Introducing Sport Rivalry Man, protector of positive fan behavior

Cody T. Havard

University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Meet Sport Rivalry Man, a character created to help sport fans learn about the rivalry phenomenon and to illustrate appropriate treatment of rival fans.

[0.2] Keywords—Cartoons; Comic strips; Fan/group member behavior; Superhero genre

Havard, Cody T. 2019. "Introducing Sport Rivalry Man, Protector of Positive Fan Behavior." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 30.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Jill and her parents are fans of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. Her friends at school, Josh and Larry, are both fans of the New York Yankees. In September, when the Red Sox and Yankees are playing each other, Jill decides she wants to wear a Red Sox shirt to school. Josh and Larry pick on Jill in the lunchroom for wearing the shirt. They proclaim that the New York Yankees are the best team, and that Jill should not be wearing a shirt that shows she is a fan of the Boston Red Sox.

[1.2] After school, the three kids go home to watch the rivalry game with their parents. Josh sits on the couch with his parents to watch the Yankees defeat the Red Sox, and he listens as his mom and dad proclaim that New York is a much better team and that Boston never had a chance in the game. Later that night, Josh and Larry decide to pick on Jill using their favorite online chat service, which makes Jill sad. She talks to her mom about the incident because she is confused: why would her friends pick on her because the Red Sox lost? Enter Sport Rivalry Man! The next day at school, Sport Rivalry Man talks to Josh about picking on Jill because she likes the Red Sox, and he explains to him about why that was not a nice thing to do. Josh agrees and apologizes to Jill. The story is wrapped with Sport Rivalry Man explaining that friendships are based on things stronger than a favorite team affiliation, and that no one should treat others differently simply because of the sport team they follow.

[1.3] This is the plot of one of the fourteen Adventures with Sport Rivalry Man comic strips, which were created to teach the public, with a particular focus on school-age children, about the rivalry phenomenon and to illustrate and serve as a reminder to practice appropriate fan behavior. The fourteen stories are joined by about twenty comic strips that describe historical rivalries in college athletics, professional baseball, and professional football. They can be found online at (, which was created to teach the general public about the sport rivalry phenomenon. Each comic strip found on the website was later animated to produce short cartoons that could be distributed more efficiently.

[1.4] I next turn to the origin of the Sport Rivalry Man comic strips and cartoons, the evolution of Sport Rivalry Man, the future of the comics and cartoons, and how Sport Rivalry Man can be used to teach children about group interaction and appropriate behavior outside of the sport setting. An evolving curriculum has been built around Sport Rivalry Man to help teach schoolchildren and online participants about the phenomenon and positive fan behavior. Please join me as we take a trip with Sport Rivalry Man!

2. Origin of Sport Rivalry Man

[2.1] Sport rivalry may be defined as "a fluctuating adversarial relationship existing between two teams, players, or groups of fans, gaining significance through on-field competition, on-field or off-field incidences, proximity, demographic makeup, and/or historical occurrence(s)" (Havard et al. 2013, 51). It also is created or characterized by factors such as historical competition, parity, proximity, perceived fairness and unfairness, star power, and cultural similarities and differences (Kilduff, Elfenbein, and Staw 2010; Tyler and Cobbs 2015). The rivalry phenomenon can influence fan consumption of the sport product (Havard, Shapiro, and Ridinger 2016; Mahony and Moorman 1999; Tyler et al. 2017), consumption of sponsored products (Dalakas and Levin 2005; Park and Lee 2015), behavior (Wann and Grieve 2005), fan deviance (Havard, Wann, and Ryan 2013, 2017; Wann et al. 1999, 2003; Wann and Waddill 2013), and reactions to rival team failure (Cikara, Botvinick, and Fiske 2011; Dalakas, Melancon, and Sreboth 2015; Havard 2014; Havard and Hutchinson 2017; Leach and Spears 2009).

[2.2] For example, sport fans believe rival fans behave worse than fans of their favorite team (Wann and Grieve 2005), and they describe actions of favorite and rival team fans differently (Maass et al. 1989). Additionally, fans are more willing to help people if they are a fan of their favorite team rather than their rival team (Levine et al. 2005). A small but consistent subset of fans are willing to consider anonymously hurting or even murdering participants, coaches, and fans of rival teams (Havard, Wann, and Ryan 2013, 2017; Wann et al. 1999, 2003; Wann and Waddill 2013). Finally, fan rival perceptions can be influenced by the way organizations acknowledge rivalry (Berendt and Uhrich 2018) as well as the types of promotional materials they are exposed to (Havard, Wann, and Grieve 2018).

[2.3] In an attempt to decrease the amount of negativity between rival fans, the popular mediums of comic strips and cartoons were developed to teach children about the rivalry phenomenon and to illustrate appropriate fan behavior. In particular, comic strips and cartoons of historical rivalries were created at ( that detail well-known rivalries in college and professional sport. For example, through reading the comic strips or watching the cartoons, visitors can learn that the Red River rivalry between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners got its name from an actual dispute between the two states regarding land rights in the early 1900s; fans of the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils annually attempt to denigrate the opposing school's "A" Mountains; and the rivalry between the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks dates back to land raids during the Civil War. At the end of each comic strip and cartoon, Sport Rivalry Man discusses a psychology theory or phenomenon that helps to scientifically explain what causes the sport rivalry phenomenon.

[2.4] Another set of comic strips and cartoons presented on are the Adventures with Sport Rivalry Man stories. Currently, the fourteen stories available on the website present tales about online bullying, school bullying, showing sportsmanship at a game, helping a school friend after a rivalry game, assisting a rival fan to change a flat tire, and other situations facing fans and readers. Stories feature protagonists placed in situations that require them to decide how to treat a fan or participant of the rival team. Sport Rivalry Man was created as a moral representative of appropriate fan behavior. Each story is narrated by Sport Rivalry Man, and it ends with the protagonist, sometimes with the help of Sport Rivalry Man, deciding to treat the rival fan with compassion. The use of comic strips or cartoons is not new to education; they have been used to assist with literacy (Norton 2003) and recall (Liu 2004), as well as to encourage collaborative learning (van Wyk 2011).

3. Evolution of Sport Rivalry Man

[3.1] The evolution of Sport Rivalry Man began with Jeff and Jeffrey (figure 1). These two rudimentary figures were created to help teach students taking my fan behavior/rivalry class that psychologically, most differences between rival fans are simply perceptual (note 1). Jeff and Jeffrey are fans of rival teams; however, for all intents and purposes, they are basically the same person. At the conclusion of the class, I discuss the idea of developing comic strips and cartoons to tell the stories of historical rivalries, and thereby introduce Sport Rivalry Man, a version of Jeff with a cape (figure 2) (note 2).

Badly drawn stick figures of Jeff and Jeffrey. Jeff, at left, has a blue body with the words MY TEAM!! YEAH!! on it. His typed word balloon reads, 'Hi! I'm Jeff!' Jeffrey, at right, has a gray body with the words THEIR TEAM!! on it. His typed word balloon reads, 'Hello! I'm Jeffrey!'

Figure 1. Sport Rivalry Man as Jeff and Jeffrey.

Badly drawn stick figure with a blue body, a red cape, and red-and-blue words SPORT RIVALRY on his blue body/jersey. His word balloon is blue and reads, 'Fear Not, for I am SPORT RIVALRY MAN!!!'

Figure 2. Sport Rivalry Man, a version of Jeff with a cape.

[3.2] Next, as more comic strips and cartoons were produced, the need for a more cartoonish Sport Rivalry Man increased in importance. With the help of an independent artist, numerous drafts of Sport Rivalry Man were produced, including superheroes (figure 3) and explorers (figures 4 and 5). After reviewing and discussing desired changes from the drafts, the Sport Rivalry Man currently featured in the comic strips and cartoons was born (figure 6).

Color image of a bearded white man flexing, wearing a blue unitard, red shorts, red cape, and red boots.

Figure 3. Early version of Sport Rivalry Man as a superhero.

Color image of a white bespectacled man holding a whip in his left hand while simultaneously cracking another whip overhead with his right. He is dressed as Indiana Jones in a khaki outfit with boots and is wearing a hat.

Figure 4. Early version of Sport Rivalry Man as a whip-wielding Indiana Jones–type explorer.

Color image of a bearded white bespectacled man wearing a khaki-colored outfit, a big belt, and a hat, standing with legs spread wide and arms extended, hands in fists.

Figure 5. Early version of Sport Rivalry Man as a pugilistic explorer.

Color image of a white bearded man in a blue unitard and a red cape, standing with legs spread wide and arms extended, hands soft. His eyes are covered with two smudges of brown. On his chest, in red, white, and blue, it reads

Figure 6. Current Sport Rivalry Man.

[3.3] The next step in the process was to test the use of the comic strips and cartoons to teach about the sport rivalry phenomenon and model appropriate fan behavior. College students were split into two groups, with one group learning about rivalry using the comic strips and cartoons, and the other group not (Havard and Workman 2018). Students were then asked to report their perceptions of their rival team and their likelihood to react to rival fans in specific situations (e.g., helping a rival fan pick up dropped items, laughing with others at a rival fan's expense, stopping others from picking on a rival fan). Results showed that students who learned about rivalry using the comic strips and cartoons reported significantly different perceptions of their rival team and were more likely to attempt to stop someone trying to steal a rival fan's belongings.

4. Future of Sport Rivalry Man

[4.1] A curriculum to use the comic strips and cartoons, along with activities surrounding Sport Rivalry Man, is currently being developed and tested in public schools. Lessons include bullying, decision making, and teamwork. The activities include stickers of Sport Rivalry Man, a coloring page where students color Sport Rivalry Man the colors of their favorite and rival teams, and Take Sport Rivalry Man with You!, which resembles the popular Flat Stanley, where students can take a two-dimensional picture of Sport Rivalry Man to sporting events and share pictures exhibiting appropriate fan behavior.

[4.2] Members of the research team have several questions regarding the comic strips and cartoons, along with the future of Sport Rivalry Man. In particular, are the comic strips and cartoons appropriate for the age level? Will students understand the content, and are the comics and animation sophisticated enough to catch student's attention? Additionally, how appropriate is Sport Rivalry Man to a school audience? Should he be changed to another ethnicity, age, or gender? On the basis of the feedback of schoolchildren and testing, the comic strips and cartoons, along with Sport Rivalry Man himself, may see changes. Additionally, a curriculum is also being planned to use the comic strips and cartoons to teach sport fans about rivalry and fan behavior in an online setting.

5. What can Sport Rivalry Man teach us?

[5.1] From the beginning of the comic strips and cartoons, as well as the creation of Sport Rivalry Man, the purpose has been to teach the general public, with a particular focus on school-age children, about the sport rivalry phenomenon and to illustrate appropriate fan behavior. By using a popular topic such as sport and the popular mediums of comic strips and cartoons, the hope is that people will be able to learn more about group and individual behavior and ultimately come to the conclusion that people in other groups are not that different. The hope is that if fans can learn that they should not treat someone that identifies with another sports team negatively, then they can generalize that lesson to other areas and groups in their lives, like politics and religion. Understanding the dynamics of group and individual behavior as well as the psychological issues that cause people to feel different and better than someone else can improve interpersonal and intergroup relationships.

[5.2] While we are in the midst of a deepening divide in national and international relations, the use of the comic strips and cartoons as well as the introduction of Sport Rivalry Man are attempts to counteract some of the negative behavior currently being exhibited both online and off. It is more important than ever that people learn about and respect group and individual differences, and treat others with compassion. Sport Rivalry Man is one of many attempts to teach people about differences and appropriate behavior, and the use of sport and the popular mediums of comic strips and cartoons will enhance these efforts. Just as Josh realized that he should not treat Jill badly just because of her favorite team, people in sport and nonsport settings can utilize the online lessons presented by Sport Rivalry Man.

6. Notes

1. In future classes, I will replace the Jeff and Jeffrey stick figures with pictures of myself in rival team shirts to illustrate that rivalry causes similar people to believe they are different.

2. Early versions of the historical comics and Adventures with Sport Rivalry Man featured the first version of Sport Rivalry Man.

7. References

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