May 28, 2018
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The CORFing and BIRGing of die-hard sports fans

By Emmet Meara, Special to the News

Your lights are on, but you’re not home

Your mind is not your own

Your heart sweats, your body shakes

Another kiss is what it takes

— Robert Palmer, “Addicted to Love”

Let’s face it. You try to fill the gaping holes in your miserable, meaningless life by spending hours in your favorite chair watching the Red Sox, even the West Coast games. Then the Celtics. Then the Bruins. Forget the job. Forget the family. You are addicted to sports.

If you are not watching your teams, you are reading about them. If you are not reading about them, you are listening to sports radio — all day long. Your mind is not your own.

Lucky for you the Big Three are all winning — at the moment. But you know in your tiny heart of hearts that they will crush you like an unfaithful woman before the season is over. You don’t care. Palmer may have penned that song (the best music video ever) about love, but you know it applies to sports, too.

It also applies to CORFing and BIRGing.

What is this addiction? Why are we screaming at the television over games played by millionaires we will never meet?

The Boston Globe canvassed a group of college professors on this phenomenon to help us understand our weakness.

Daniel Cavicci is one of us. He maintains a blog about sports and fans. His day job is American studies professor at Rhode Island School of Design.

He told the Globe, “We pay so much attention to stars and to teams and to games, that we sort of tend to ignore the audience, or assume the audience is just there — that they’ve paid for their tickets and they’re showing up. But actually there’s a lot going on.”

He is not the only one. Sports nuts Adam Earnheardt and Paul Haridakis are a pair of professors (don’t these guys have enough to do?) who have co-edited an anthology of essays on sports madness called “Sports Mania.”

“People become passionate about sports because of certain needs they have,” said Haridakis. “What makes someone stay loyal to a losing team? What makes a fair-weather fan bail as soon as a team starts losing?”

Haridakis, who teaches at Kent State University when not obsessing about sports, has focused his fan research on what he calls “social identification.” He said it is “a sort of tribalism that finds expression when people start seeing themselves as part of a group with a common purpose. The more loyal a fan is to the sports team he or she loves, the more stubborn that sense of identification will be.”

Haridakis cited the term “CORFing,” which is an acronym for “cutting off reflective failure” that refers to people’s tendency to distance themselves from a losing team by talking about it in the third person. Nouveau Red Sox fans are familiar with the syndrome.

Die-hard fans don’t do much CORFing, Haridakis said, though they are known to “BIRG” — “bask in the reflective glow” — by saying things like “We won!” and high-fiving at home when their team prevails, 800 miles away.

BIRGing and CORFing aren’t hard to understand.

Haridakis told the Globe that in most cases, most people just want to see their favorite teams win, and they pull away when the losing becomes a pattern. But lots of losing teams have maintained extremely loyal fan bases, while some very successful teams have actually lost the allegiance of certain fans even as their performance has improved.

How did the Red Sox fans stick with the team for 80 years of misery?

Rich Campbell, a marketing professor at Sonoma State University, has argued that fans’ self-esteem doesn’t always come from winning: Sometimes they feel more honorable and individualistic if they see themselves as part of an embattled but proud group. Talk to any Red Sox fan who supported the team before the World Series wins.

Such calculations are related to what Kevin Quinn, a professor at St. Norbert College and author of “Sports and Their Fans,” refers to as tribal affiliation. “Humans are inherently tribal creatures, and this is a way to have a tribe,” Quinn said.

The next time you are sitting in that favorite chair, remote-jumping between the Bruins and Red Sox games until midnight while you get grief from that nonfan in your life, just grasp your remote even tighter. Tell her you are not wasting time.

You are CORFing.

You are BIRGing.

You’re welcome.

(You really think the Celtics can beat the Heat?)

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at

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