Knowing sports are highly ritualistic and superstitious I ask my informant, a football player of many years if he had any experience with folk remedies. This is what he said.
“For football, we all drink pickle juice before a game or in the middle of it because it stops cramps, like we fill Gatorade cups full of pickle juice. The salt helps absorb water because of the salt. Or eat mustard, it has the same effect. Our trainer has us do it. Cramps will make a player come out of the game, it sucks to come out, so we try to prevent them or make them go away so we can get back out there. Cramps are a stupid way to leave the game so yo drink pickle juice. You get used to the taste, it’s not great, but you chase with gatorade, but it’s worth it. It also works, I mean if it’s between taking a shot of pickle juice or not playing we would all take the pickle juice because paying is important. And it works”
Usually folk remedies turn into scientific remedies and vice versa. Or often they are placebo effects, and people believe that what they are doing will cure them. Neither are truly the case here. This is simply a long standing practice in sports where there is a lot of quick actions and muscle cramps are common. Salt does help reduce water in a body’s system, but it is unclear whether it truly helps reduce cramps. It may just all be in the mind or it may not. However, the players believe it, the trainers believe it, so it works. It’s a folk remedy that works for this team and many, but is not a part of conventional western medicine. However, someday it may evolve into western medicine or some medical product may be on the market for muscle cramps, but this team uses pickle juice. Pickle juice isn’t sold to reduce cramps, in fact just pickle juice isn’t sold, pickles are sold then the juice is re-appropriated for medical use.
Sports has a lot of unconventional medicines for quick remedies for small aliments during games or tournaments. My informant is a long time water polo player, and so I asked her if there was any remedies she learned from other players.
CB: “So when you play water polo you don’t wear goggles in the pool and the chlorine is very bad for your eyes, and there are a lot of water polo tournaments where you play more than one game in a day, and so your eyes will hurt a lot. A lot of people use eye drops but they don’t necessarily work that well so when I was a 14 and under a lot of my friends noticed some older girls putting milk in their goggles and putting them on their face and rinsing their eyes in the milk. We asked them why they were doing that they said it rinsed the chlorine and soothed their eyes and the recommended the fullest fat milk possible. I’m not necessarily sure if it works, but it does soothe your eyes in the moment and we kept doing it, everyone does it all the time, and it wasn’t only my team, but others teams from out of state using milk.”
Usually folk remedies turn into scientific remedies and vice versa. Or often they are placebo effects, and people believe that what they are doing will cure them. Neither are truly the case here. Sports folk medicines are usually for quick remedies during a game or long tournament as there isn’t a lot of time for treatment for minor ailments. So either the ailment, like sore chlorine eyes, will go ignored or have such a quick remedy such as this. It’s a folk remedy that works for this team and many, but is not a part of conventional western medicine. However, someday it may evolve into western medicine, or evolve into conventional eye drops. Milk isn’t sold to alleviate eye irritation, it re-appropriated for medical use by teams and then spread around team to team or player to player through these tournaments or from older player to younger player. It is a remedy quite particular to this sport, so knowing it or performing it may also have to do with one’s belief in their identity as a water polo player. Believing in this remedy and performing it has a lot to say about wisdom passed down from generations of those who have played the sport before them.