October 11, 1995 in Nation/World

Warning: Rooting For Mariners Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

Tom Paulson Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The only health risk that was associated with the old Seattle Mariners was depression.

But today’s Mariner pennant fever, with its symptoms of mass hysteria and recurrent bouts of high blood pressure, has produced a whole new epidemic of health hazards associated with the team’s winning streak.

The Mariner Moose broke an ankle. An exuberant fan high-fived his shoulder out of joint. Half the city has laryngitis.

“We’ve seen all manner of injuries from this,” laughed Dr. Lee Norman, medical director at Swedish Hospital Medical Center in Seattle.

Beyond the potentially serious risk for excitable fans with heart problems, physicians have seen everything from hoarseness, transient partial deafness or “ringing” in the ears and skin rashes (from team-colored paint) to acute migraine headaches, a blown-out knee due to a poorly executed “wave” in the stadium stands and, of course, alcohol poisoning.

“It’s a zoo out there,” Norman said.

Dr. Jim Rockwell, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Seattle who occasionally treats professional singers, has attended Mariner games and did a bit of damage to his own throat and ears.

“People got to do what they got to do for the Mariners,” said a hoarse Rockwell. “If that means losing your hearing, you got to lose your hearing.”

He was joking, of course, adding that the “chance of somebody getting permanent hearing loss from attending a game is about the same chance as me hitting a home run off Randy Johnson.” Earplugs, he added, likely aren’t necessary.

For those with post-game headache and temporary throat damage, Rockwell prescribed a little steam and some Tylenol.

“Just Tylenol,” he croaked. Other types of common analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen can increase bleeding in the vocal cords and delay healing, Rockwell noted.

Doris Ellis said her husband, John Ellis, the Mariners’ chief executive officer, has suffered from the same disorders as many other fans. Ellis was not able to comment on whether or not he could comment Tuesday, she said.

“He was hoarse yesterday and he’s hoarse today,” Doris Ellis said. “He’s been doing a lot of gargling.”

Beyond the risk to body and limb from Seattle’s success on the diamond, some say, fans also should be aware of the mental health risk from Mariner baseball.

“I was just a wreck on Saturday,” said Dr. Ronald Smith, a University of Washington psychologist. As a fan, Smith said, he forgot to “practice what I preach” and ended up getting all stressed out and agitated.

Part of the problem is physiological, he said. People get anxious and forget to breathe deeply, setting up a cycle that makes them even more anxious. This, Smith said, often is related to the problem of “de-individuation” common to fans.

“We have to be careful to separate who we are as individuals from who the Mariners are,” Smith said. Group behavior tends to be “contagious,” he said.

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