Walking down the fifth tier in San Quentin State Prison’s North Block, you’ll see several 8”x11” signs with the logos of football teams, including the Cowboys, Steelers and, mostly, Raiders.
One individual has the Raider emblem tattooed on his stomach, wears a Raider bracelet, has the Raider crest on his coffee cup and is known as the “San Quentin Raiders General.” He and many others root for the Raiders even though the team hasn’t been to the playoff since 2002.
For Ramon Watkins, the San Quentin Raiders General, and fellow fan Larry White, their deep connection to the Raiders stems from childhood.
“I grew up one block from the Oakland Coliseum and, as a kid, I used to watch the Raiders through the gate so much the staff started letting me in for free,” said Watkins. “They taught me about the game and gave me a positive place to go besides the streets.”
White said, “My stepfather was a Raiders fan, and he introduced me to the team when I was 5. I’ve been a fan ever since.”
These childhood memories make football more than just a game for the two men.
Such a deep connection to sports may seem over the top to some. But that behavior is normal for basic human psychology, neuroscience and cognitive tendencies, according to a May 16 New Yorker book review of This is Your Brain on Sports.
The book’s authors, L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers, wrote, “Your brain on sports is just your regular brain acting as it does in other contexts.”
The reviewer explains that people are aware of their thoughts and feelings, but they cannot connect those thoughts and feelings to what actually happens in the brain or the rest of the body.
People experience the same anxiety over the thought of a kicker missing a 30-yard field goal as they do at the thought of being shot by their best friend. Although one is irrational and the other is rational, the raw chemistry is identical.
“The brain of someone whose team has just lost the Super Bowl is indistinguishable from the brain of someone who is grieving for the death of a loved one. No one would say those experiences are equivalent,” reviewer Louis Menand noted.
Menand explained that people like rooting for underdogs, even though underdogs are more likely to lose. This is partly because seeing them win pays off a marginal psychic rush greater than the potential pain if they lost.
In San Quentin, Watkins remembers seeing the Raiders win all their championships. With the Raiders’ first winning season in 14 years, Watkins and White hope this will be the year the Raiders finally win the Super Bowl again. For them, they said, it would be almost as good as getting released from prison.