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Rituals and the Other Side of the Magic

By Manny Tejeda-Moreno

Baseball third baseman and hall-of-famer Wade Boggs, who played for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays was well-known for his rituals. Though not Jewish, he always drew the Hebrew symbol Chai, meaning “living,” in the dirt of the batter’s box before he went to bat. Wade also ate chicken before every game, took batting practice at 5:17 a.m. and ran sprints at exactly 7:17 a.m. I have no idea what Mr. Boggs’ faith is, but his use of ritual was widely publicized.

Boggs was not the only famous example of ritual behavior in sports. Tennis Champion Serena Williams will only wear a single pair of socks during any given tournament; successful NCAA Men’s Basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian would chew towels during games; Basketball player Mike Bibby uses nail clippers during timeouts and Wayne Gretzky used baby powder on his hockey stick famously remarked “I think it’s essentially a matter of taking care of what takes care of you.” And finally, baseball outfielder Moises Alou pees on his hands to toughen then up.

Yes, you read that right. And while there is no evidence that urine will make your hands tougher, science does speak to how ritual behavior can help us in our tasks. On a cultural level, rituals serve to promote structure. They serve as a means to communicate across individuals and generations while routinizing social behavior to mark transitions, time or power as well as belongingness, remembrances and traditions. In this sense, ritual behavior is actually fairly common regardless of faith.

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