Football Rivalries: The Most Trivial Occurrence of “Us vs. them”

This may be a somewhat unusual case-selection, but I still think it is still illustrative of the concepts this prompt is trying to get at. For those of you who do not know, I am A die hard fan of the Green Bay Packers, a football team based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers fanbase is a very tightly knit but also very physically spread-out community. As a result, most community interactions take place online on social media. As a fan-base, those who we would consider to be “other” would be anyone who is a fan of a non-Packer team, with special dislike reserved for fans of other NFC North Divisional teams (Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions). While these rivalries are admittedly mostly held in good fun, it does, over time, create some prejudices against the idea behind the group that don’t always apply in practice to any of their individuals. We regularly engage in collective derision of Bears (and Vikings and Lions) fans in the online community of Packers fans.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones weaves through traffic for a 15-yard touchdown, team's first Lambeau Leap of 2022 NFL season


Whether it’s re-watching clips of Aaron Rodgers telling Bears fans he still owns them, or listening to The Bears Still Suck, a trash-talk song written by Packers fans deriding the Chicago Bears, our rivalry is certainly an intense one. If you were to ask Packers fans as a group, we would probably characterize the group of ‘Bears fans’ as a whole as delusional, obnoxious, rude and a whole host of other unpleasant adjectives. This is partly due to the echo-chamber in which we interact online with just other Packers fans and partly due to the real-life rivalry the Packers share with the Chicago Bears. Of course, this isn’t something that’s exclusive to the Packers fandom. I would also expect fanbases of other teams to do something similar within each of their own respective spaces. And I don’t even mind these divides. Having such strong rivalries are part of what makes being a fan of an NFL team so much fun. I’m perfectly fine having an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to football, it’s all in good fun, no one is getting hurt.

Packers Rivalries over the years: Who are Green Bay Packers' biggest rivals? |


However, mentalities like these are unfortunately not restricted to ‘good fun’ activities like football, or even just sports in general. If identity factors as relatively insignificant as a favorite sports team can have such a significant impact on people’s prejudices towards other groups, it starts to make sense why humanity has been so divided across history along racial, ethnic, religious, or other identity lines. International politics has to deal with ‘rivalries’ between groups that go much deeper than a favorite sports team. These rivalries are based on things that are often immutable or unchangeable like race or ethnicity, or even core to a person’s identity like religion or religious sect. Rifts like this have made international relations very difficult across human history. Entire countries view each other as ‘delusional, obnoxious, and rude.’ Except this time the disagreement is over something much more important than football and leads to a lot worse consequences than catchy diss-tracks.

The Us vs. Them Mentality: How Group Thinking Can Irrationally Divide Us


Whenever I meet actual Bears, Vikings, and Lions fans (including a few that I know here at Dickinson) I always find that they are perfectly normal and pleasant people who I would be happy to call my friends. When you think about it, it makes sense. We’re all human first and foremost, everything else comes second to that. If I were to let my prejudices in this regard control my actual actions, I probably would not have met a few of the people who are now some of my closest friends. Something similar can probably be said for international relations and the way states interact with each other based on identity factors. ‘Us vs. them’ attitudes that run along racial, ethnic, or religious lines only prevent us from being friends with other people because we choose (as a collective group) to make it so. Getting around these barriers is something that humanity has improved drastically on over the course of our existence, but the work is obviously far from complete.






5 responses to “Football Rivalries: The Most Trivial Occurrence of “Us vs. them””

  1. Alanna Benson Avatar
    Alanna Benson

    Disparities between fan-bases is a great analogy for “us vs. them” in International Relations. How/if we interact with others depends on our perception of them and as you said, identity factors. I agree that humanity has improved on getting over the us vs. them mentality, but I think it is much more difficult for states as a whole to do so. It’s a much larger scale and relies on a multitude of factors. Also, I do not watch the NFL very often but I would cheer for the Bills if I had to pick a team.

  2. Ed Webb Avatar
    Ed Webb

    I like this analogy a great deal although, like any analogy, it doesn’t capture in full the phenomenon under discussion.

    Liberal IR scholars would most likely approve of where you end this: that actors (states in this case) have improved their relations through interaction. They might point to evolving laws, institutions, and norms as ways states have found to reduce and manage hostility. Identity-focused scholars might instead speak of the international system as a society within which states have shaped each other’s identities to arrive at better mutual understanding.

  3. Abdullah Al-Tekreeti Avatar
    Abdullah Al-Tekreeti

    I actually think this is one of the best ways to sum up most, but certainly not all, conflicts. By and large, many groups consist of many levels of adherents, those at the top, the mediators, and those who follow blindly. Whereas those above the followers may have more of a nuanced understanding of their conflicts with other groups, those at the bottom are simply done.

    In a way, American football ( thankfully you didn’t pick actual football! ) exemplifies this perfectly due to its nature. It is a physical sport, meaning that adrenaline is practically through the roof at any given match. This I believe, takes the in-group and out-group biases to their most logical conclusion, at least within those who blindly support them. Kudos for the well-written article, and despite the Vikings having a better mascot, go packers!

  4. Shahad Alzarooni Avatar
    Shahad Alzarooni

    Thank you for your post! Although I’m not at all familiar with American football, I found your analogy very insightful. Your explanation of the interactions between fans of different groups through social media is something we can perceive among many fan bases. People can become very passionate about their interests, which can cause their interest-based communities to become more hostile towards others, precisely due to the concepts of “in-groups vs out-groups” and “us vs them”.

    When applied to international relations, we can see these concepts through ideologies such as nationalism. It is acceptable to want the best for your nation, but excessive devotion can increase the gap between in-groups and out-groups in a nation, or even between nations. This can lead to increased hostility, violence, and prejudices. It can also lead to the dehumanization of groups labeled as “others”, and the subsequent justification of any mistreatment they are subjected to. Do you believe that there is a way for states to avoid such prejudices when it comes to interactions between states, news and media coverage, etc. or will the concept of “us vs them” always be one the most prominent?

  5. rileyw Avatar

    This seems to be an interesting way of describing how group mentalities work through an arguably trivial (at least in international politics) set of ideas. People can develop strong ideas and identities and become increasingly divided despite other similarities. This can be used to devastating effect in international politics in a variety of dehumanizing ways and lead to significant conflict and destruction if kept unchecked. I wonder how football could be compared in this division of groups to soccer, which from my knowledge is divided to the point that physical clashes between fans are not uncommon.

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