Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Jermain Defoe (above, white shirt). During his career thus far as a striker in the English Premier League, he has scored 99 goals. A great feat, surely. Ninety-nine more goals than I have scored in my lifetime. Add to that 45 caps earned while playing for the England national team, and you’ve got yourself a pretty decent athlete on your hands.
Now, if you’d please turn your attention to the circle of detail in the above photo (kindly ignore the crappy photoshopping from the News of the World site I nicked this image off), you’ll see the offending item that has had certain corners of the Interwebs lit up with scathing commentary (“arrogant little runt,” “tw*t,” and “silly prat” were only some of the labels placed on Defoe).
As anyone with any knowledge of superstition and the phenomenon of jinxing would assume after seeing that undershirt (which reads “100 goals”), Defoe failed to score. He had plenty of chances, almost all of which needed only a gentle tap towards goal to seal the deal, but he just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net.
And I say, how could he have scored, blatantly jinxing himself like that?!
I’ve written before about my propensity for sports-related superstition. I know it’s silly, and yet there’s a part of my brain that can’t let go of it and all its magical hoodooishness. Sometimes there just seems like there’s something to it. And I feel like most people involved in American sports – be they athletes, fans, or commentators – understand that there are some things you just don’t do, or say, due to their levels of jinxability (I’m coining all kinds of new words today!)
When a pitcher is in the midst of a no-hitter, no one talks to him. It’s just understood; no one wants to jinx him. Certain stats just aren’t acknowledged vocally by commentators… good ones, at least (you know the kind of stats… “Pitcher X hasn’t allowed a run in his past 15 appearances”), because it seems inevitable that whatever run a team or an athlete is on will be broken within minutes of that stat being uttered. And if these things do get spoken, you can almost hear the groans and shouts from fans near and far who understand the weight of what just happened.
It is this type of phenomenon that seems to be unknown among those involved in the English Premier League. Sure, players can be superstitious, bending to touch the grass before stepping onto the pitch, wearing lucky boots, or, like hotshot-of-the-moment Gareth Bale, wearing that silly tape on their thighs because it “prevents injury” (read: it’s the footballers’ version of the Phiten necklace – the effects are purely psychological).
And yet, I can’t count how many times match commentators have dropped a statistic such as “Tottenham haven’t allowed a goal in the past 475* minutes of play” (*statistic completely made up), only to see the other team score within 5 minutes. Or maybe it’s a factoid like “Peter Cech has never allowed a goal from West Brom during his entire career,” only to have him miss an easy shot and give up his epic clean sheet moments later.
It’s frustrating. Don’t these commentators see what happens when they run their mouths like this? Don’t they begin to put two and two together, and see that you can’t casually drop bits of information like that without there being consequences?!
As for Jermain Defoe… I have no words. When I heard about all his missed chances, and then heard about the message on his undershirt (there placed so that he could pull off his jersey upon scoring his 100th and run jubilantly toward the nearest TV camera), it made total sense: he clearly jinxed himself. Even the king of arrogant prats, Cristiano Ronaldo, wasn’t so brazen as to wear a “100 goals” undershirt on the day when he actually scored his 100th. How hard is it to understand that you just don’t do that?
Maybe it’s just me, having grown up a baseball fan in the heart of sports fan insanity (Boston), knowing friends who didn’t shower or change their clothes during the 2004 ALCS and having that seem perfectly normal, and appreciating having commentators like Jerry Remy and Sean McDonough who tended to know enough not to mention certain things during games. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to transfer a healthy respect of superstition to soccer, but as long as match commentators feel the need to ignore the unwritten rules of what not to say, and as long as people like Jermain Defoe continue to jinx themselves so ridiculously, maybe it’s just not meant to be. Or maybe I’m just mental.