Sacred Sport

One of the ideas I have for another book down the road is one on superstition and sport. After religion, sport comes pretty high up on the list of human activities that evoke magical thinking. We all know about all the superstitious rituals that various players engage in prior to matches. I have already covered David Beckham’s OCD and the habit of his AC milan teammates patting his bottom for good luck. But I think that the sports fan is a peculiar species.

Nick Hornby famously wrote about his pre-match ritual of buying a sugar mouse on his way to the football match.  He would bite the head off and then lob the remainder into the road as a way of ensuring that his beloved Arsenal would win.

Not much of view from here

I recently had the rare opportunity to go to an Arsenal game – the first match that I have been to in over 25 years and there is something fanatical about fans. So I was not too surprised to read this week about the corpse of a fan that was smuggled into a Colombia match between Cúcuta Deportivo and Envigado. Cristopher Alexander Jácome Sanguino, a 17-year-old supporter, had been gunned down the day before but his friends decide to take him to the match last sunday anyway.

We always think of the South Americans being somewhat loco when it comes to football but you find similar sports fever across the globe.

Hamburg SV soccer team in Germany is building a cemetery as part of a new stadium so that fans can be buried next to the playing fields. Apparently this is because it is illegal in Germany  to scatter human remains in pubic places. Other clubs are a bit more liberal with many die-hard fans ending their days on the pitch. The singer/actor Meatloaf is such a fanatical baseball supporter, that he plans to have his ashes scattered over the Yankees stadium in New York by helicopter.

These stadiums are the new sacred sites that must not be violated. When a construction worker recently buried a Boston Red Sox jersey in the concrete foundation of the Yankees stadium as a curse, team owners paid $50,000 dollars to have the offending garment excavated in a five-hour operation. The jersey later sold for $175,000 to a Red Sox fan.

So when it comes to sport, people display some very strange beliefs and behaviour. As Bill Shankley, the former manager of Liverpool Football Club quipped,

‘football isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that’

8 Comments

Filed under In the News, supernatural

8 responses to “Sacred Sport

  1. You might want to check your spelling, as right now, according to you, Germany has a most curious law about sex and death.

  2. Excellent idea for a book! It would be sooo easy for a publicist to get you lots of media on that one. Sort of a slam dunk😉

    I think you’ll like this; it’s one of my favorite anthropological essays on superstition, ritual, fetish, and taboo:
    Baseball Magic http://windward.hawaii.edu/facstaff/dagrossa-p/articles/baseballmagic.pdf

    • brucehood

      this is all very encouraging. I pitched this idea a year ago but I think this may well be my next project

      • Well, your approach is so right on that a publisher would be silly not to jump on the proposal.

        As a former new age believer (I think the Monkees did a song about it), Supersense was really the first book (out of literally hundreds) that helped me approach my massive amounts of supersense with a sense of fun and wonder (instead of a sort of head-down depression). I love that you framed your argument in terms of “Aren’t our brains kooky?” instead of “Aren’t believers nutz?” You’re my favorite thinker on this topic.

        I’m able to share your book with my still-believer friends, and they can really access it and think more workably about their own supersense without feeling shamed (this is almost never true about skeptical books). You did a great thing.

        Widening your frame further to encompass the kinds of sports (and maybe also the more general music, TV, and film “fan”) frenzies we can all relate to … well, it’s brilliant.

  3. Shea Balish

    In this future book, perhaps it would be worthwhile to write about how these “moral matrices” that sport facilitates, permeate the burgeoning field of sport psychology. I’m probably the only scholar conducting sport psych research that extends Darwin’s idea to the human mind. The moral tribalism and biases that exist are almost overwhelming, especially as sport psych is an applied social science. Within the umbrella of psychology, the Standard Social Science Model will likely make its last stand in sport psych. For some time the infantile field of sport psych has been selectively taking from its mother field, social psychology. I think we’re old enough for mother to force feed us our vegetables.

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