When Neural Architecture breaks bad

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Following a 9th inning pitched by Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman during Sunday’s game against the Cardinals the song “Smack My Bitch Up” by Prodigy came over the stadium loudspeakers. In October of 2015 Chapman allegedly fired eight gunshots in the garage of his Miami-area home following an October argument with his girlfriend in which she told police he “choked” her and pushed her against a wall, according to police reports. As a result he was suspended under MLB’s domestic violence policy.

There was unease among Cubs fan when Chapman was acquired at the trade deadline. The Cubs released a statement in an attempt to mitigate the agitation. Then Chapman threw 100mph, pitched well and the story largely fizzled.

Now it’s back because of a poor song choice. And to be clear, it was inappropriate. The DJ was fired for the “irresponsible music selection”. But should a song choice resurrect the unease of fans and a return of the unease over the acquisition? A song doesn’t make what happened worse. It doesn’t change the facts. Did people forget?

In a way, it’s possible. Fans treat players as an extension of themselves. It’s part of the psychology of sports fandom. Fans see themselves as part of the team. A player who has committed some crime or otherwise acted inappropriately is forgiven because the fan has to resolve the dissonance between his view of the team, its players and himself. Thereby, fans allow themselves to cheer for the bad guy. Effectively, the fan forgives and forgets.

The song can bring that back. Music is associative. It has been shown that specific brain regions are linked to autobiographical memories and emotions are activated by familiar music. Music can even elicit strong responses from people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The poor song choice may have unwittingly unlocked the visceral emotions of Cubs fans which had previously been placated by Chapman’s pitching performance.

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