BIRGing and CORFing or What It Means To Be A Sports Fan In The Modern Era

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: Scott Parker of Tottenham Hotspur is restrained as he clashes with John Obi Mikel of Chelsea (R) during the FA Cup with Budweiser Semi Final match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on April 15, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same…Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it." - Rudyard Kipling

I have a masters degree in sports management. For the most part the degree is useless. It didn't help me get a job, it hasn't helped me network, and I didn't really learn a lot of things that I didn't know before. I did, however, learn two things about sports and their fans. Those two things have stuck with me and now I see them everywhere. I'm talking about BIRGing and CORFing.

BIRGing means basking in reflected glory. It's a social identity theory that is exclusive to sports, but it certainly applicable. Basically, when an individual engages in BIRGing they associate themself with succesful others, such that another's success becomes their own. CORFing is the flipside of that coin; cutting off reflected failure. Which means an individual disassociates themself from the failure of another.

How does this relate to sports you ask? Well, how many of you had on your Spurs kit yesterday? That's BIRGing. How many of you, after the game took it off and threw it in the laundry hamper? That's CORFing. A more common example is the fan who says things like "We played really well out there today" (BIRGing) or the one that says "Those guys looked like crap" (CORFing).

Sports are, to be quite honest, a sort of social tribalism. People start seeing themselves as part of a group with a common goal. In most instances this tribalism is based on a common geographic location, a parent or loved one's influence, or a particularly memorable experience. As an American fan of Premier League football I, and most of you, did not come upon Spurs in this fashion. We became fans of Spurs because we chose to. We picked this tribe. We had been wandering the wastes of football and then finally thanks to the miracles of television and the internet settled on a team that we (for the most part) have no connection with.

The diehard sports fans tend to BIRG. I almost always refer to the University of Missouri as "we". Mostly because I have a tangible connection to that school, those teams, etc. Fans who are less invested tend to CORF, for instance, I tend to refer to the Kansas City Royals as they. Certainly I have a connection to the team, I grew up in the town, my dad is a Royals fan, but the team sucks and I want to cut myself off from they're failure. See, I CORFed right there.

Yesterday, Tottenham Hotspur played a football match against Chelsea. Spurs lost, handily. We are, after all, mostly diehard fans, despite our lack of any real connection to the club (UK readers and Ed are obviously excluded from that last clause). The post-match reaction was about what one would expect from the lot of us. Everyone CORFed.

Who received the blame for the loss yesterday? Few were willing to acknowledge that the Tottenham Hotspur players played poorly. Many we're focused on the decisions of the referee. We CORFed by blaming an external influence. People in the comments and on Twitter implied that matches may be fixed. There was talk about a "rich club" bias. There was little to no discussion of poor play.

Some fans BIRGed, but even that wasn't constructive. "Why do these decisions always go against US?" "When do WE get the benefit of the doubt on calls?" "OUR players got disheartened by the poor calls." (Note: That's just me paraphrasing.) This to me is quasi-BIRGing, because while we engage in the practice of associating ourselves with the team, we continue to blame outside factors for the failure. Why did we BIRG in this "time of crisis"? It's because some fans feel more honorable and individualistic if they see themselves as part of an embattled but proud group, which would explain Liverpool's fan support this season.

Neither BIRGing nor CORFing are inherently bad or good. They just exist. It's something to think about though as a fan. When I say things in reaction to a match, what am I really saying? I'm proud that we have a passionate community of fans. We are all, generally speaking, rational and understanding people and those two things make this discourse here enjoyable. However, fans, in general, (not just you guys, not just yesterday, and not just in reaction to losses) rarely tend to look at things objectively.

Everything we look at comes through the lily-white colored lenses of being a Tottenham Hotspur fan. Obviously we're biased and obviously we're going to take our team's side. But let's all be honest here. There is not some giant conspiracy against Tottenham Hotspur. There's certainly no rich club bias, because Spurs are a rich club! So, let's be truthful, there was an awful refereeing decision in yesterday's match. It affected the players, but OUR team still lost by four goals.

I'm not trying to start another argument about whether the officiating blunder cost us the game, but am instead trying to put things into perspective for everyone. We need to take into account that, overall, we scored 4 less goals than our opposition and that we were poor in the second half. The opposition had moments of quality and we had moments of whatever the opposite of quality is (shitty-ness?). WE lost because WE did not play well enough to win.

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