Modern Maledictions: The Curse of the Billy Goat

No goats allowed.

In a recent post we took a look at sports-related curses—i.e. curses which were employed by athletes and their fans to ensure victory against a competitor. While the ancients were busy “putting the fix in” for various sporting events, the tradition of sports-related curses is no less pertinent today.

In 2012, during an NFL play-off, New England witches provided a bit of, uh, spiritual support for the New England Patriots by supernaturally boosting Tom Brady’s mojo. No less effective were the rumours that pop superstar Jessica Simpson, then dating Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo, had inadvertently cursed the Dallas Cowboys, after the team suffered a string of losses while Simpson sat in the bleachers. More recently, NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick was said to be hexed by a fan of a rival racer. This time, the curse was no rumour, as the person apparently brought their own monkey skull to channel some evil forces.

While we may chuckle at these ideas, a study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that half of all Americans believe that sporting events are influenced by supernatural forces. Clearly, sports-related curses were not just limited to the ancient world. Even in modern times, these curses are everywhere.

As someone who grew up in Chicago, my favourite sports curse is that of the Curse of the Billy Goat, which is believed to be responsible for the Cubs’ inexplicably long run without a World Series pennant. (The White Sox, however, defeated their “Black Sox Curse” when they won the Wold Series in 2005. Southside!)

For those of you who are not aware of the Curse of the Billy Goat, I’ll provide a bit of background. In 1945, the Cubs were in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. A local tavern owner, Billy Sianis tried to attend one of the games with his pet goat. Wrigley Field, however, would not let the goat in. Sianis was upset at the affront, so he cursed the ballpark saying in perfect Chicagoese, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

While we may wish to dismiss sports curses as mere superstition, this is Chicago where baseball is taken very seriously. Sianis’ billy goat is thought to be responsible for condemning the Cubs to the “lovable loosers” status that haunts them today. Remember the Bartman incident of 2003? Many believe that errant fan with an eager reach was not an accident, but rather was the legacy of Sianis himself. Doubters need only to look at the stats to verify the curse’s potency: sixty-nine years later, the Cubs are still without a World Series win despite being close on several occasions.

Various attempts have been made to remove the curse. After the Bartman incident, a dead goat was found strung up outside the so-called friendly confines. Other fans attempted to appease the spirit of Sianis’ billy goat by donating goats to underprivileged families—an initiative called “reverse the curse.” The nephew of Sianis has even been paraded a billy goat out on the field. Nevertheless, the curse appears to have stuck.

Sports-related curses were not only employed in the ancient world, but are still turned to today to defeat a rival, amplify one’s chances of winning, and explain away misfortune. The Curse of the Billy Goat, despite being laid in 1945 still holds value for Cubs fans, who use it as a rallying point for the community and a way to explain their team’s poor performance. This curse is just one among many modern sports-related curses, proving that cursing is right at home in the contentious world of sports.

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