5 Reasons Why Jocks & Geeks Are Really the Same People

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Tomorrow's Super Bowl has me thinking a lot about jocks and geeks. We see both in opposition to each other - strong versus weak, stupid versus smart, cool versus awkward. These stereotypes often lead to fear and hate. As a freshman in high school, I have a vivid memory of a football player mocking me while I read a magazine about Star Trek at a bookstore. I was angry and wanted to do something to change my geeky image (this was before I was "out" as a geek). I joined the wrestling team to prove that I too could be a jock. The experience wasn't what I expected. It taught me that jocks and geeks aren't really that different. In fact, they share almost all of the same qualities.

Here are 5 facts about jocks and geeks that show how similar they really are.

1) Loving Data

  Moneyball  is a movie about how data is a part of sports.

Moneyball is a movie about how data is a part of sports.

The definition of a geek is someone who has "an eccentric devotion to a particular interest". Usually these interests are non-mainstream like computers, video games, comic books, science fiction, and fantasy. Geeks devote extensive time to understanding every detail about their interests. For example, knowing all the plots from Batman comics, constantly optimizing computers just for the fun of it, and engaging in intellectual debates about who would win in a fight - Kirk or Han Solo?

Jocks get ragged on for being dumb, but the reality is many love information just as much as geeks do. Whether as an athlete or a fan, jocks consume statistics about sports. Knowing batting averages, net yards per passing attempt, and rebounds per game are key to understanding baseball, football, and basketball. Jocks also love knowing all the details of an athlete's career, understanding the rise and fall of a team, and engaging in hypothetical crossovers debates (e.g. who would win in a match - the 1994 San Francisco 49ers or the 1976 Oakland Raiders?). 

2) Engaging in Fantasy

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Geeks and jocks enjoy pretending to be a part of the worlds they love. Geeks do this through role-playing games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons) while jocks play fantasy football (or baseball, hockey, etc). But it's simpler than that - young kids might wrap a blanket around their neck and pretend to be Superman flying around their home or make believe that they've just hit a home run in the World Series. The point is that when both groups let their minds wander, they tend to imagine being right next to their favorite characters and athletes.

3) Playing Dress Up

 Left image by Doug Penner via Getty Images; Right image by  Rizwane . 

Left image by Doug Penner via Getty Images; Right image by Rizwane

Probably because of #2, geeks and jocks often dress up. Geeks call this cosplay while jocks just call this game day. Cosplay can be as simple as wearing a Captain America t-shirt or as elaborate as creating a Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess from scratch. Similarly, on game day jocks might wear a jersey of their favorite team or completely paint their bodies in their team's colors. Both serve the same function - publicly showing your devotion to something that means a lot to you. 

4) Getting Together

New York Comic Con is one of my favorite places to meet geeks.
New York Comic Con is one of my favorite places to meet geeks.

Contrary to popular belief, geeks are very social people. We love getting together at comic-book stores, movie screenings, and conventions. Jocks do the exact same thing, though it's usually at sports bars, Super Bowl parties, and tailgates. Whenever you go to these events, whether geek or jock, you can immediately connect with someone you've never met before and dive right into a detailed conversation about something you both feel passionate about. That's a really cool (and incredibly rare) experience.    

5) Becoming Pop Culture

 Image by  drsethery  .

Image by drsethery.

Both geeky and jockey things have transcended their niches and become pop culture. Just look at the data - sports and geeky films continue to dominate TV ratings and the box office. Tomorrow's Super Bowl will be one of the most watched events on TV. If you look at the top 5 movies of 2012 (Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Hunger Games, Skyfall, The Hobbit), all but one came from geeky origins. This isn't a contemporary phenomenon; it's a pattern that's existed for a long time. Going back to the 1960s, half of the most watched televised events were Super Bowls. Adjusted for inflation, the second movie of all time is Star Wars (#1 is Gone with the Wind). It turns out that most people enjoy consuming geeky and jockey things (though in a more casual, less intense way).

Why Don’t Geeks and Jocks Get Along?

 Movies like   Mean Girls   highlight the ingroup bias in high school cliques.

Movies like Mean Girls highlight the ingroup bias in high school cliques.

If geeks and jocks are so similar, why is there so much opposition between the groups? The psychology of ingroup/outgroup bias provides a simple explanation - people consistently prefer their group to others. Even when psychologists randomly assign individuals to groups for no reason at all, people will really like the group they are in and dislike outside groups. This finding is stronger when you belong to a group you believe to be less powerful than others (lots of geeks think they are smaller in number compared to jocks while jocks might see their team as an underdog compared to their competition). For many geeks and jocks, our identity is strongly linked to our groups and we react very strongly when we think our group is being attacked by others. This gets back to the self-serving bias (a theme within social psychology), which helps us feel better about our ourselves and the identities we belong to.

Joining the wrestling team forced me to face my own ingroup/outgroup bias and helped me realize how many of my stereotypes about jocks just weren't true. Honoring our similarities, rather than focusing on our differences, not only helps geeks and jocks get along, but all groups of people who believe they are in opposition to each other.