“I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious,” said The Office’s Michael Scott. This was my too-often-quoted reply to my wife while the Texas Rangers were making their postseason run to an eventual World Series title. I noticed a correlation every time I watched the Rangers a little too intensely: they’d start losing or giving up runs. When I turned the channel or focused my attention elsewhere, they’d play championship-style baseball and eventually win. So, to play my part in helping the Rangers win, I’d turn the channel when the game began to look grim. My wife would roll her eyes, and I’d respond, “I’m just a little stitious.”
Superstitions and sports are nearly synonymous. Fans and athletes alike participate in some form or ritual associated with competition. Baseball fans wear rally caps. Tennis stars repeat the same routine before every match or serve. Liverpool FC even forwent washing the team uniforms for an extended stretch of the season during a winning streak.
For the many problems associated with superstitions in sports—some of which we’ll cover here—we can harness the greater desire for interconnectedness that lies at the root of these rituals for good. But that leaves us with the question of whether or not we, as Christians, should indulge ourselves in superstitions. As with anything sports or life-related, we can find wisdom and nuance from God’s word. Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us how to be athletes or fans of sports who desire to play our part in greatness, I don’t claim to have the answer here, but I do offer some perspective.
Some may claim Christianity and Christian practices are just another form of superstitious belief. On the level of, “If I do (A) and (B), then God will do (C),” it’s hard to disagree with that assertion. Throughout the history of God’s relationship with people, however, he’s never been impressed by ritualistic, superstitious-style sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:22–23). The Lord desires full-throated faith and trust in Him—trust that believes He loves us—not petty services that try to manipulate and coax him into doing what we want him to do for us.
If we’re honest, I’m sure some of us have, indeed, lived out our belief in God in some “superstitious” form or manner. Some of us may still do. However, our belief in God and His promises should reverse our actions: “God did (C), therefore I do (A) and (B).” Even when we face complex and meaningful decisions, Christians can gain information, seek wisdom from the Lord and others, and make our choices fully trusting God to sustain us when it’s impossible to know the outcome because the base of our belief in God is that he loves us (John 3:16–17; Romans 5:8).
This is where Christianity differs from mere superstition. Superstition relies on our ability to control an outcome. It’s silly to believe our actions thousands of miles away (like in my case, when I’m cheering on the Baltimore Ravens from Texas) can control a game’s outcome. Yet we participate in these activities regardless. On a surface-level understanding of these actions, it’s harmless fun to join rituals alongside a community of fans. If left unchecked and taken too seriously, we can start to believe we have control over the outcome of a game with our actions.
But the same superstitious behaviors can plague athletes, too, who do have some measure of control over the outcome of their competitions. Take one of the greatest tennis athletes of all time, Serena Williams. “I have too many superstitious rituals and it’s annoying. It’s like I have to do it and if I don’t then I’ll lose,” Williams said. Notice how she conflates a lousy performance with her superstitious routines: “I’m not losing because I didn’t play well, I lost because I didn’t tie my shoe the right way and it’s totally ridiculous because I have to use the same shower, I have to use the same sandals, I have to travel with the same bags.”
One of the greatest athletes ever doesn’t need a superstitious routine to be great. Yet she feels as if she does. We don’t have to take this route, however. We can fully invest in cheering and participating in great competition without stressing ourselves with obsessively compulsive-type behaviors.
For nuance’s sake, there is a line between joining in on the beer snake fun or wearing a rally cap to show your support for the team, and needing to wear your “lucky” socks or jersey for the team to win. We need only refer to the wisdom referenced earlier for participating as fans who want to show our belief in the home team. We trust in God’s love for us and, therefore, participate in acts of mercy, kindness, and justice (Micah 6:8)—not in order to get God to love us more. As fans, we can wear our favorite jerseys, socks, and caps because we support the home team, not because what we wear will affect the outcome. And we live with the wins and losses because that’s what true fans do.
After game 3 of the World Series, I made myself watch the rest of the Ranger/Diamondback games regardless of what transpired. Being superstitious, or even “a little stitious,” wasn’t worth the stress. Sports entertainment exists for us to enjoy it. And for what it’s worth, I’m not even a die-hard Rangers fan. (I was rooting for the Baltimore Orioles, who got swept in the ALDS round by the Rangers.) But I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area and have no qualms with rooting for the home teams. I lit my outdoor lights red and blue with my neighbors in unity and discovered a feeling of catharsis alongside them I might not have felt otherwise.
At the end of the postseason, it wasn’t my support that won the Texas Rangers their first World Series ever because—according to my (false) superstitions—I only root for teams that lose. And the Texas Rangers are proof that superstitions aren’t real.