Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, once said that “Fear is the main source of superstition.” But when you are pushing your body and mind to their limits at practices, mustering your deepest reserves of strength and courage, and leaving everything you have out on the court, field, track, or pool, it can be pretty tough not to feel a bit of fear from time to time.
As almost any athlete can attest to, fear is a big part of sports. Fears of failure or mistakes rarely leave the mind of a committed athlete.
Whether you call it luck, or fate, there is always something in sports that seems beyond the control of the players. “[I] think a bit of luck is involved in anything,” said junior Audrey Fleischner, who plays on Stuyvesant’s girls’ varsity basketball and softball teams. “A player can shoot exactly the same way every time, but sometimes their shots just don’t go in. It’s as simple as that,” she said.
Athletes at all levels often have certain superstitions and try different methods of controlling their luck and diminishing their fears. These can range from simple quirks to bizarre rituals. And while the particularly outlandish ones may seem rather strange to some, it is to be expected that many athletes have some sort of superstition. It’s pretty rare that you’ll see a teacher cross themselves as they step out of a classroom after a successful lesson, and accountants don’t usually wear the same underwear during tax season, but quirks like this are seen all the time in sports.
Wade Boggs, a former Major League Baseball (MLB) third baseman with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a 12-time All-Star and current member of the MLB Hall of Fame, is known as one of the most superstitious players that the MLB has ever seen. Boggs ate chicken before every game during his career, and was sometimes called the “chicken man” because of it. He entered the batting cage at 5:17 p.m., ran sprints at 7:17 p.m., and drew the Hebrew word “Chai,” meaning life, into the batter’s box before every at-bat.
Habits like these may seem pointless or inconsequential, but to the players they possess supernatural advantages. At some point in their careers, most athletes have superstitions. “Freshman and sophomore years I used to be really superstitious but now I got more logical and rational when I realized that they didn’t affect my races,” senior Daniel Hyman-Cohen of the boys’ track teams said. “But they can help a lot with focus,” he added.
Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, wore his University of North Carolina (UNC) basketball team shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform throughout his professional career. As a matter of fact, to hide these shorts, he wore slightly longer Bulls shorts over them. In doing so, he began the trend of wearing longer shorts in the National Basketball Association.
Fleischner has “a build-a-bear dressed in Knicks uniform,” named Stephon (after Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks) with which she sleeps only on the night before basketball games, she said. “I don’t even know why I do it,” Fleischner said. “I just always have. It might make me seem crazy, but it’s just what I do, and I’m sure every player, even if they don’t admit it, does a little something like that before a game.”
During the softball season, she uses the same mitt that she has had since the very first softball game she played when she was eight. “I believe it’s contributed to every win since,” she said. “To get a new mitt, I believe, is to risk ruining my softball groove. What if for some inexplicable reason I’m incapable of catching with a different mitt and all my talent is lost?”
Yet, this is nothing when compared to one of the more bizarre examples of superstition. Kevin Rhomberg played only 41 games with the Cleveland Indians in the MLB during the early 1980s, but managed to make a bit of a name for himself with his superstitions. Every time he was touched, he had to touch the person who had touched him back, even if it meant coming back out at the end of an inning after a fielder tagged him out.
Even more ridiculous, he refused to ever turn right, because a baserunner only turns left when rounding the bases. Therefore whenever a play in the outfield required him to move to his right, he actually spun around to his left before running towards the ball.
Whether it’s a matter of adhering to certain work habits, or performing strange rituals, superstitions are a part of many athletes’ game plans. They give people feelings of confidence that they will have good luck, or “create positive feelings between team members,” as junior Diana Hou of the girls’ swimming team said, which “can definitely benefit a player’s mental psyche. And in a race where a player can out-touch you by 0.01 seconds, you need to be prepared in as many ways as possible.”