Behind The Scenes

ESPN producer Gubar explores the roots of extreme fan behavior in new book

Outside The Lines producer Justine Gubar (far right) oversees interview of former Fordham basketball player Mobolaji Akiode in Lagos, Nigeria in March 2010 for ESPN's Her Story: Celebrating Women in Sports. (Drew Levinson)
ESPN producer Justine Gubar (far right) oversees the interview of former Fordham basketball player Mobolaji Akiode in Lagos, Nigeria in March 2010 for ESPN’s Her Story: Celebrating Women in Sports. (Drew Levinson)
The cover of Justine Gubar's new book, "Fanaticus."
Justine Gubar’s debut book, “Fanaticus,” releasing this week.

ESPN producer Justine Gubar talks about hooliganism, alcohol, over-the-top parents and the double standard for policing sports riots and protest riots when discussing her debut book, “Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan,” released this week.

“A well-researched and shocking look at “extreme fanaticism” throughout sports history.”
– Publishers Weekly

After Gubar, a four-time Emmy award-winning investigative journalist who joined ESPN in 1994, personally experienced harassment and public shaming from Ohio State fans while investigating the Buckeyes’ football team in 2011, the seeds for “Fanaticus” were planted.

“I was in Columbus for three straight weeks, and some fans decided to attack me when a radio show host starting talking about me being in town – obviously a slow news day — and my Facebook and Twitter blew up with nasty messages,” Gubar said. “The hate followed me home after someone published my home number on the Internet. When I looked around and saw so much bad behavior, it got me thinking, ‘What is it about some sports fans that they act like total knuckleheads?’”

There are passionate fans who inspire you in their devotion and there are fans who baffle you in their behavior. – Justine Gubar

For “Fanaticus,” Gubar – who has covered major sporting events for ESPN and investigated notable institutions in the sports world – mixes interviews with athletes and industry insiders with visits to extreme soccer supporters in England, Belgium and Italy.

She also explores fandom in Asia and Latin America to understand mayhem on a global scale and comprehend what drives aggressive fan behavior. Additionally, Gubar interviewed historians and scientists who offered expert analysis at the social and cultural drivers behind this trend.

ESPN producer Justine Gubar is a Wesleyan University graduate and was awarded a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 2006.
ESPN producer Justine Gubar is a Wesleyan University graduate and was awarded a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 2006. (Jennifer Graham)

“Justine Gubar takes the reader on an unforgettable exploration of the least understood, least appreciated and –- occasionally — least defensible facet of our sports soaked culture: the fans.”
— John U. Bacon, author of “Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football”

“There are passionate fans who inspire you in their devotion and there are fans who baffle you in their behavior,” the San Francisco-based Gubar said. “I learned so much from visiting with fans in the U.S. and abroad, and I knew I was on to something sitting in the waiting room to interview a famed hooligan lawyer in Rome and the magazines available to his guests were Italian gun magazines.

“Even before I started writing the book, I remember finding myself in the gift shop of the Miami Dolphins’ team hotel where a fan asked Lamar Thomas to autograph her paycheck,” she said. “This was before direct deposit, so I guess she wasn’t planning on cashing said paycheck. Of course, there are some fans who down right scare you and keep parents from bringing their kids to games — the sports world can definitely do better than that.”

Justine Gubar (far right) was a guest on ESPN's Outside The Lines to discuss fan behavior.
Justine Gubar (far right) was a guest on ESPN’s Outside The Lines to discuss fan behavior.
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