George Dohrmann has been around sports his entire life. Be it personally as a self-proclaimed “fanatical follower” of the United States men’s national soccer team (USNMT) or professionally as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, sports have — and always will be — ever-present in the Dohrmann household.
But there’s always been a topic he’s long wanted to take a closer look at — not sports itself, but something close to it: The mindset of the sports fan.
Not just a small sect of fans in one area of the country. Fans from all over the United States.
Thus, “SUPERFANS: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom,” was born.
Dohrmann, a former investigative reporter with Sports Illustrated and current senior editor at The Athletic who now calls Ashland home, has written “Superfans” and explored the science of what makes sports fans tick and how they’ve gotten there.
He will be reading from the book, which was released Tuesday, at at 7 p.m. this evening, Friday, Feb. 23, at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland .
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, have been a sports writer for a long time, and I’ve had a lot of interactions with fans. I’m certainly a fan myself, but there has been this underlying wish to understand fan behavior a little more,” Dohrmann said in an inerview with the Tidings. “Here I am, I’m interacting with fans, fans are hitting me up on social media, reading my articles and reacting, they’re my audience. I don’t necessarily know why they act the way they do. I, certainly, when I was doing my investigative work, got death threats and had people cursing at you and throwing things at you, that kind of stuff. I think that, rather than be dismissive of people, I sort of felt like I should do the opposite and get to know these people so that you kind of understand where they’re coming from.”
Dohrmann, who taught journalism at Southern Oregon University during the 2016-17 school year, put the wheels in motion on the project, the second book he has written, just after he and his family moved to Ashland in late 2014.
Like he does in analyzing a U.S. win or loss on the pitch while on the phone with a friend, the goal was to explore an easy yet sometimes-complicated question: “Why?”
Not only answering the question of why fans root for the certain teams they do, but also finding out why fan behavior is the way it is.
Over a two-year process of research and writing that concluded in early-2017, Dohrmann feels like he accomplished just that.
He went to Portland and met with fans of the Portland Timbers. “They’re great, but I don’t think the rest of the country knows how great they,” he said.
He headed to Wisconsin to meet with Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Brewers fans, including one who has come to be known as “The Rally Banana” at Brewers home games.
It wasn’t so much a case of people being fans teams because that’s where they live. It was more of a case of finding out, besides proximity, why people root for certain teams — and why they root in the first place.
“To me, I would just find people wherever they were in the country who were maybe doing something interesting that makes them interesting to talk to and figure out what makes them tick,” Dohrmann said.
For the father of an 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, some of his greatest pride is about the section of "Superfans" that discusses the introduction and development of sports fandom in children.
He openly states that when the USMNT is playing — the only team he says he’s truly a super fan of these days — then that’s the time for him to watch the game alone. “It’s just a passion,” he said. “I don’t watch those games with my kids. I go somewhere else and watch them so I can yell at the TV and curse and not have it be in front of them. I don’t bring my anger over from them not making the World Cup or something like that home.”
Through writing of the book, Dohrmann says that he’s much more aware of how his fandom can be portrayed or perceived by his kids.
“To me, it was really eye-opening as to how I will approach fandom with my kids,” Dohrmann said. “I don’t know that I can remove my own fandom from my life, but I can certainly not show them things. I certainly won’t introduce hate through fandom — and that’s what happens a lot. Kids don’t know how to hate. They’re not born to hate. You have to teach them that. Fandom does that for a lot of kids, and it’s not a good thing.
“My wife is not a fan of any sports, she’s not going to show them anything, so it’s really on me,” Dohrmann added. “I just want them to enjoy sports.”
Above all else, writing a book about something that he has seen in his everyday life for decades was not only an educational experience, but an enjoyable one as well.
The hope, of course, is that his readers feel the same way once they close the book up upon finishing the final page.
“It’s true, it was a really fun book to write,” Dohrmann said. “People love talking about this. As somebody who spent a lot of his career as an investigative reporter and was trying to get people to talk, here you have these people who are like, ‘You want me to tell you about my love for the Milwaukee Brewers or my love the Green Bay Packers? Like, are you kidding me?’ They light up, so you get in touch with people.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.