Sports and the city : the rhetorical construction of civic identity through American football teams



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Sports fandoms can form a key site of identity formation, particularly as they gather and merge numerous threads of identity, including gender, socio-economic status, and civic affiliation. The connections formed between members of the fandom, the fandom and the team, and the fandom and the place in which it is grounded can be a strong force for social cohesion. This cohesion becomes particularly relevant during times of crisis, when some turn to sports as a unifier. However, these relationships can also be fraught with tensions, within the group and without. Forces such as nostalgia and the ‘othering’ of those outside the group become import methods in creating and sustaining these Andersonian “imaginary communities” of fans, mitigating difference. In examining this process of identity creation, two cities were chosen for their intense team attachments: Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Qualitative analysis of discourses surrounding the teams in these cities reveals the complex ways in which nostalgic fantasies about the team and its relationship to the city are created and maintained, hierarchies of space and time are formed, and the identity of the community is shaped by its relationship to team and city. Analysis of the sporting landscape, created through a complex network of material culture, media, and the repetition of certain fantasy themes, reveals how geography is complexly implicated in the production of sporting fandom.