Should we all root for the Washington Generals?

Posted on September 23, 2010


US Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito visited the Law School at my university last week, and worked in a curious sports reference for those interested in reading the tea leaves of his moral psychology. We all want to know how those on the bench decide cases when the law itself is unclear and they have to rely on their gut instincts.

Here is how the Duke Law News reports on his lunchtime conversation with the School’s Dean:

The son of two schoolteachers, Alito said he wasn’t sure how his background factored into his judicial temperament, but suspects his lifelong allegiance to the Phillies did.

“While he had a choice, as a young New Jerseyan in the 1950s, to root for the winning New York Yankees, or the beleaguered Phillies, he benefited from choosing the latter, he said.

” ‘There have actually been psychological studies of people who have grown up rooting for winning sports teams and rooting for losing sports teams,’ he said. ‘For some reason I chose the losing team, and I think it had an effect on my thinking.’

“ ‘It’s similar to Chicago,’ he said, mentioning Dean Levi’s hometown. ‘There’s a book called Your Brain on Cubs and it substantiates the fact that if you grow up rooting for the Cubs, it makes you smarter, more balanced, more critical in your approach, more realistic in your expectations.’ “

Now based on a horribly unscientific sample of two, we can also conclude that what rooting for perennial losers doesn’t do is make you more empathetic or sympathetic to the interests of the downtrodden. Alito has consistently voted with the conservative bloc on the court, usually favoring the interests of powerful over the those of the weak. Meanwhile, his colleague Sonia Sotomayor, a rabid Yankees fan, has just as consistently taken the other side.

Perhaps winning a lot opens the spirit, and losing a lot inclines you to side with the powerful in the future.

By the way, can anyone point me to any of these “psychological studies” Alito is referring to?