going on. I don't know.
It's like, it is the crowd's reaction that makes me react. I don't know. I just
don't think that I would feel it, or be into it as much if I were in the alumni
section, 'cause I've seen it and heard about it. [all laugh]
Susan expresses what many other fans indicate that the student section and the
rowdy, obnoxious behavior many exhibit add to the experience of the game.
Many of the alumni with whom I talked also acknowledged the heightened and
even extreme level of participation they recall from when they attended the
university. At the same time, Susan jokes about the common lore that the alumni
remain much more detached from the game and each other.
Alumni section. When attending the game against MSU, I moved during
the game from the student section to a section with a higher proportion of alumni
and noted, "People were sitting down when I got there. I had been standing the
whole time in the student section. So this was a nice break. Some people
actually looked a little bored." While I did note an actual reality to the distinction
discussed by alumni and students, the distinction alumni make really serves
more to construct their particular behavior as more important to the functioning of
the event. For example, many alumni lament the "drunken" behavior in the
student section, particularly blaming them for the majority of offensive behavior.
On the other hand, since students often lacked the resources to participate at the
levels of many alumni, they can define their physical labor as more "true," a
notion discussed more fully in Chapter 4.
Even though the alumni section remains relatively sedate, they by no
means lack energy. As Charles, a participant from a Gator Club told me:
Certainly on the alumni side it's, it's a little bit more sedate. But you know,
every time I've been there, the groups that I've been with, everybody is just
going crazy, you know? They get up. They do the wave. They yell like
crazy. People can't talk after the game because they're so hoarse from all
the scoring and everything.
Charles explains that the energy of the stadium gets to all fans, no matter where
they sit. One relatively recent phenomenon does work, however, to decrease the
energy in the stadium-the television timeout.
Breaking the Flow of Energy through Television Timeouts
As stations televise more of the games at UF, commercialism becomes an
obstacle in maintaining the energy of the event. Television timeouts tend to
break the energy created in conjunction with the game. The following example I
recorded in the student section from the game against UGA in Jacksonville
indicates this problem:
The television timeouts messed up the rhythm of cheers. The band started
to play the drumbeat to the chomp that we do at kick off. However, the
crowd and the band started to speed it up before the timeout was over. So
we had to chomp fast for more time, with many fans giving up before the
The band did not represent the only entity ignorant of the changes to the
structure of the game. Television timeouts require many fans to adjust their
knowledge of the game:
There was a television timeout that messed up the timing for the crowd.
Normally, we always make noise on defense. Since both teams were on
the field the crowd started cheering but quickly noticed that the clock hadn't
started because we were still on a commercial break. Some fans
complained about the television timeouts.
As a result, fans were forced to reorganize the ways in which they cheer as to not
lose the energy they and the players create. Some fans will help each other out
by yelling, "TV timeout!" so that people do not exhaust themselves before the
action begins. Most fans learn to recognize that when an official, wearing all
white moves off the field, the commercial ends and the play begins. The reaction
to television timeouts also reflects the fact that fans alone do not create and
maintain the energy in the stadium. The officials play an important role as well.
Of course, central to the construction of energy is the masculine display created
by the players on the field. However, what is apparent is that all these people
work together as a community of common interests.
Gator Community Emerging in and from the Event
Gator fans build and establish a clear community that follows them far
outside the stadium even into distant countries. Most of my participants
consistently talked about the feeling of a Gator community or the Gator "family."
As I noted in an interview with a president of a prestigious Gator Club:
"Let me tell you something about the 'family."' He said the "family" is a part
of being a Gator and that no other school has this strong extended family
system. He mentioned that perhaps Notre Dame with their long history, but
they are the only ones that would even come close.
As a latent function of the game experience, fans form an extended community
that reaches past the current generation. The community simplifies differences
among its members because all fans come together for one reason-to support
their university. As Stan, an alumnus band member, explained, a Gator is a
Gator, no matter how different people within the community may be:
There's a guy. .who owns a couple of buildings and they call him the
mayor of this little tailgating town. And all these other people come in and
the mayor goes around and talks to everyone. .1 guess that's the kind of
thing that just makes you like it even more than just the football. I mean,
the football's great, you know, and the Gators are winning, and that's cool.
But, the fact that it's all this camaraderie and all this, all this, you know
group mentality. .There's more connectiveness there and a few
generations there. .You can talk to people that came here when they
were, you know, when it was the forties. And then you can talk to
somebody who's still here and there just, it's almost like there's, there's no
change. I mean, there are changes. But he's a Gator and you're a Gator
even if, well even though forty years separates you.
Therefore, the Gator community takes on the formation of a subculture, or a
cultural group within a larger society. As such, the community maintains similar
means for social order in nonmaterial culture, material culture, spatial delineation,
history, and generational connections (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952).
Nonmaterial Culture of the Gator Community
As a community, the Gator family produces and reproduces nonphysical
notions, such as values, norms, beliefs, customs, and symbols. Cheers and
chants, discussed above, fall under the designation of nonmaterial culture.
However, values and norms become particular significant in terms of maintaining
the connectivity of the community, the social order of the community.
Values-"in all kinds of weather, we'll all stick together"
As the clock runs out on the third quarter, the band starts the song that has
been a tradition at UF for generations: "We Are the Boys from Old Florida." As
the players switch sides of the field to begin the fourth quarter, the entire stadium
stands, links arms, and sways with the band as they sing:
We are the boys from old Florida
Where the girls are the fairest,
the boys are the squarest
of any old state down our way. (hey)
We are all strong for old Florida,
down where the old Gators play.
In all kinds of weather,
we'll all stick together. For
The song articulates the key value in the Gator community-the notion of
maintaining connections through all types of adversity. In essence, it translates
to a notion of community and coming together. The song encourages everyone
to come together, even when the team does not win championships or has a
losing season. The strength is defined as supporting the team. That this is tied
to the "boys" and not the "girls" of Florida, this indicates a very masculine notion
of loyalty and devotion.
Furthermore, as the quotes at the beginning of the section indicate, there
exists a notion of equalizing, such that all types of people come together to form
the community. Tricia noted the value in coming together in the following quote:
I always get goosebumps .... I think it's just really amazing .... Eighty
thousand people are in there and they're all screaming, well, the majority of
them are screaming for one purpose. And they're all focused in on that
one. It seems like so silly that we're all in there for a game. [Elaine laughs].
.But then there's a lot more to it, because everybody kind of comes from
different, different backgrounds and like has a different feeling about the
Gators. They all join together.
While over 80,000 people standing and swaying together provides an amazing
image, the song invokes the values of community building and maintenance at
other stadiums where Gators comprise a vast minority of the fans. For example,
a friend and I used the performance of the song as a chance to connect to our
extended community while among Louisiana State fans: "The two of us stood
surrounded by LSU fans and swayed as the rest of the Gator fans in the alumni
section across from us did 'We are the Boys' together."
Of particular importance, the song relays the values of community and
singing it actively initiates that connectivity. By standing, we connected to the
other fans at the other end of the stadium, showing our solidarity even at a
distance. Therefore, the actions associated with singing "We Are the Boys"
encompass norms of behavior and are subject to sanctioning from other
members of the community.
Norms and sanctioning
The norms of any group establish structured expectations for behavior
enforced through sanctioning. Indeed, many of us learn the rules for correct
behavior by breaking them and receiving sanctions from those who know the
rules (Garfinkel 1967). Perhaps one of the most well-known norms of Florida
football lies in the unwritten rule that all in the student section must remain
standing for the entire game. A typical example comes form the game against
UGA: "Most of the student fans in the section I was in sat down for the television
timeout. While we were sitting, a White, male Florida fan shouts at us, 'Florida
fans don't sit down!!!'" Here we breached the rules because of the relatively new
phenomenon of the television timeout. Because it interrupts the normal behavior
of the crowd, we were unsure how to proceed. The sanctioning from the other
man clearly reminded us of the appropriate behavior.
As is the case with the "standing rule," sanctions tend to enforce norms that
build or maintain a sense of connectivity and community energy. As I noted from
the game at LSU, "There were a couple of fights in the stands and people would
watch the fights instead of the game. A White, middle-class man said, "'Watch
the game,' instead of watching the fights." The fan reminded the others of the
purpose, or common goal of the community, that is, to support the team.
Another example that illustrates this notion can be taken from my field notes
from the game against MSU, where I sat in a section filled predominantly with
During the game, I really got a sense that things were much more laid back
in this section, that the people weren't as involved in the game. However, I
noticed a man and woman (both White, maybe 20) talking. Another White
woman did the chomp in the face of her female companion who wasn't
Here, even when the fans did not seem as connected to the game and began to
socialize, another fan attempted to maintain the community by sanctioning her
friend in a playful manner. Notably, she uses a Gator chomp, a symbol of the
Gator community, to remind her friend of the true purpose of being in the
stadium. Clearly, the nonmaterial culture of the community works to maintain
that community and the connection it provides. Likewise the material culture
provides artifacts that also help maintain the sense of community.
Material Culture of the Gator Community
Aspects of material culture include the physical artifacts that help to shape
the lives of members in a particular group. Further, they define the character of a
given group. Material culture includes clothing, buildings, artwork, food, and
music. Above I discussed how the songs and chants, aspects of material culture,
relayed the values of the group, in the nonmaterial culture. Below, I discussed
how clothing, team colors, and other paraphernalia help to bring the community
Clothing and colors
By wearing orange and blue, fans can find each other and congregate with
more of their kind. Also, knowing which colors to wear to games constitutes
knowledge that legitimates one as a true Gator. For example, one cannot wear
blue to a game against UK because their colors are blue and white. One cannot
wear orange to a game against UT because their colors are orange and white.
Furthermore, one must make sure that he or she does not wear the shades of
orange and blue that AU wears while attending that game. An alumnus, Calvin
noted the difficulty of defining community at the AU:
Calvin: It's like that Auburn cop, it took him forever to figure out I was Gator.
Laurel: Well, you know we're all orange and blue.
Calvin: But it was a good hour into the cop's time before he goes, "Oh,
you're a Gator fan?" [And I said,] "See the hat?"
Calvin required the services of the police at Auburn after the fans there harassed
him and stole his orange and blue hat. The police officer did not understand the
problem because he did not recognize that Calvin belonged to another group.
Later in the same group, Taylor explained that the colors and type of
clothing he and his friends wear reflect the desire to create a sense of community
by telling other Gators that he is one of them: "I mean, I broadcast, you know,
Calvin does, most of us do, broadcast whenever we go anywhere. Most of our T-
shirts that we're going to be wearing, or hats or whatever, are going to be Gator
something or other." The practicality of broadcasting can be seen at away
games when the community does not come together as easily as it does in
Gainesville. Before the game at UK, I noted the significance of material signs
that brought the fans together:
While I was walking around the UK fans' tailgating parties I saw and heard
Gator fans looking for each other and the Gator tent. Basically all they had
to do was search for the orange, a fact they would mention to each other.
In the sea of blue clothing, bright orange really stuck out. Also, the Florida
band would play occasionally to help bring everyone together, since you
could hear them from far away and follow the sound to the tent. By coming
together at the Gator tent, the Florida fans who were clearly and visibly in
the minority everywhere else could come together and have more strength
Clearly, as a temporary minority group, Gator fans in opposing cities attempt to
form a microcosm of their home. Bringing all the fans together under one tent
helps to solidify the fans and offer them a safe space to mingle with those like
The Gator community, however, extends past the games and into all
aspects of individuals' lives. The feeling of commonality, too, pervades all facets
of fans' lives so that they always feel like they share a common bond with fellow
Gators. Many alumni and students echoed the story from alumnae below:
Judith: I can see somebody in New York City, somebody with a Gator cap
on, and I just have a kinship with that person, and I know that I'm really
going to like them. You know what I mean? Don't you all have that feeling?
Betty: You can always talk to them, cause if you say, "Go Gators!" you
have an instant conversation.
Judith: That's all it takes. That's all it takes.
Betty: In Cairns, Australia, I did that. [There was a] man wearing a Gator
cap and I walked by and said, "Go Gators!" and we talked for ten minutes.
Judith explained that she automatically assumes she will like a Gator because of
the special connection they share. Betty noted the more practical side of that
connection as an "instant conversation," such that fans can always talk about the
team, their current record, past games, or their next season. Even in outside the
stadium, Gators find each other and bring a piece of familiarity and home back
into their lives.
Flags, license plates, and car magnets
When fans pass other Gator fans on the road-identified by Gator bumper
stickers, magnets, flags, or license tags-they may honk and do the Gator
chomp to each other. Nicole, an alumna, discussed this phenomenon:
I think it's neat when you go to the Florida games on the weekends, and the
closer you get to Gainesville every car you see is just totally decked out. I
mean, yeah, it's not just the tags, it's everything imaginable. Yeah, you see
the vans that they've customized orange and blue. It's cool.
As when using colors and clothing to establish the boundaries of the community,
particularly at away games, decorations on cars serve to show a presence, and
they broadcast that presence and community to fellow fans in the community.
Again, the community exists beyond the season as an alumnus, Charles notes:
I feel connected to everything about the University of Florida. When I'm
driving, uh, into work and I see a license plate go by and it's got "University
of Florida" on it or something, I feel connected to that person in that car
that's driving it, even though I don't know who the heck they are. It's weird.
These artifacts of material culture help to bind the extended community together,
whether situated in the Swamp, in other stadiums, or in various cities across the
country and even world. In the external examples, the artifacts remind the fans
of the values of the community; within the context of the game the artifacts serve
to define the spatial boundaries of the Gator community.
Spatiality of the Gator Community
While, creating a community in Gainesville takes relatively little effort
because of the prevalence of Gator fans, establishing community in places where
Gators constitute the minority is difficult. As a result, fans use strategies to
maximize the affect of the community at the games, as I discovered before the
game at UK:
A friend noted that Gators always help each other out in getting tickets and
that they would much rather sell their extra tickets to a Gator than to a
Kentucky fan. This is mostly about pride and community, but it is also
logistic: the Gator tickets are all together in one section. If Gators buy
Kentucky tickets and Kentucky fans buy Gator tickets, then the two sections
mix and there isn't as obvious a demarcation. This isn't so bad for
Kentucky fans because they are the majority, but for Gators, this dilutes
them throughout the stadium, making it harder for them to work together
doing fan behavior. This is because many of the cheers really need to be
done collectively in order for anyone on the field to see or hear them.
Fans are able to create a microcosm of the Swamp community in the stands of
opposing teams when all together, hence, the importance of getting "Gator"
tickets when going to away games. If fans spread throughout the stadium, they
become diluted and the microcosm cannot be constructed.
After Florida won at USC, I noted an example of dilution and the ways fans
attempted to connect to each other despite it:
Since ESPN GameDay was in Columbia, they were going to give their final
report right after the game. Many Gators went to be on television
supporting their team. I went to the GameDay setup and it was almost all
Gator fans. There were a few South Carolina fans in the minority, so they
were searching for each other. One man right up against the fence said,
"I'm all alone up here," to which another fan replied, "I've got your back,
man." It was an interesting switch for the Florida fans to be the majority and
the South Carolina fans to be in the minority all of a sudden. All the Gator
fans looked for each other to celebrate right after the game. So complete
strangers would see each other in a crowd and say, "Go Gators!"
The South Carolina fans jokingly intimate their fears due to being a minority
without their community. By telling the first fan that he will back him up, the
second fan alludes to sticking together as a community. Clearly, Florida fans are
not the only ones creating notions of community and value that connection to
each other. Florida fans take advantage of their new-found majority status to
reestablish their community in a foreign space. They look to others wearing the
same colors and call out the password, "Go Gators!" After identifying each other,
they work to take over the space previously monopolized by South Carolina fans.
These examples suggest that fans can construct a community anywhere,
with their basis reflecting the community created and maintained in Gainesville.
As I found before the game against MSU, that community has evolved over time:
I arrived on campus at 10:30 am and people were already gathering. After
walking around and talking to the people tailgating, I found out that many
have the same spot week after week for years. These are not reserved
spots in the sense that the university holds them. The people respect each
others' spots and get there early enough to make certain that no one steals
While some fans receive reserved parking with their tickets, most do not. Over
the decades, most fans have created elaborate tailgating communities to
informally claim their territory. The spatial organizing reflects a long history and
tradition that respect.
History of the Gator Community
History and tradition comprise another dimension of a group. The specific
experiences of the university's history help to define those who attended in the
past, attend today, and will matriculate in the future. Alumnae discussed the
memories of past experiences at the university provoked by going back for
Meredith: If you go with [my husband] you have to walk all over campus.
You have to hear about every place. [all laugh] And every, "That didn't use
to be there till that fire of '42." [all laugh]
Judith: I worked in the cafeteria, you remember when the cafeteria burned
Meredith: You have, and the kids have heard them over and over again.
They have them all memorized. All the hours he spent in the library.
While Meredith joked about the tedium of hearing repeatedly about her
husband's experiences at the university, clearly, those experiences and the
ability to share them with family reflect something important to her husband. By
sharing the history to his children and wife, he places himself in a tradition and
anticipates his children's part in the future.
While discussing traditions, Kirk Herbstreit, a previous Ohio State University
quarterback and current College GameDay analyst for ESPN, said, "Traditions
are passed down from generation to generation. As alumni, you have a love
affair with the team because that's your place. Students know that their
grandparents and parents went to school there and experienced many of the
same things" (Smith 2001, 13). The traditions and their history at UF, including
the songs and cheers detailed above, help define the true fans, as two alumni
John: It's more that you know the traditions and you do the traditions. You
know all the cheers and "We Are the Boys."
Connie: Right, yeah. You know that we didn't start doing the Alma Mater
until Spurrier came.
While John established the importance of acting out the traditions in the context
of the game, Connie suggested the further importance of understanding the
history of the traditions as well.
History represents the shared experiences of the group, experiences that
work to connect members of that group. As Stan, an alumnus band member
explained, it places you in a lineage: "I guess it's because you're a member of a
lineage, you're a member of such a, of a thing that's been around since, what,
1853? And, uh, football hasn't been around that long, but you know, the school
goes back that far." History connects over time, through the generations, in a
literal line of people, within and outside of football. For these fans, the history
allows them to feel a part of something larger than what exists in the present-
they belong to an extended community with ancestors who bridge the
Generations in the Gator Community
I'm from Gainesville, so I've grown up a Gator fan. All of my family, you
know, a lot of my family went to UF. My, like, great-great-grandfather is one
of, like, the founders of the graduate school here. So it's like, Gators go
way back. [laughing] And, uh, I was thinking about this story, it just made
me laugh. When we won the National Championship, and my great uncle is
a really big Gator fan, and he was crying. We were at the game and he
was crying. It's like, "Daddy's looking down on us now." Like being a Gator
fan is a big deal, I guess, in my family. [all laughing]
Above, Shelia, a student, discussed her connection to the school and team, and
she invariably invokes her heritage and lineage of Gators. While she and the
other group members laugh about the extreme emotions aroused in Shelia's
great uncle, that emotion indicates the strength that bonds the community
As multiple generations attend the university, go to the games, and become
a part of the community they discover ways of bonding with family members as a
result of their common experiences. Even those who do not anticipate a
connection eventually find a connection with previous generations, as did the
following student, James:
Both my parents went here. .1 found some of their old stuff that they had
from way back when they were here. Like, memorabilia stuff, but I didn't
even know they had it. Like, I had known that they had met at this school
and they went here and that was about it. We never talked about the
school. And now, we actually exchange stories, like, I, I was, when I first
came up here and I rushed my fraternity my mom was like, "Oh yeah, I was
in tri-delt." And I would never know my mom was even in a sorority.
While he knew pieces of his parents' university story, they never stood out to him
as important until those experiences provided a bridge for the generations to
connect, making his parents' lives and histories real and significant to him.
In another focus group, Calvin discussed the ability for the commonality of
football to bring families together:
Thanksgiving, from childhood. Thanksgiving to me was, it was, it was.
Thanksgiving that's when everybody, all the family got together to watch the
Florida/Florida State game. And it was on TV that weekend. That's
Thanksgiving. That's the reason everybody gets together, to watch football.
While the rest of the participants in the group joked with Calvin about not
knowing the "real" reason for Thanksgiving they, nevertheless, acknowledged
and later went on to discuss the importance Gator football plays in bringing them
closer to family members.
The experience of participating in the event brings family members together
and forges connections between other families. An alumna, Meredith explained
the impact her Gator connection makes on her family and friends:
It's just how our family spends our time. I mean, I grew up there. Right
outside of Gainesville. And met my husband there. ... His father was a
professor there and his mother worked at P.K. Yonge, which is affiliated.
And, we've been going [to games] since we met. And we have college
friends that we bought our season tickets together [with] for about eighteen
years. And we see them at every game and see their kids. And, you know,
it's our, it's our time we see them. We'll go from January till August without
seeing them. We'll call them, but we won't see them sometimes. Then
we'll see them every weekend.
The games provide opportunities to maintain friendships and also forge new
friendships among the next generation of Gators. Participating in the game day
rituals socializes Meredith's children into the group and prepares them for the
day in which they will attend the university.
Jokingly, many fans discuss how their Gator affiliation is in their blood.
Some talk about bleeding orange and blue. Others talk about themselves as
purebred because both their parents attended the university. Alumnae alluded to
the genetics of Gator affiliation:
Jennifer: We had orange and blue kids, as [my husband] said when I
brought [our first daughter] home from the hospital [everyone looks at
daughters who are now in the room playing in the corner].
Meredith: She had hair of orange and eyes of blue, Gator true. She had a
little outfit that said that.
Jennifer: [Meredith] gave her a T-shirt that said, "God made me a Gator
true. Hair of orange and eyes of blue."
While jovial, Meredith and Jennifer constructed the notion of "true" Gator, a
concept explored in the next chapter, as something biological in nature,
something inherited. As a "true" Gator, whether ascribed or achieved, fans
create a bond with their families, with each other, with the university, and most
importantly, with the team exemplifying notions of masculinity.
Most fans describe the stadium experience and the community of over
80,000 people working toward a common goal as an intense, energetic feeling.
Furthermore, the event energizes the crowd in specifically masculine ways.
Violence on the field as well as intimidation by the band and through cheering
work to create a very masculine experience for all involved. Energy can be
conceptualized as the social glue that maintains the group's cohesiveness most
clearly seen when it becomes unglued during television timeouts. During the
television timeouts, the energy in the stadium subsides, atomizing the fans
collective to individuals instead of part of a greater cause. When the game
resumes, fans and members of the team jump back into their respective roles.
The Gator community that surrounds the games operates in a fashion
similar to societies described by sociologists. The community possesses its own
nonmaterial and material culture. The values, norms, and material artifacts
define and preserve the notion of community. The community establishes its
own space that fans use in establishing positive identity, particularly important in
towns and cities in which Gators comprise the minority. As a community, the
Gator family proudly discusses its history and traditions, which serve to connect
the various generations together.
The sense of community created as a result of involvement with football
provides members with many material benefits. For example, because of my
identification as a Gator, most alumni eagerly participated in focus groups
wanting to help out a fellow member of the community. Participants often
discussed the benefits of networking with fellow Gators even in terms of job
opportunities. The connection to the community provides the members with
psychological benefits, such as self-respect (Wann et al. 1999a, Hirt and Ryalls
1994, Wann and Branscombe 1993, Branscombe and Wann 1992, Hirt et al.
1992, Cialdini et al. 1976).
Because the positive benefits of connecting to and participating with a team
are many, we need to remain attentive to the positive functions of this
connection, particularly if we intend to change more oppressive aspects of the
structure. The most powerful latent function of the connection to a team lies in
the connection to a larger community. This also lays the groundwork for fans to
connect to the team and the masculine displays they produce. The fusion of
energy and community combine to form the first step in the process of vicarious
connections. Chapter 4 shows how individuals within the community make
moves to connect to the play on the field.
"IT'S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR":
FORGING A VICARIOUS CONNECTION
The literature on fan interaction highlights the notion of a vicarious
connection to or identification with sports teams (Messner and Sabo 1990, Wann
and Branscombe 1990). Researchers, however, have yet to examine the ways
in which fans establish that connection. Instead, they assume a priori that the
connection exists, measure the extent to which it persists, and address the ways
in which it increases or decreases. While this body of literature contributes
greatly to the legitimacy of my project, it is important to start at the beginning and
describe the means by which fans connect to the action on the field. By
delineating the ways fans connect to the masculine event, I will be able to more
clearly examine how fans maintain and severe that connection for various
Chapter 3 discussed the ways in which fans connected to each other, their
school, and, more generally, the event of the game. By connecting to the event,
fans make moves to connect to the masculine displays occurring within the
context of the event. The sense of connection reaches farther than just the
players and the masculine displays they perform. The connection takes on a
wide notion of community that extends outside the game, the UF campus, and
the immediate city of Gainesville. By identifying with a broad sense of the group
"Gator," fans put themselves in a position to identify with the benefits of a winning
When describing his experiences intimidating opposing fans in the Swamp,
an alumnus from my focus group research, Taylor noted, "You have so much
power." By contributing to the stadium experience, as a part of the action and
energy, Taylor feels powerful. The experience that comes from the connection
described in this chapter allows fans access to this sense of power.
Perhaps Melissa, a student, explained the vicarious connection she feels to
the players and to their wins even more clearly:
You know, it's like, they're my friends, although half I've never even seen
before. So being a Gator fan is just something that, I don't know, maybe it's
a social construction of it, but it's just like something you just feel. You just
feel like connected to this team, I mean, because, and it might not
necessarily be, um, I don't know, anything in particular, it's just cause you
go to that school. This is the school I go to. .So I always want the Gators
to be the best, you know. I think it makes me look good and like when I go
home, I brag to my friends.
Even though she does not labor on the field, she connects to the wins her
"friends" make and uses those instances of masculinity to "brag" to the friends
with whom she interacts.
The ways in which the crowd connects to the action and to the power on the
field include making personal linkages to the event and connecting to individual
players and team. This process occurs during the course of the game as the
masculine displays on the field play out, but it can start even before the fans ever
get into the stadium. Fans, as a group, connect to the general event on the field,
but individuals also attempt to connect on a more personal level. The
establishment phase of connecting to other fans, the action on the field, and
individual players is mostly an inclusive action-for the most part people are
attempting to come together for the common cause of winning. In this sense, it is
a very positive stage in developing group cohesiveness. The discussion below
begins with the ways in which fans connect to the team through personalizing the
players, interacting with the team, and claiming to be Gators. The ways fans link
personally to the event through a sense of personal responsibility, investing in
the win, and participating in specific roles is then discussed.
Connecting to Laborers in the Event
You feel the, you feel the connectiveness with the team. Even though the
guy's on the field. And you never meet them. Maybe you see them in one
or two classes, or you know people that know them in their classes. But
you know, the fact that you're there supporting them, either as a fan, or in
our case, as the band, is, you're like part of the team.
As Stan, an alumnus from the Florida band, explained, he feels a sense of
connection with people with whom he does not personally know or interact. Most
fans in focus groups discussed this notion of connection in one way or another.
Through their participation in the process of the game, many fans begin to feel as
part of the team. Or as James, a student, expressed he even starts to identify a
common purpose with players, such that he starts to feel as if he knows them:
So I can't really say I'm a football fan, I'm only a Gator football fan. .1
think it's because I have something in common. It's like, I recognize the
people on campus, and I recognize what other people identify with. ...
Players here, since I see them and I have friends that are friends with the
players... .1 think I identify with them more.
To develop a sense of closeness to unknown people on the team fans attempt to
connect to the team through personalizing the players, interacting with the team,
and celebrating with the players as Gators. By connecting to the players and the
team they connect to the university community, the event, and the masculine
displays within it.
Personalizing the Players
Anyone with good eyes (or binoculars) can know or find out the last name
of the player written across the back of the jersey. However, knowing the first
name means that a fan has seen the whole name either in an article or some
other media. This reflects a level of knowledge and suggests that fans attempt to
connect to the players by keeping up with what the individual players do. At the
game against Louisiana-Monroe I noted the significance of how fans in the
alumni section referred to the players:
There wasn't that much of a connection between race and names; many
people call Rex Grossman (White quarterback) and Lito Sheppard (Black
receiver/punt returned) by their first names. However, players like Earnest
Graham (Black running back) or Jabar Gaffney (Black receiver) were
usually just referred to by their last names. For the lesser-known players,
the White, middle-class man in his 30s next to me would refer to them by
their numbers and not even try to look up their names.
The effort to look up the players represents an investment of time and energy
that this fan would only relinquish for the more important players. Those who
rarely play do not invest as much of themselves into the game and, therefore, do
not receive much investment of time from the fans in terms of learning their
Fans tend to nickname those players who often produce masculine displays
on the field. In particular, the quarterback position receives a great deal of
attention from fans. For example, fans referred to Rex Grossman as "Rexy" or
occasionally "Sexy Rexy." While attending the game at LSU, I heard fans cheer
for their Black quarterback, Rohan Davey, "Come on Ro." Nicknames typically
reflect a level of intimacy between friends or close relations, thus, establishing a
closeness to those producing extremes of masculinity on the field.
In contrast to popular players, lesser-known players, while still referred to in
endearing ways, would not receive nicknames from the fans. Instead, fans often
referred to them in paternalistic ways, as at the game against Louisiana-Monroe:
"One White man with his wife and children would yell, 'Run, baby! Run!'"
Alternatively, for players with names that fans found too difficult to yell on a
regular basis, they would affectionately shorten the names. Fans would often
call the defensive end, Marcus Oquendo-Johnson, simply Mo Jo. By learning the
names or making up names for the players, fans suggest an attempt to forge
more intimate relations between fan and player. Furthermore, referring to
players, even if only a select few, suggests an attempt to construct them as
actual persons instead of mere bodies.
Football is an interesting space because it is one of the only places in the
U.S. social landscape in which emotions from, for, and about men are not only
acceptable, but are in many circumstances, expected. Sports media tend to
highlight a few players from each team to show the human side of them,
especially players who have overcome great obstacles to play and succeed.
These sappy, human-interest stories are complete with fuzzy camera shots and
emotional music. The media might do this to propagate the notion of the
"American dream," however, another consequence of personalizing the players
makes them "just like you and me" or "everyday people."
Sometimes this occurs in the context of the game, such as before the game
against Marshall in which I sat in the student section, the first game of the
Before the game began, there was a moment of silence for the freshman
fullback, Eraste Autin, who died of heat stroke after a July preseason
practice. I was struck with sadness. The stadium was completely silent
except for one Marshall player who was yelling to someone else on the field
during the moment. Some men took off their hats and placed them over
their chests in a show of respect. I think I heard someone yell at the
Marshall player who was not quiet.
Here, the university directed attention to a fallen athlete, personalizing his
extreme sacrifice. Fans responded by showing and enforcing the show of
respect, by demanding that the opposing team display the same level of respect.
Later, they talked about Autin's motivation, drive, and potential, further
constructing him as more than just an athlete, rather, a three-dimensional human
Students feel almost an automatic connection to the players because they
often see them around campus and in their classes. Through their interaction in
classes or through friends, they talked about them as "ordinary" students and
friends. Two students discussed the impact of friendship on their connection:
Anne: I was shouting and like the next day in class, [a player] was like, "I
heard you." [all laugh] He's like, "I heard you scream, and I looked up."
And I had two little Afro-puffs, and he said, "And I saw your puffs. I was
like, 'The girl is loud'". .1 was screaming for one of our other friends. He
had like a good run thing. We're like, "Woah!" We were screaming like
Marcy: I know for me, like, I felt more connected when I was here in '96
cause I knew a lot of the football players. And now that I'm back, I'm
looking and I don't know, you know, a lot of the people cause I didn't go, I
mean I'm not in the same classes with them. Whereas like, in '96 I knew
Jaquez and Ridel and you know, just a lot more people. And so when they
did something, I was like, you know, "Way to go!" I was more into it,
because we were on a friendship level.
These two students could relate more to the action because of their intimate
connections to the players, whether currently or previously. Furthermore, Anne
actually received feedback from the players about her contribution to the event,
encouraging her participation and fueling her feeling of connection.
While alumni no longer attend classes or know the current players on a
personal level, many that I interviewed told me about the players they knew when
they did attend the university:
Eric: Well, when I was younger I always looked up to them, like, you know,
they're so much older almost as heroes. ... But now, I know some of the
guys who are on the team and everything, so they're just ordinary people,
even though they have the uniform. You still think, you know, they're great.
George: ...and then I had one of them in my Spanish class, and he's this
normal guy. I mean, I went to one party with him, and I realized, you know,
completely different, uh, social groups there. But, I mean, it's, they're just
normal people. They do their thing. They still have classes.
Interestingly, Eric assumes that students express more awe for the athletes
because of a maturity level. With age, he learned that they are just "ordinary
people." George agreed, remembering an athlete in one of his classes. By
constructing the players as "normal guys," fans move to connect to them on a
more intimate level, bringing both fan and player to a space in which interaction
is not only possible, but necessary.
Interacting with the Team
Interacting with the team represents another way in which fans connect to
those laboring to construct the event. As "ordinary" people, the players and fans
interact in a conversation of energy and action, the coach seems accessible to
requests, and both the team and fans celebrate wins together.
Responding to the players
As discussed in Chapter 3, the interaction between the players and the fans
can be conceptualized as conversations. The fans do not speak to an
unresponsive audience. Players indicate they understand their influence over
the fans and attempt to raise the energy level, as in the game against MSU: "As
the players ran on the field to set up the defense, they waved to fans in order to
provoke cheering. The fans responded by yelling louder and doing some of the
organized cheers, such as, 'Go Gators.'" Of course, by motioning to the fans, the
players encourage them to create the din that for which the Swamp remains
Later in the same game, "The Gator players motioned to the fans in the
stands to get loud by raising their arms above their heads. At one point, it looked
like the players were looking at the stands with their hands on their hips waiting
for the crowd." The fans usually respond positively to such requests from the
players. Fans enjoy the feedback they receive from the players as it forges a
sense of common purpose between players and fans. Also it allows them to
contribute to the success of the team.
The fans' contribution lies in the amount of noise they create and in their
advice as well. The following event noted from the homecoming game against
VU, in which I sat in the student section, shows another example of fans
responding to the actions or inactions of the team:
Rex Grossman "worried" some of the fans because he almost ran out of
time. Although there was not one thing that people said at that time, it sort
of became a frenzied rush of people counting down and screaming to
Grossman things such as, "Time," "Get it off, or "Hurry up."
As a part of the team, and with their egos at stake as well, fans maintain the link
to the team when they advise them. This suggests the connection as real and
ideological at the same time. Fans respond to and advise the players and the
coach becomes a part of their conversations as well.
Requesting to the coach
Sometimes fans make moves to influence the decisions of the coach.
Likewise, the coach realizes that he can energize the fans and the team with his
decisions. The fourth down conversion represents the clearest example of
requesting to the coach. In football, the team has four downs to progress ten
yards or more for the next first down. If they do not achieve the first down the
opposing team gains possession of the ball where the team ended. Therefore,
on fourth down, most teams punt the ball to get it further from their end zone.
Sometimes, however, a team will risk good field position to try to gain or maintain
momentum. Such was the case at MSU game:
At one point on a Gator fourth down, the crowd chanted, "Go, go, go."
Spurrier decided to go for the fourth down conversion. Someone in the
crowd noted that Spurrier must just have said to listen to the crowd or to
take ideas about coaching from the crowd.
This decision energizes the crowd primarily because of its masculine nature. As
a risky move, it demonstrates a masculine daring and fearless disregard for
negative consequences. It also establishes clear confidence in the abilities and
strength of the defense that must hold the offense at bay if the play proves
This quote also indicates that the fans perceive the decision to be, at least
in part, a result of the coach's responsiveness to the crowd. As the following
quote from alumni suggests, recognition by the coach fuels the connection:
Laurel: Do you feel some sort of connection to the actual people on the
Connie: More so when you're there.
Donald: You kind of lose that when you watch it on TV. Like you go to the
South Carolina game in South Carolina and we [the Gators] score by four
touchdowns in the first quarter and by halftime, it was freezing cold at
halftime, we had gone from the upper deck, under our blankets, we were
sitting on the fifty yard line. And then afterwards, Spurrier or somebody
says, "Well, yeah, by the second quarter we looked up at the stands and it
was all Gators." That was cool. That was pretty cool....
Connie: That's a good point, is the players and the coaches will come out
pretty regularly and say, "It's because the fans. The fans help. The
loudness." You know. And that's cool, you know, you feel like you're a
Reiterating many of the concepts already discussed in this chapter, Donald and
Connie discussed the importance of having the chance to contribute to the event.
Receiving gratitude from the team for a job well done, the fans feel more like a
part of the action. As participants in the event, they therefore enjoy the right to
celebrate with the team.
Celebrating with the team
When the team wins by a large margin at home, many fans leave early and
celebrate on their own. When the team defends the Swamp from a fierce
competitor, however, fans stay to the very end. After the game concludes,
players and fans together stand to sing the Alma Mater, a tradition begun when
Steve Spurrier became head coach at Florida. The tradition works to connect the
team and the fans in the glory of a win.
Furthermore, authorities have created other ways in which fans and players
may connect. As alumnus, Donald recalls the only time in Spurrier's coaching
career that authorities allowed fans on the field, "They said everybody who
wanted to rush the field, 'Okay, you can come out on the field and shake hands
with players.' But they only let us out to the twenty-yard line. Got to shake
hands with Nattiel and all those guys."
"Rushing the field," the act of thousands of fans swarming on to the field at
the same time after their team wins, relates to the desire to participate in the
action and reflects notions of vicarious connection to victory. An example from
the AU victory over Florida, where I sat with Florida alumni, illustrates these
I watched as Auburn fans swarmed to the field dismantling the goal post,
like angry ants protecting their hill. The win invigorated the fans with
confidence to rush past police on the field and to come over to harass the
Florida fans. As I left the stadium, I walked past many students holding
twigs from the bushes on the field as memorabilia from the time "they" beat
Because of the importance of rushing the field in fan connectivity to victory, in
Donald's example authorities from Florida negotiated with fans in order to
maintain the condition of the field along with the fans' feelings of significance. As
Donald noted, authorities acknowledged the importance of touching the field but
infused it with notions of coming together with the rest of the team. Therefore,
since the fans got to be a part of the team, with the team on the field, it defused
their destructive desires to participate through tearing down goal posts
(extremely expensive items to replace, at approximately $5,000 each).
The Gator community remains strong at home, but the minority status of
fans at away games makes the celebration at the end of the game all the more
important. At all the away games in which Florida won, only Gator fans remained
to the end of the game. I recorded in my field notes, when I was sitting between
the Kentucky and Florida alumni sections at the end of the game against UK,
"After playing the Alma Mater, the players came over to the Gator section and
slapped hands and such with the Gator fans still there."
While fans may be dispersed through the crowd in an opposing team's
stands, they all come together at the end of the game to celebrate as one. As in
Kentucky, players often go to the fans in the stadium cheering together, touching
them, and talking with them. This forms a connection between the fans and the
players and also allows the fans to participate in the glory of the win. However,
this sense of connectivity does not rely only on winning. No matter what, as the
participants in this study all assert, they are not just Gator fans, they are Gators.
"It's Great to Be a Florida Gator!"
After Florida scored late in the first half on fourth down at the win against
UGA in Jacksonville, I noted one of the most positive aspects of connecting with
the team, "The majority of the Florida fans weren't instigating, insulting, or
fighting with the Georgia fans. Instead, the Florida fans were high-fiving each
other and clapping along to the Florida fight song. They started to chant, 'It's
great to be a Florida Gator.'" Perhaps one of the most simplistic cheers, aside
from "Orange and Blue," the chant, "It's Great to Be a Florida Gator" reflects the
notions of identity many fans participating at the games and whom I interviewed
for this research expressed. Clearly, the words themselves carry significant
meaning. Through this chant, fans claim to be more than simple followers,
rather, they are Gators, just as the players are Gators. This creates the ultimate
link between the fans and the laborers and their masculine labor on the field.
I recorded this rather innocuous cheering when the team won and also in
the face of defeat. However, only the "true" Gators described in the second half
of this chapter do this cheer when Florida loses. Regardless, it reminds the fans
involved that they belong to a community that, with or without a winning football
team, is "great." As part of the team, all fans recognize their responsibilities and
roles in creating the win.
Individual and Personal Linkages to the Event
In the student section of the stadium, fans tend to act in a rather large
mass, connecting to each other before connecting personally to the event. On
the other hand, fans in the alumni section do not make the overt gestures to
connect to the entire stadium. Instead, they make more personal and individual
moves to connect to people within their smaller group or to the play directly. The
groups in the alumni section tend to be smaller and composed of families, as
opposed to the groups in the student section which tend to be more social in
nature and much larger. Regardless of where in the stadium fans sit, many
make moves to connect personally to the event by one means or another. The
personal linkages typically take the form of responsibility, work or effort, and
Responsibility to the Team
Some people make a connection such that they act as if what they do in the
stands will somehow affect the outcome of the game. Most people admit the
preposterousness of this superstitious behavior, but the process of joking about
their personal responsibility reveals the establishment of a personal connection
with the team and thus, masculinity. Part of this relationship reflects a sense of
responsibility toward the team, such that fans acknowledge a sense of
accountability to the game and for what happens on the field. Student fans
expressed this sense of responsibility:
Elaine: Like at the moment, I really feel I'm on the field talking to the
players. I know they can't hear me all the way up here, but I just feel like
I'm doing something and because I wasn't paying attention to this play,
[that's] why he missed the ball here.
Laurel: So you feel almost a sense of responsibility?
Elaine: Mm, hmm. Yeah.
Tricia: I think a lot of people are like that, too.
Elaine rationally understands that her involvement does not affect the play of the
game. Nevertheless, she feels a sense of responsibility, such that she must
remain involved in order for the team to win.
While this connection can be positive and empowering, some fans can also
feel a sense of blame for a loss their team suffers. The following example from
the game at USC highlights the negative impact of the loss on two young girls:
There were some very young girls there who were cheering wildly for South
Carolina and were decked out in paraphernalia. Toward the end of the
game when it was fairly certain that South Carolina would not come back
and win, the girls were so disappointed and started blaming the loss on
their participation. They actually thought they jinxed the game with their
presence and, in tears, decided they would not come to any other games.
While this does not show exactly how the girls made a connection to their team, it
does clearly illustrate the intense feelings associated with that connection,
whether good or bad. However, most fans merely joke about the notion of jinxes,
blaming each other for losses ("This is your first game--you're the jinx!") and
trying to figure out what factors within their control changed and remained static
("Oh no, I'm not wearing my lucky National Championship shirt!"). This more
jovial attitude reflects attempts to connect with the team by establishing a sense
of responsibility toward the team and their performance. However, once fans
leave behind the playfulness they begin to address the work and effort required
from them in order for the team to win.
Working toward the Win
Some researchers relate football to religion (Hackett 2000, Percy and
Taylor 1997, Goodger 1985, Stein 1977). Certainly, the analogies of the stadium
as a temple, coach Spurrier as a revered god, the field as hollowed ground, and
the cheers as ritualistic ring true (Hackett 2000). Perhaps, in this context fans
attend and participate in games due to a sense of moralistic duty. However, my
research reveals a reason more clearly related to connecting to the event. Many
of the fans I interviewed do not attend football games as a form of entertainment
or merely as a ritualistic pilgrimage to their Gainesville Mecca-for many, it
requires hard work and a great deal of effort. In other words, fans participate in
the event, some more actively and some more authoritatively, as if it was their
job. As Gibson et al. (in press) note, football fans at UF engage in a type of
serious leisure, exhibiting a commitment to their participation in the event.
The work that goes into being a fan often begins far before the game takes
place. During the week before the game, many fans use Internet listservs to
discuss the team and their strategy. Fans may watch ESPN or research the
opposing team on the Internet as well. Many fans tune in to the coach's show on
the local network the Thursday prior to the game to discover his game plan.
Alumni travel far and wide, arriving at the university the Friday before the
Saturday afternoon games. Hours of coordination and preparation go into the
tailgating events surrounding the stadium, which begin in the early hours of the
morning. In essence, fans invest in terms of skills, emotions, physical effort, time
Skill and knowledge investments
Serious, active participation requires some level of skill, knowledge, or
experience (Stebbins 1997). Fans must learn about the game of football to
understand their part in the process. Anne, a student, discussed her learning
Before I came to this school, you couldn't ask me one thing about football.
But now, I'm like, "If Florida State wins, that'll make us better when we beat
them for the BCS polls and then we can play Miami." I know like everything
now, it's ridiculous. [all laugh]
While not always the case, many women did not know about football until after
attending the university and the games (Chapter 7 returns to the difference
between men and women in terms of knowledge). Another student, Cheryl,
explained how she learned about the game:
I did not understand football, really, until I came to this school. I've learned
so much. [I ask her who taught her.] I think my boyfriend's taught me a lot,
just within the past year. I've learned so much, more than I ever knew
before. And I was that person who was in the bloc going, "What's, how'd
they get two points? Isn't it six?" You know, I was just so confused. I've
learned so much. And I think that girls probably are portrayed as not
knowing quite as much about the sport. But, I think my dad just didn't teach
me as much when I was growing up as he did my brothers.
While she came to the university relatively ignorant of the game, she took it upon
herself to learn more about the game, using her boyfriend and his knowledge as
a resource. Whether male or female, many of my focus group participants
discussed the necessity of understanding the game.
Another part of the knowledge of the game and of the university relates to
the history of the team, which was discussed in Chapter 3. The knowledge of
history and traditions reflects the responsibilities of being a Gator. An alumnus,
Donald, related: "Being a Gator knows that you're supposed to stand up for the
entire game. And when the other team is on offense and the game is in
question, scream at the top of your lungs." Being a Gator requires knowledge
about proper actions within a given context. Behaviors, such as when to stand
and cheer, are just as important as the cheers and songs themselves. This may
seem like knowledge that any football fan would learn over time, however, some
of the ritualized aspects of fan work are particularized to each school. For
example, of all the SEC stadiums I attended, Florida remains the only team
whose student fans scream the entire time the team defends and come down to
a hush when the offense takes the field. Fans must learn particularized
knowledge to effectively perform as fans.
Many fans expressed their emotional involvement in the game. Further, my
field notes from the games indicate my sense of the shifting tide of emotions from
ecstasy to despair and from dismay to relief. A student, Melissa, recognized the
emotional labor fans express when discussing her feelings after Florida lost to
I felt bad with Auburn, but I didn't cry, but I felt really bad. You know. Just
like, uh. .... It's like the worst emotion, like I was one of the players. And I