Brotherly Love and the Super Bowl: Win or Lose, Rival Coaches/Brothers Stand to Benefit Healthwise if They Stay Close Over Time

  • Super Bowl
    (iStockphoto)
  • Mark Morman
    Baylor researcher Mark Morman (courtesy photo)
Jan. 24, 2013

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WACO, Texas (Jan. 24, 2013) -- Siblings who are close as adults -- like brothers/head coaches Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh, who will clash in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 -- are less likely to be depressed and have higher blood pressure over the long haul, says a Baylor University researcher.

But in the short term -- come Feb. 3, when the two face off in the Super Bowl -- both men almost certainly will have racing pulses and pounding hearts. One is bound to end up disappointed, sportsmanship and brotherly love aside. But how their relationship plays out in their golden years will be at least partly due to their dad's example, says Mark Morman, Ph.D., a professor of communication in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. Morman, who has studied siblings and is an avid sports fan.

The relationship between siblings -- including the Baltimore Ravens' John Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers' Jim Harbaugh -- affects them socially and emotionally throughout their entire lives since it is usually the longest lasting relationship they will have, said Morman, who co-authored Widening the Family Circle: New Research on Family Communication with Kory Floyd, a professor of communication studies at Arizona State University. He and other researchers say certain turning points are crucial to siblings' closeness, from going off to college to a family crisis such as death or divorce.

"Going to the Super Bowl? I would suspect that's going to be a turning point," Morman said with a laugh. "The rest of their lives, they'll say, 'Remember when we were at the Super Bowl?'"

Siblings find ways to carve out their own achievements to establish their identity, even when they follow similar career paths, like brothers/pro football players Eli and Peyton Manning and sisters/pro tennis players Serena and Venus Williams.

But "social learning theory argues that we learn by observation," Morman said. "For example, most of us parent the way we were parented. Social learning theory argues that unless you work really hard to make changes, you will do what your dad/mom did because that is all you saw growing up . . . There's a strong theoretical foundation for such a finding. Dad (Jack Harbaugh) was a coach for 41 years and now, no surprise, so are both of his boys. And remember, Peyton and Eli Manning's father was Archie Manning, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints way back in the day."

The Harbaughs have, for the most part, shrugged off the media hubbub about their faceoff. In news reports, they have said they are proud of one another but prefer to see the focus on the players in their respective teams.

"I'd love to talk to their dad about what he did to influence them both to be so competitive and fierce and strong and mentally intense -- and yet instill the affection and respect they both show to their players," Morman said. "They're both very demonstrative with their players, going over and hugging them, back-slapping, yelling -- what we refer to as masculine or covert affection. They're not the stoic Tom Landry or Jason Garrett kind of guy," he said, referring to former and current Dallas Cowboys coaches."

No matter which team wins, the brothers will be able to empathize with each other, Morman said. "They both know what it took to get there."

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Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

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