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Sport team identification and belief in team curses: the case of the Boston Red Sox and the Curse of the Bambino.

Although research (Anderson & Stone, 1981; Lieberman, 1991 ; Thomas, 1986) indicates that most people are at least moderately involved in sport as fans (i.e., persons with an interest in a sport, team, and/or player, see Warm, Meinick, Russell, & Pease, 2001), relatively little is known about the cognitive, affective, and behavioral reactions of these persons (at least relative to information on athletes). In fact, in their research of the sport psychological and sport sociological literatures, Warm and Hamlet (1995) found that less than five percent of the research had targeted fans and spectators. Recent years appear to have seen an increase in research on fans (Wannet al., 2001), and our understanding of topics such as fan violence (Mustonen, Arms, & Russell, 1996; Warm, 1993), hero worship (Wann et al., 2001), perceptions of other fans (Warm & Branscombe, 1995; Wann & Grieve, 2005), and attendance (Laverie & Arnett, 2000; Trail, Anderson, & Fink, 2000; Wakefield, 1995; Zhang, Pease, Hui, & Michaud, 1995) has improved. However, many topics related to the reactions of these persons have yet to be empirically examined. One such topic, and the focus of the current investigation, involves the tendency for fans to believe that certain teams are or have been cursed.

Researchers and theorists from a variety of social scientific backgrounds have reviewed a number of different curses. For example, authors have discussed the possibility of curses impacting people such as members of the Barrymore and Kennedy families (Cawley, 1998; Klein, 2003), places such the town of Carlisle, England (Dix, 2005), and things such as the Hope Diamond (Goldman, 2002). Researchers have also examined curses plaguing archeological projects at various locations, such as the Mummy's Curse of King Tut's Tomb (Rompalske, 2000; Soren, 2000). Curses were popular in many ancient cultures and civilizations including Babylonian, Latin, Egyptian, Islamic, and Irish, to name but a few (Faraone, Garland, & Lopez-Ruiz, 2005; Frankfurter, 2006; Kitz, 2004). Certainly, there are a number of different Biblical curses, including those mentioned in Deuteronomy, Job, Daniel, and Exodus (Moore, 2004; Pettys, 2002; Swartz, 2006; Wittstruck, 1978). However, curses are not limited to ancient times. Rather, curses can also be found among individuals residing in modern cultures, including persons in Africa, Asia, India, and even the United States (Golden, 1977; Johnson et al., 1999; Small, 1999).

With respect to sport, curses have been discussed in several sports, such as professional football ("Tricky Pickings," 2005) and professional golf("Bunkered Champions," 1994). In fact, even a national sport publication, Sports Illustrated, is thought by some to be cursed, leading to tragedy or poor performances by those appearing on the cover ("Sports Illustrated," 2006). The sport that may have the longest and most elaborate relationship with curses is Major League Baseball. A number of different teams have been thought by persons to be cursed at various times and for various reasons (Roberts, 2004), including the St. Louis Cardinals (the curse of Keith Hernandez), the Chicago White Sox (the curse of the "Black Sox"), and the New York/San Francisco Giants (the curse of Coogan's Bluff). The most often discussed baseball curses appear to involve the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox (Weir, 2003). According to legend, the Chicago Cubs were cursed in 1945 when the team would not allow the owner of a local tavern, William Sianis, to bring his goat into Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs). This angered Sianis who placed a curse on the Cubs, saying that they would never again win a National League Championship ("The Ball Gets It," 2004).

As for the Boston Red Sox, their curse to believed to have resulted from the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in early 1920 ("Curse of the Bambino," 2006; Shaughnessy, 2004). A number of poor performances by individual Red Sox players and the team as a whole have been blamed on the curse. At the top of this list may well be Billy Buckner's error during the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. Buckner's miscue helped the New York Mets come from behind to win Game 6 and then win the series in 7 games (interestingly, recent photos suggest that Buckner was wearing a Chicago Cubs batting glove while playing the field that day, leading some to surmise that he was doubly cursed, see Lukas, 2006).

The current study was designed to examine beliefs in sport curses by investigating fan perceptions of the Red Sox Curse. We believed there would be three person (i.e., subject) variables that would predict beliefs in the curse: persons believing in luck and magic (i.e., mystical things), persons with high levels of baseball fandom, and persons with high levels of identification with the Boston Red Sox. First, it was hypothesized that individuals who tend to possess beliefs in luck and magic would report believing in the Red Sox Curse, regardless of their level of baseball or Red Sox fandom. These individuals hold a belief system in which mystical events are perceived of as reality. Consequently, we should find that these persons believe in mystical events within the realm of sport, such as the possibility that certain teams are cursed. Second, we predicted that persons with high levels of baseball fandom would report a belief in the Cruse of the Bambino, regardless of their belief in mysticism or their level of identification with the Boston Red Sox. This prediction was based on the fact that, given their high level of interest in baseball, these persons would have most likely heard numerous accounts of cursed baseball teams, including the Red Sox. In addition, they may have been a follower of a different team with had also, according to legion been cursed (e.g., the Chicago Cubs or Chicago White Sox).

The third prediction was at the center of this investigation. Specifically, it was hypothesized that persons with high levels of identification with the Boston Red Sox would report beliefs in the Red Sox Curse, above and beyond their belief in mysticism and their level of baseball fandom. That is, we expected that level of identification would account for a significant amount of unique variance in beliefs in the Red Sox Curse. This prediction was based on the newly developed Team Identification- Social Psychological Health Model (Wann, 2006a). According to this model, high levels of identification with a sport team will lead to increased social connections with others. The increased social connections (i.e., increased social capital) subsequently result in positive levels of social well-being. Support for the positive relationship between team identification and social psychological well-being is quite strong. For example, identification has been found to be positively correlated with social life satisfaction, extroversion, social self-esteem, positive affect, and vigor, and negatively related to loneliness and alienation (Branscombe &Wann, 1991; Wann, Dunham, Byrd, & Keenan, 2004; Wann, Inman, Ensor, Gates, & Caldwell, 1999; Wann & Pierce, 2005). Further, research indicates a causal pattern in which identification predicts subsequent psychological health (Wann, 2006b) and is not limited to a specific setting, such as at an athletic event (Wann, Walker, Cygan, Kawase, & Ryan, 2005) or culture (Wann, Dimmock, & Grove, 2003).

However, Wann (2006a) notes that sport fans often report negative affect in response to their team's performances, particularly those that were not successful (Hirt, Zilimann, Erickson, & Kennedy, 1992; Schwarz, Strack, Kommer, & Wagner, 1987). That is, highly identified fans feel threatened by their team's performance. Consequently, they need to develop strategies that assist in their attempts to cope with the identity threat. Lowly identified fans will not be threatened by the team's failures because the role of team follower is only a peripheral component of their overall social identity (Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 1999; Wann, Royalty, & Roberts, 2000). Wann discussed a number of coping strategies utilized by fans including biased attributions (Wann & Dolan, 1994; Wann & Schrader, 2000) and outgroup derogation (Wann, 1993; Branscombe & Warm, 1994). Another potential coping strategy mentioned by Wann involves beliefs in team curses. Wann suggested that beliefs in curses may aid in the identity protection of highly identified fans, noting that it is certainly better to believe that your team lost because they were cursed rather than because the team lacked talent, "choked," and so forth. For instance, consider the 2003 National League Playoff series between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins Major League Baseball teams. The Cubs held a 3 games to 2 lead in the series and were leading the sixth game in the eighth inning, when a fan interfered with a Cub player's attempt to catch a foul ball. The Cubs proceeded to give up the lead, lose the game, and then lose Game 7 and the series the following day. For Cubs fans, it was much easier on their social identity to blame the interfering fan and the Curse of the Billy Goat than to focus on the team's poor pitching and defense that immediately followed the event. Thus, consistent with Wann's (2006a) theoretical model, it was hypothesized that highly identified Red Sox fans would report believing in the Red Sox Curse. Such a belief should assist in their ability to cope with the team's failures, thereby protecting an important social identity.

Method

Participants

The convenience sample of participants contained 250 university students (84 male, 166 female) from either a mid-southern university (n = 16l) or a university in the Boston area (n = 89). These schools were chosen because participants enrolled at these universities were likely to have a high level of fandom at one school (i.e., the one in Boston) and low levels at the other, resulting in wide range in interest in the Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball Team. Respondents received extra course credit in a college class in exchange for participation. Participants had a mean age of 20.33 years (SD = 2.69; range = 18 to 47).

Materials and Procedure

Upon entering the testing room and providing their consent, participants (tested in groups) completed a questionnaire packet containing five sections. The first section contained demographic items assessing age and gender. The second section contained the a modified version of the Sport Fandom Questionnaire (SFQ), a reliable and valid five-item (Liken scale format) instrument assessing level of sport fandom (Wann, 2002). Items on the SFQ were reworded slightly to target baseball fandom (e.g., "I consider myself to be a baseball fan") rather than general sport fandom. Response options to the SFQ ranged from l (low random) to 8 (high fandom). Thus, higher numbers indicated greater levels of baseball fandom.

The third section of the questionnaire packet contained six items designed to assess beliefs in the Curse of the Bambino (i.e., the Red Sox Curse). Because testing occurred shortly after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series (they won the World Series again in 2007), three questions focused on retrospective beliefs in the curse while three items focused on current beliefs. As for retrospective beliefs, the participants read, "For the following items, please think back a few weeks, prior to the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series. Answer the questions below based on your beliefs PRIOR to the team winning the World Series." Using a 1 (strongly disagree) to 8 (strongly agree) Likert-scale, participants answered the following three items: a) "Prior to the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series, I believed that a curse was to blame for the misfortunes that had happened to the Red Sox during the previous several decades," b) "Prior to the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series, I believed that one reason the Red Sox had failed to win a championship in several decades was due to the fact that they were cursed," and c) "Prior to the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series, I felt that if it were not for the curse of the Bambino, the Red Sox would have won a championship within the past 20 years." With respect to current beliefs, the participants read, "For the following items, please answer how you CURRENTLY feel, that is, now that the Boston Red Sox have won a World Series. Your responses may or may not be the same as above." Once again, participants used a 1 (strongly disagree) to 8 (strongly agree) Likert-scale to answer three items (thus, for each of the six items, higher numbers reflected greater beliefs in the Red Sox Curse). These items were: a) "Now, after the Boston Red Sox have won the 2004 World Series, I currently believe that a curse was to blame for the misfortunes that had happened to the Red Sox during the previous several decades," b) "Now, after the Boston Red Sox have won the 2004 World Series, I currently believe that one reason the Red Sox had failed to win a championship in several decades was due to the fact that they were cursed," and c) "Now, after the Boston Red Sox have won the 2004 World Series, I currently feel that if it were not for the curse of the Bambino, the Red Sox would have won a championship within the past 20 years."

The fourth portion of the packet contained the Sport Spectator Identification Scale (SSIS; Wann & Branscombe, 1993). The SSIS contains seven Likert-scale items assessing identification with a sport team. Response options ranged from 1 (low identification) to 8 (high identification). Thus, higher numbers reflected greater levels of team identification. Wann and Branscombe present data indicating that this scale is a highly reliable and valid instrument (see Wann et al., 2001, for a review of this scale). Subjects were asked to target the Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team when completing this scale (e.g., "How strongly do YOU see YOURSELF as a fan of the BOSTON RED SOX?").

The fifth portion of the packet was designed to assess beliefs in mysticism. To accomplish this, participants completed seven items from the Belief in Paranormal Scale (BPS; Tobacyk & Milford, 1982; Stark, 1992). The BPS contains two subscales, one assessing belief in witchcraft (4 items; e.g., "Black magic really exists") and one assessing superstition (3 items; e.g., "The number "13" in unlucky"). Response options ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Thus, higher numbers reflected greater beliefs in magic and superstition.

After the participants had completed their questionnaire packet, they returned them to the researcher who handed them a debriefing statement. This statement disclosed the purpose and hypotheses of the study and contained information on contacting the author for a report of the research. Once each participant had received the debriefing statement, he or she was excused from the testing session (sessions lasted approximately 15 minutes).

Results

Preliminary Analyses

Means and standard deviations for all measures appear in Table 1. The seven items comprising the SSIS (Cronbach's alpha = .965) were combined to form a single index of identification. Similarly, the five items comprising the SFQ (alpha = .964) were combined to form a single index of baseball fandom. The six items assessing beliefs in the Red Sox Curse were examined using exploratory factor analysis (varimax rotation). This analysis indicated a single factor accounting for 91.58% of the variance (Eigenvalue = 5.49, all loadings > than .930). Thus, these six items were combined to form one index of beliefs in the curse (alpha = .981). The seven items comprising the witchcraft and superstition subscales of the BPS were also examined using exploratory factor analysis (varimax rotation). This analysis indicated two factors. Factor I contained the four items assessing belief in magic and accounted for 48.82% of the variance (Eigenvalue = 3.42, all loadings > .550). Thus, these four items were combined for form one index of beliefs in magic (alpha = .794). Factor 2 contained the three items assessing belief in superstition and accounted for 21.46% of the variance (Eigenvalue = 1.50, all loadings > .540). Thus, these three items were combined to form one index of beliefs in superstition (alpha = .797).

Gender differences in scores on the five measures (i.e., SFQ, SSIS, belief in the Red Sox Curse, belief in magic, and belief in superstition) were examined using a Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA). This analysis yielded a highly significant multivariate effect, Wilks' Lambda (5,244) = 445.57, p < .001 (see Table 1). Univariate tests revealed significant gender differences on three of the five measures. Specifically, males reported significantly higher levels of baseball fandom, F(1, 248) = 20.43, p < .001, identification with the Boston Red Sox, F(1,248) = 7.42, p < .01, and beliefs in the Red Sox Curse, F(1,248) = 6.07, p < .02. Gender differences were not found for beliefs in magic or superstition (both F's < 2.70, p's > .10). Because of the significant gender effects, gender was included in the regression analyses described below.

Similarly, university differences in scores on the five measures (i.e., SFQ, SSIS, belief in the Red Sox Curse, belief in magic, and belief in superstition) were also examined using a MANOVA. This analysis yielded a highly significant multivariate effect, Wilks' Lambda (5, 244) = 500.71, p < .001 (see Table 1). Univariate tests revealed significant school differences on each scale, with the exception of belief in magic, on which mid-southern university students scored marginally higher than students from the Boston area, F(1,248) = 3.30, p = .07. On each of the other four indices, students at the Boston university reported significantly higher scores [levels of baseball fandom, F(1, 248) = 29.38, p < .001; identification with the Boston Red Sox, F(1, 248) = 75.35,p < .001; beliefs in the Red Sox Curse, F(1, 248) = 9.13,p < .005; beliefs in luck, F(1,248) = 6.27, p < .02]. Because of the significant university effects, home university was included in the regression analyses described below.

Predictors of Belief in the Red Sox Curse

Simple correlations among the variables appear in Table 2. To examine the hypothesized pattern of effects, level of baseball fandom (i.e., SFQ scores), level of identification with the Boston Red Sox (i.e., SSIS scores), belief in magic, and belief in superstition were entered into a regression equation as predictors of beliefs in the Red Sox Curse. Participant sex and university were also included as predictors due to the strong impact of these variables described above. The combined effect of the six predictor variables was significant, F(6, 243) =23.76, p < .001. With respect to independent contributions to beliefs in the Red Sox Curse, neither participant sex (Beta = -.084, t = - 1.56, p >. 10) nor participant university (Beta = -.065, t = -l.09,p > .25) were independently related to beliefs in the curse. In support of the hypothesized pattern of effects, each of the other four variables accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in beliefs in the Red Sox Curse: baseball fandom Beta = .205, t = 3.34, p < .001; identification with the Red Sox Beta = .315, t = 4.89, p < .001; belief in magic Beta =. 143, t = 2.56, p <.02; belief in luck Beta =.304, t = 5.38, p <.001.

Discussion

The current study was designed to examine sport fans' beliefs in sport curses, specifically, belief in the Red Sox Curse (i.e., the Curse of the Bambino). Three person variables were hypothesized to be predictive of beliefs in the Red Sox Curse: believing in luck and magic (i.e., mystical things), high levels of baseball fandom, and high levels of identification with the Boston Red Sox. The regression analysis revealed strong statistical support for each hypothesis (participant sex and university were not significant). Thus, independent of their level of baseball fandom and their level of identification, persons possessing a belief in mystical forces tended to believe in the Red Sox Curse. Similarly, independent of their belief in luck and magic and their level of identification with the Boston Red Sox, persons with high levels of baseball fandom tended to believe in the curse.

However, we wish to focus the present discussion on the last finding due to its significance and implications for the cognitive, affective, and behavioral reactions of sport fans (and potentially players). The data indicated that, independent of beliefs in mystical forces and level of baseball fandom, higher levels of identification with the Boston Red Sox were predictive of greater beliefs in the Red Sox Curse. As described earlier, such a finding is best understood within the framework of Wann's (2006a) Team Identification- Social Psychological Health Model. According to this model, highly identified sport fans develop and use coping strategies to assist them as they attempt to deal with the anxiety and negative emotional consequences associated with threats to their identity as a loyal team follower (e.g., the threat of poor team performance). One such strategy would be to adopt the belief that one's team is cursed. In this way, the fan could excuse the team's poor performance as beyond the control of the players. Strategic attributional patterns such as this are quite common among highly identified fans (Wann & Dolan, 1994; Wann & Schrader, 2000). That is, fans protect their identity as a fan by blaming the curse rather than blaming the team, its players, management, and so on.

However, it warrants mention that, although the data reported above are consistent with the propositions put forth in Wann's (2006a) theoretical model, the current investigation did not directly assess the relationship between beliefs in the curse and either state or trait levels of well-being. Rather, additional research is necessary to further establish these relationships. One such study could involve manipulating the salience and apparent validity of sport curses. For instance, consider highly identified fans of the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball Team (a team thought by some to be cursed, see above). It would be interesting to present these individuals with information describing the long history of disappointments experienced by the team and its fans. Such a presentation would likely be felt as a threat to the competence of one's group and a valued component of one's social identity (Branscombe et al., 1999). Subsequent to this threat, researchers could then present information on possible existence of the Curse of the Billy Goat as a potential explanation for the team's failures. Such a presentation would make the curse salient to those already possessing a belief in its validity and would lend credit to its existence to other highly identified fans. If fans do indeed use sport curses as a means of protecting their identity from threats, one would predict that fans receiving the curse-focused information would report better coping (i.e., the performance threat would have less of an impact) than persons not receiving the curse information.

The current investigation indicates that highly identified fans often report a belief that their team has been cursed, likely due in part to assist in their coping with the team's poor performance. Another interesting question involves the extent to which players also believe in sport curses. Anecdotal reports suggest that some players may well believe in the possibility of such curses. For instance, members of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) have frequently discussed the possibility of a curse surrounding the U.S. Open Tournament ("Bunkered Champions," 1994). Although other players may not believe in sport curses, some certainly acknowledge that the myths exist (for example, former Red Sox player Johnny Damon authored a book titled "Idiot: Beating 'The Curse' and Enjoying the Game of Life"). Additionally, certain players have expressed disbelief in team curses but maintain a belief in some form of supernatural intervention (McDonald, 2004). Thus, future researchers should replicate the research reported here with players in an attempt to identify which variables best predict beliefs in team curses (and/or supernatural forces) and the extent to which threat to one's identity as an athlete (e.g., team performance) impact the magnitude of beliefs.

In conclusion, two limitations of the current investigation warrant mention. First, as noted above, the Boston Red Sox actually won a World Series Championship in 2004 (and again in 2007) thus effectively "ending" the curse. Because testing for the current study began after the team's 2004 championship, participants were asked to recall their beliefs about the curse retrospectively, subsequent to the team's championship. Subsequent research should replicate the current investigation with fans of a team currently involved in an active curse, such as the Chicago Cubs, to further the generalizability of the current findings. Second, this work is limited to only one team in one sport. As noted above, curses can be found in many sports. Thus, future investigators should examine other sports in other cultures.

Author's Note

The authors thank Vinutha Mattigod for her assistance with the data collection. Portions of the research were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology, Vancouver, BC, Canada, October, 2005.

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Daniel L. Wann

Murray State University

Len Zaichkowsky

Boston University

Address Correspondence To: Daniel L. Wann, Department of Psychology, Murray State University, Murray, KY 42071, E-mail: dan.wann@murraystate.eduvia Internet.
Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations for the Dependent
Measures by Sex, University, and  for the Overall Sample.

                                              Boston
                                                Area
Scale                     Males    Females   University

SSIS                      21.83     16.66      27.71
                         (15.84)   (13.28)    (16.79)
SFQ                       23.43     16.74      24.00
                         (12.20)   (10.44)    (11.86)
Belief in curse           17.48     13.86      17.88
                         (12.28)   (10.26)    (12.59)
Belief in magic            8.93      9.28       8.52
                          (4.93)    (3.80)     (4.17)
Belief in superstition     5.33      5.93       6.32
                          (2.51)    (2.87)     (2.84)

                            Mid-
                          Southern
Scale                    University   Overall

SSIS                       13.25       18.40
                           (9.56)     (14.37)
SFQ                        16.21       18.98
                          (10.30)     (11.48)
Belief in curse            13.52       15.07
                           (9.88)     (11.09)
Belief in magic             9.52        9.16
                           (4.20)      (4.21)
Belief in superstition      5.41        5.73
                           (2.68)      (2.77)

Notes: Standard deviations appear in parentheses below each
mean. SFQ = Sport Fandom  Questionnaire; SSIS = Sport
Spectator Identification Scale.

Table 2. Simple Correlations among the Scales.

                 Sex      University     SFQ       SSIS

Superstition
University     -.04
SFQ            -.28 ***    .33 ***
SSIS           -.17 **     .48 ***       .50 ***
Magic           .04       -.12          -.10       -.03
Superstition    .10        .16 *         .08        .15 *
Curse          -.16 *      .19 **        .37 ***    .44 ***

                Magic

Superstition
University
SFQ
SSIS
Magic
Superstition    .35 ***
Curse           .22 ***   .40 ***

Notes: SFQ =Sport Fandom Questionnaire; SSIS =Sport
Spectator Identification Scale. Sex was coded 1 = male, 2 =
female. University was coded 1 = mid-southern university, 2
= Boston area university. * p<.05. ** p < .01. *** p<.001.
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Author:Wann, Daniel L.; Zaichkowsky, Len
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2009
Words:5741
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