Release Date: October 26, 2016 This content is archived.
BUFFALO — By definition, a “curse” involves spoken or written words or an intentional act, explains Phillips Stevens Jr., University at Buffalo associate professor of anthropology.
So, yes, technically speaking, the Chicago Cubs are cursed, he says.
“The notion of a ‘curse’ is very big in sports. It’s part of humankind’s universal disposition toward magical thinking – the belief that thoughts, words or actions will produce an outcome that defies normal laws of cause and effect,” says Stevens, who studies the origins of cults, superstitions and cultural identities. “We like to think that logical thinking is the hallmark of our society, but in reality there’s a universal desire to find blame for something that is beyond reason.
“Actually, having a ‘curse’ to blame for misfortune can be psychologically beneficial — at least temporarily — as it relieves people of a sense of failure.”
The Cubs’ misfortunes can be traced to an actual “curse” supposedly uttered by a Cubs fan upset that he and his goat were denied admittance to Game Four of the 1945 World Series pitting the Cubs against the Detroit Tigers, says Stevens, who studies the origins of cults, superstitions and cultural identities.
The Cubs lost that series and haven’t been back to the World Series since.
Seventy-one years later, Chicago is in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. They are down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, with Game 2 slated for Wednesday night. But can they actually break the curse?
Curses are so potent, Stevens says, because of people’s belief in the power of words. People believe that words can permanently determine their fate. That is why, perhaps, there have been public efforts to reverse or nullify the Cubs’ curse through various rituals like exploding a baseball, or saying it backwards, Stevens says.
But the real key to breaking a “curse,” he says, is through human psychology.
“If people believe strongly enough that they are under this cloud of misfortune, then they will fail,” Stevens says. “With curses, you can reshape your destiny. It is all about belief and human belief systems. As a team gains momentum, things start to shift and people start to think this is the time to break the curse.”
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