Why We Believe in Sports Superstitions

By Andrew Muschel • 4 min read

crowd-1026767-sMatt Harvey must hate me. How else can I explain that only twice in his major league career has he given up five runs: at his two starts I attended. Put in mathematical terms, his ERA (earned run average) in the starts I attended sits at 8.18 while his ERA in starts I did not attend is a slightly more impressive 2.10. I cannot assume he sees me in the crowd (pretty far up) and decides not to try; rather, some force that I bring to the stadium must create a negative aura leading to his inferior performances.

Fans Believe in Superstitions…

Fan superstitions, whether in thought (like my belief about Matt Harvey) or behavior, are quite common. Bud Light recently released an ad campaign with the tag line “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work,” humorously portraying the varieties of superstitions in which fans engage, with the implicit belief that they are helping their team win.  Though not every fan experiences the most extreme rituals, nearly every fan seems to have his special jersey, drink, or spot on the couch which boosts his team’s chances of winning. Others, like myself, know that either attending, or in my case avoiding, the home team’s stadium gives that team the best chance to win.

Black Cat

But why do we, otherwise rational, human beings have such paranormal beliefs about a bunch of adult men playing with a ball many miles away from our local bar? Even if we know intellectually that our behaviors cannot help, we seem unable to avoid them, perhaps just in case they help in some way.

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Monday Morning Offensive Coordinator – Hindsight Bias

By Andrew Muschel • 3 min read

sign-success-and-failure-1133804-s“He should have run!” “No, it wouldn’t have made sense!” The debate surrounded the ending of the sport’s biggest game of the year. Game 7 of the World Series ended with the question of whether Royals third-base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent Alex Gordon home on a triple hit into the outfield gap. Sound familiar?

This past week, a far more viewed and now more famous controversy developed when the Seattle Seahawks, three feet away from scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of Superbowl 49, elected to pass. The result was an interception and the Patriots won.

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Deflate-gate and the Psychology of Cheating

By Andrew Muschel • 3 min read

football-1-585059-sAs the biggest sports event of the year approaches (4 days 5 hours 48 minutes 32 seconds away as of this writing), the black cloud that’s been hanging over the NFL all season continues to darken. In a season that started with the Ray Rice fiasco, the NFL is now involved in a cheating scandal surrounding the New England Patriots and the possibility that they deflated their footballs to gain an advantage against the Colts in the AFC championship game.

The scandal began with league officials, then moved up to the coach and quarterback, and has now escalated into exchanges between opponent players and team ownership. Every member of the media is overwhelmed by this massive story line during a week when generally, stories must be extracted out of very little substance.

The consensus of former playersthe media (outside of New England), and the fans seems to be that the Patriots cheated and that quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick were a part of it. The questions then become why and how.

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Loss Aversion – Why Packer Fans are Still Suffering

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

sorrow-and-worry-692910-sAt work this week, I heard two colleagues speaking words of consolation in gentle tones, as if at a funeral. I immediately understood that one was a Packers fan.

This past Sunday, in the NFC conference championship game, the Green Bay Packers experienced one of the most heart-breaking defeats in football history. The Packers had thoroughly dominated the game for 55 minutes, and after intercepting the Seattle Seahawks for the fourth time with a 12-point lead, their chances of winning were well over 90% (96.1% according to ESPN; 99.9% according to CBSSports and others).

And yet…

As you may imagine, the loss hurt Packers players and fans alike. But what’s unusual, and kind of depressing as a sports fan, is that bad losses like these actually hurt more than great wins feel good.

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What Fans Want from the Refs

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

It turns out that you made a huge investment mistake. Huge. When your broker called you 10 years ago and gave you the chance to invest in a start-up, you politely declined. Well, that start-up is now worth millions and your investment could have been a part of that.

At this point of the story, most people sigh in relief. They were originally nervous that the “huge” investment mistake was investing actual money in a poor investment, not simply missing out on an opportunity. As a result, one naturally feels relieved to know that his retirement fund is still intact. In other words, not doing a good thing feels better than doing a bad thing.

Referee Involvement

football-referee-1-671884-sDriving to work this week, all of sports talk-radio was consumed by the NFL playoff weekend, specifically how the referees interfered with a game for the second straight week. Last week, it was the bizarre pass interference changed to a no-call with no explanation (sound confusing?). This past Sunday, it was the amazing catch by Dez Bryant that impressed fans and celebrities but failed to meet the definition of an NFL catch. The response of the fans was nearly unanimous: let the players decide the game, not the refs.

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Social Comparison’s Effects on Hall of Fame Voting

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

When you walk into a party, is it best to walk in with attractive people, so you appear to be “with them,” or unattractive people, to make yourself stand out?

blank-metal-plaque-5-1406476-sAs per the annual tradition, baseball announced the newest members of the esteemed Hall of Fame, and equally as traditional, the results have led to widespread debate. This year’s class, which includes Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio, has inspired several debates, most notably, a third  year of the steroids debate. Included in the steroid debate is Mike Piazza, who at 69% is close to the necessary 75%, but still short.

Several writers claimed that they avoided voting for Piazza due to the rumors implicating him as a steroid user (despite the lack of concrete evidence). A less hyped but more interesting debate revolves around whether John Smoltz performed at a superior level to colleagues Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina, whose statistics are all comparable. Several of these issues seem to revolve around one core idea.

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Are the Chicago Cubs Cursed? (Part II)

By Andrew Muschel • 2 min read

chicago-skyline-1432569-sAs baseball’s Winter Meetings wrapped up yesterday in San Diego, among the teams to make the most noise were the Chicago Cubs, picking up several players including prized free agent pitcher Jon Lester. All of their acquisitions made members of the media wonder whether the time has come, and if the Cubs will once again play in, maybe even win a World Series.

Previously, we explored the question of whether or not the Cubs’ extensive history of failure was due to a metaphysical curse and concluded that fielding bad teams probably contributed to their failure more than goats. But we still need to address why the Cubs have fielded such bad teams over the years and why fans insist that they’re cursed.

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Are the Chicago Cubs Cursed?

By Andrew Muschel • 1 min read

stock-photo-16532231-wrigley-field-outsideWhen Pablo Sandoval caught the final out of the 2014 season, it marked the 106th consecutive season that ended without the Chicago Cubs as champions. The absurdly long drought, a full 40 years longer than the runner-up Cleveland Indians, makes some fans wonder if their team is simply cursed. Under new general manager Theo Epstein, the team is pushing to be relevant again, even looking to make a splash this winter. But the team’s history remains ugly, including some excruciatingly close calls and extremely bizzarre incidents. So is it possible that a team has been cursed by the baseball gods (as Cleveland fans mistakenly believe about their own teams)? If not, why have the Cubs been so bad for so long and why do fans think they’re cursed?

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Can Talking Sports Be Beneficial?

By Andrew Muschel • 1 min read
male-bonding-163743-sShould he have sent the runner home? Does the NFL care about women? Will he be traded this winter? These are several of the many questions that plague sports fans daily. In previous generations, they may have been forced to share their quandaries with family and friends, but with the expansion of media and social media, most fans can find a sports talk radio show, online forum, or Facebook page to share their opinions.

Sports talk is as old a tradition as sports, but is it just a waste of energy? Noam Chomsky was dismissive about the function of  sports passion:
And I suppose that’s also one of the basic functions it serves in the society in general: it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter.
Was Chomsky right? Does sports talk have any benefits other than passing the time on a drive home from work?

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Why Do Parents Still Let Their Kids Play Football?

By Andrew Muschel • 3 min read

On a receamerican-football-284113-snt drive home one Sunday afternoon, I noticed a public park filled with high-school aged children, dressed in pads playing football. I immediately thought of the results of a recent study, demonstrating that nearly one in three retired NFL players will develop cognitive difficulties and at significantly younger ages than the general population. These facts, which have began to emerge over the last decade, led Malcolm Gladwell to wonder about the difference between the socially accepted professional football league and the much maligned dogfighting rings. On other occasions, Gladwell has predicted the gradual downfall of the NFL, as he believes parents will forbid their children from participating in such a devastating sport. After the release of the new data about the severity of brain injuries, why are these kids still playing football in the park? Why would their parents let them play and risk their future?

Suppose I would ask you the odds that you–in comparison to someone of equal gender, age, health, etc.–would have a gifted child or make it through the winter without getting sick? What about your chances of being fired or having your car stolen?

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