USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Sports’
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Initiations
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The OJ Simpson Metaphor

The informant (A.H.) comes from a Black Christian family. A.H. does not identify with Christianity.

Now well retired from the game at 54 years old, A.H. played football in the NFL from 1983 to 1987; first drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, then transferred to the Seattle Seahawks, and finally the San Francisco 49ers. Since then he has coached youth football teams, and works now as a financial analyst. A.H. was over house for dinner one Monday evening, and after our meal I interviewed him for football specific occupational folklore. I asked about the superstitions, traditions, and legends A.H. had come across during his career as a professional player.

A.H.: “I remember growing up I was a huge OJ Simpson fan. I think every kid my age that grew up in my area that wanted to be a running back wanted to be OJ. And I remember reading in an article somewhere that he never ate before games. He had said somewhere that he wanted to know what it was like to be hungry, and he thought that it would transfer over into games. I think I might have been in high-school when I read that. It affected the way that I ate, like I would never eat the night before the game or morning before the game. The interesting thing is when I coached, I passed that on to the players that I used to coach. He said something like, if you didn’t eat it would make you like a hungry dog. You would play better. Every guy has his superstition before the game… So I saw one of the kids on Facebook that I used to coach… A lot of those kids are coaches, and they’re passing that stuff on now.”

I found A.H.’s story compelling, because what began as Simpson’s individual superstition was perpetuated by his success, and eventually A.H.’s success. As seen with the OJ Simpson metaphor, a young generation of football players dons the occupational superstitions of their predecessors as a rite of passage in the hopes to achieve similar success on the field. A.H. was well spoken, and seemed to enjoy revisiting memories of his time in the game. He was equally, if not more enthusiastic about the legacy he left behind as a coach.
Not only does A.H.’s story provide an occupational superstition, but also a new interpretation of a popular metaphor. Specifically, in English speech, ‘hunger’ serves as a metaphor for desire or motivation. In this particular superstition, the hunger metaphor is associated with the desire to win the game. For a popular example of the hunger used as a metaphor for motivation, see Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Melbourne Cup

“The Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday of November. It’s a public holiday. That shows how important it is to Australians. It’s a horse race. I don’t know how it became big or why it became big, but like it’s genuinely observed across Australia. It’s like a series of races that take place all week. They’re just horse races of different heats, of different… Just horse races! Horses from all over the world come to Australia to race in Melbourne Cup. The reason why it’s so big is that… So it’s a series of races, and the biggest race is the Melbourne Cup, and it’s quite long, and only the best horses compete in it. The reason why it’s so big is because people… It’s like a festival, I guess. It’s fashion and food, and it’s more about like the people, I guess? It’s like the Oscars or Grammys where, like, you’re like, ‘What’s she wearing?’ It’s kind of like that. When it comes time to the actual Melbourne Cup race itself, people put bets on which horse is gonna win. And that’s part of the tradition. Even if you aren’t normally a betting person most people in Australia will go put a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, probably not extreme amounts, but people will go and put money on a horse. The newspaper has a centerfold with like all the horses and their statistics and the jockey and their experiences and where the horses have won before. I pick #12 because that’s my lucky number, I just trust that number. And then you go to the tab and you put a bet on. You can do it from anywhere in the country, not just in Victoria where the cup is. The Melbourne Cup is the one day a year where the tab is full, it’s like bursting. It’s usually just a couple men, like the serial gamblers. It’s hectic on that day. I get excited. It’s the one day a year where I actually get excited about a horse race. I think you can tell that everyone else cares, too. It’s all people talk about in like the days leading up. Three o’clock on the dot is when the race starts. When I was in high school, school finished at ten minutes to three. And there was no way I was gonna get home in time or anyone was gonna get home in time for the race. So school ends classes like half an hour early on Melbourne Cup day so we can all get home in order to watch the race. My brother and I would get off the bus, and we’d race home, and we’d drop our bags and everybody would be in front of the TV. I don’t even know why it was a family affair, but it was. I can’t explain the excitement when the race started. It was kind of like everything stopped. And the tag line for the Melbourne Cup is like, ‘The race that stops the nation.’ And it genuinely is. Like, traffic stops. People park their cars and like listen to it on the radio. Everybody stops for like two or three minutes just to listen to this race. Unless you win, though, you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t get any like satisfaction or money, just nothing. It can be kind of anticlimactic. When it’s over, people kind of just go back to their lives. Some people will like watch the after ceremony where they like crown the jockey and like give him money and stuff. They interview the owner of the horse, and they put a little sash on the horse to say that he won. It’s just the one day where everyone in Australia kind of stops. It’s kind of become an Australian tradition just to watch.”

 

I could tell this was a very exciting experience for the source to relate. It’s certainly outside of her usual interest, but like the rest of Australia, it seems not to matter whether horse racing is in your interests or not. Because it’s not a horse racing thing. It’s an Australian thing. It’s part of their identity. It’s very much like our Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl, everybody knows who’s in the Super Bowl. The whole nation stops on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s what the Melbourne Cup is for Australians. However, it seems they have a lot more invested in it what with all the betting and whatnot. Americans, however, experience it longer. Whereas no one researches before the Melbourne Cup, it seems, and not too many people continue watching after it’s done, the Super Bowl is savored for every minute of it, including the aftermath. And everybody is prepping from the week before.

general

Pre-Game Ritual

Informant: I am scared of everything, so anyone else’s superstitions genuinely become mine because I am afraid.

Collector: Can you give me some examples?

MG: Um… When I was a rower, I, like, had to eat a very specific meal before every race, like, I wore, like, the same underwear every time under my uni, like, wore the same socks… I had a full orange, an orange sports bra, an orange set of underwear, and these orange socks that I wore, and one time, I could not find the other orange sock, and I had to go to Costco and buy another giant pack of socks because there was only one orange one in the set, but there were, like, it was a big set of socks.

 

Informant is a junior at the University of Southern California. She is studying communications here. She is from Boston, Massachusetts. She spent a while in the southern part of Spain, and speaks fluent Spanish. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.

 

We were in the middle of talking about folklore and ghost stories, and the conversation turned toward superstitions because Maya said she was very afraid of everything. She has a very particular way of doing things just because and often picks up habits from other people. This type of superstition is seen, I think, in a lot of different people. It manifests itself slightly differently every time, but for the most part many people who are athletes or performers have this type of superstition where they have a ritual or specific thing they need during every meet or performance.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures

Hockey in New Jersey and no-shave rule

The informant and I were talking about sports and superstitions so he mentioned something specific to his home state’s sports culture.

“Hockey is really huge… a culture unlike anything in California. Everyone grows out their beard during playoffs season, and they don’t shave it until their team’s out of the playoffs. Bad luck for your team if you shave your beard. I don’t [participate], because I’m Asian and I can’t grow a beard.”

Sports superstitions are nothing unheard of, but it’s still interesting to observe how they vary from region to region. Some people don’t wash their jerseys until their team is knocked out of the playoffs, and some people don’t shave their beards. How such a tradition begins and spreads amongst a group of people would be interesting but probably difficult to investigate.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Track is Life

My informant is a senior member of the USC track and field team. He is of African American descent and is entirely dedicated to his sport.

 

Track is life. To eat healthy—these are words I learned from J.P—to eat healthy, to practice hard, to watch videos and film and study other people and how they run and how to help yourself run. So you just eat, breathe, sleep track. Its all you think about, its all you do. It’s a thing, it’s a thing actually, but it can also be applied to other sports. Like, ball is life. Like when n****s eat, drink, and sleep basketball. So like even if you *motions twisting his ankle* you just keep goin cause its life.”

 

Analysis: This proverb exemplifies the lifestyle of the person or people who use it. The statement is simple but powerful “track is life” meaning that everything that that individual does, is for track. I thought that this piece was particularly interesting because the noun in the beginning of the proverb can be changed depending on the sport and the groups of athletes that use it. Track is life for someone who runs, but “ball is life” for another individual who plays basketball or football. The universality of the proverb is part of what makes it so powerful, it can be applied to almost anyone and anything with simple changes to the word choice. It is also something that can be universally understood, because anyone who is in love with their sport will understand what the speaker is saying when they state that “Track is life” or “Ball is life” etc.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

“Send it!”

“Okay, so in the snowboarding world, when, um, you’re about to, like—‘cause I was a competitive snowboarder, you know, and so we would hit, like, really big jumps or something and then, or like if the pipe was like really big that day, um, so usually it’s used with jumps that are like over like 25 feet, so no like it doesn’t have to be big [laughs of disbelief from other people in room], but usually they’ll be like 90 feet when people use this saying and it’s not like, it’s like a, um, we would be like, ‘Oh, like fucking send it!’ That means like ‘huck yourself,’ like ‘do like what you got’ or yeah, like spin whatever, do flips and so it’s like just like ‘give it your all’ type of deal and so yeah we would just use ‘sending it.’ ‘Cause then it’s like ain’t nothing comin’ back, ‘cause you’re sending it and you’re giving it your all and you’re gonna kill it.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant has been known to use aspects of her athletic and workout life in social interactions and “Send it!” is no different. She went on to tell me that “So now I’ve started to integrate that into the Greek life culture and so if someone’s in a drinking game I’m like, ‘Dude, fucking send this game!’ and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna send it.’ (Interviewer says: “It’s not coming back!”) And then they drink a lot. Yeah, it’s not coming back. So then they just like drink a lot.”

 

This piece of folk speech was interesting to me because of the meaning behind something like “Send it!” The other people in the room and I got hooked on the idea that you would say it because “it wasn’t coming back.” In addition to this being about “giving it your all,” it seems like it’s about taking opportunities when you have them. It would make sense, then, that the informant would translate this phrase into other areas of her life, like the Greek life culture. It is easier to do wild things at a party when you have someone telling you it is the moment to do them. It is also interesting that it is primarily a way of encouraging someone else to do something. While it could come across as pretty aggressive to the uninitiated, those inside of snowboarding culture would know that it is a way of supporting one another and pushing each other to get better and try new things.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kiss the Lollipop

The ritual: “My high school’s cross-country team…our sectionals which was like the last meet of the year, cause we always lose sectionals…it’s always at the same place, it’s at this elementary school in Noblesville. And we would go there and there’s like this random path into the woods, and all the guys on the team would go there together, and we would take one lollipop and everyone had to kiss the lollipop and it was super weird.”

The informant carried out this ritual for his high school cross-country team. He said that one guy on the team never did it because he thought it was too weird, probably because he thought it was too close to kissing other guys. This ritual was probably more ironic than for good luck, since the informant himself said that the team lost sectionals every year. Going in knowing that they’ll lose, the ritual for “good luck” was probably just a parody, since the ritual itself is kind of weird to begin with.

Folk Beliefs
general

Don’t step on the falcon

“Our mascot for my high school is a falcon. They have a big tile mosaic thing of a falcon in the quad and you’re not supposed to walk on it, especially on game days. And especially when we played our rivals, Los Gatos High School. It’s right in the middle of the quad. It’s supposed to be bad luck if you step on it. I’m not really sure if it works or not but I never stepped on it just in case. Also I never played sports but I still didn’t do it.”

My participant is not an athletic person and did not participate in athletics in high school. I found it intriguing that despite her lack of interest or involvement in sports she still subscribed to the superstitions associated with her high school mascot. I was also surprised that it was bad luck to step on the falcon when it was located in such a public place as the school quad since it would be an easy mistake for pedestrians to make.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Initiations

Kicking the Flag Pole

“When USC students go to football games, as they head off of campus they kick the flagpoles on the edge of campus. It’s suppose to be for good luck. It’s supposed to help the team win. I heard about it when I was at orientation and the guide pointed at the poles and told us that ‘All the students kick theese poles on the way to the Collesium.’ It’s like a superstition thing. I have done it once during freshman year when I went to a game and sure enough when I did it I saw tons of other people doing it too. It’s definitely caught on.”

As a fellow student at USC I know this tradition to be true. It is interesting to note that this was taught during the orientation process to the university. During orientation at USC students are not only taught official protocols of the university but they are also taught about the unofficial culture of the campus, through an official medium. The kicking of the flag pole could even be considered a ‘right of passage’ for students attending football games. As if only the true fans and devoted students partake in this good luck ritual. This tradition is not only to ensure success for the football team during the game, but also an initiation into true fandom.

Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Softball Ritual

Informant’s self-description: “Both my parents were born in Canada but both my parents on either my mom or my dads side were born in China or in Wales so I identify pretty equally with both of those cultural backgrounds. Even though I didn’t really get a chance to get to know any of my grandparents because they died when I was very little. So I don’t really know that much of the cultural background from those sides but I would like to explore it sometime. Mostly just Canadian though. Born and raised. Very Canadian. Obnoxiously so.

“I do a lot of sports. I grew up playing – my mom wouldn’t let me. I tried to play hockey but she wouldn’t let me. She told me my brain hadn’t finished growing and I would damage it by falling down skating on the ice. And I could start playing when I was twelve. But the thing is is that by the time you’re twelve, you’re already so far behind on the skating skills that catching up then becomes a mess and its not even worth starting, which she probably knew. So I never played hockey. I played soccer and softball and volleyball growing up and I did gymnastics for a while until my mom made me pick between that and soccer. I chose soccer. I’m also into fandom culture and general nerdiness. I’m in the cinema fraternity at USC. Also a social sorority somehow. I don’t know how that happened. ”

Are there any rituals among your sports things that you took part in and continued?

Softball and baseball are very superstitious sports, not sure how much of that you’re aware of. But some of the general ones including not stepping on the chalk when you’re starting a game – in the on deck circle and the batters box, ‘til the game starts you don’t step on the chalk. And then in tournaments once you slide or get your uniform dirty, it’s lucky dirt – you can’t wash your uniform. Some people take it to the point where they can’t wash their socks either, between days of the tournament. Which is kind of gross. Like after you play five games in one day and then you go to play five games the next day. But usually our team would change the color of the socks we were wearing so that you could wear different ones. ‘Cause they stank.

Did that happen to you where you couldn’t wash your uniform?

I generally subscribe to the belief that it was unlucky to wash my uniform. Yeah, It’s like a lot of smaller rituals. I wouldn’t say there’s a big one but probably the not-washing-the-uniforms is the biggest one.  But also stepping into the batters box the same way each time, like when you’re sitting up in the field – or I used to be a pitcher, so when I was standing up to pitch it would be the exact same motion every time. Which is kind of a muscle-memory comfort thing.

Talk about one of them in particular. Which one did you ascribe the most to?

Aside from not washing the uniform between games, I think the biggest one would be the batters box. [Informant demonstrates] I’d always sort of scrape the dirt up, of the box and sort of make sure I”d have – with my cleats and make sure it was a nice flat surface. And then I would go like – back foot in first, then touch the far side  – the outside of the plate with  the end of the bat. Front foot in, and sort of dig myself in, set up, put my bat out – and get into batting stance. And I would do that every time and then sometimes when I would step  out, I would knock off the dirt between my cleats with my bat. And I would feel weird if I didn’t do it for whatever reason.

Did someone tell you about this ritual? Where did you first hear about it? Do you remember?

Most of the players have a sort of getting-in-the-box ritual that they have, that’s different from player to player. A lot of it is just from watching the national teams play when I was little or watching the professional league – like you’d want to emulate your favorite players. So you’d kind of adopt what they did stepping into the box until it became your own habit, and then you’d adapt them a little bit as you got more comfortable with your own batting style. So I’d say it definitely – from players on team Canada that I would admire growing up. I have no idea where they got it from.

Did you ever talk about that to your teammates?

A couple times. We’d always say like, “yeah I always” or “[Name A] always taps her helmet when she gets in the box.” Or “oh, you always do that when you get in the box.” “Yup, it’s weird if I don’t” A lot of us who took the sport more seriously would discuss our weird little habits on the field that we always do – like [Name B] always spits in her glove, and she has this old batting glove that has holes in it and smells like rancid manure but she doesn’t throw it out because it’s her lucky batting glove, even though it’s mostly just a strap of a glove now ’cause it’s so worn down – like all of the – like the entire palm is gone but she still wears it in her glove. And then [Name C]  always twirls her bat when she steps into the batting box even though it looks kind of dumb. But she can’t stop at this point. It’s definitely something we talk about.

You said you do it as a comfort thing. Does it get you prepared, mentally?

Yes? I’m not sure if the action itself gets me mentally prepared – it’s more like the absence of the action makes me feel unprepared.

 

Was not able to take video, but the demonstration of the batters box movement was very specific. Informant described each part as they did it.

[geolocation]