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3:33 Sports Short #43 // Playing the Sports Fan by Claire Polders

I know people who believe that painting their faces orange will influence the outcome of a match. Most of them have college degrees.

I also know people who believe that swallowing a wafer on Sunday will improve their lifestyles once they are dead. Some of them teach physics at schools.

Are their beliefs comparable?

A religious person might reply that sacred traditions are fundamentally different from superstitions. But tell that to Maradona, fretting his rosary beads at the sidelines.

Although I never cared much for sports, fans have always fascinated me. Their lucky underwear. Their gibberish slogans. Why do people who seem reasonable in day-to-day life champion magic when it comes to winning games?

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3:33 Sports Short #42 // Chief Wahoo by Pete Beatty

Today's Sports Shorts explore fandom in all its complexity. Pete Beatty's piece below interrogates what it means to be a fan of a team that has for its mascot an abhorrent and racist caricature. Claire Polders' "Playing the Sports Fan" (click here to read) explores the "seductive but necessary illusion" one must accept in order to enjoy participating in a sporting match as a fan.


A 28-foot-tall neon Native American baseball player greets visitors to the museum where my father works. Chief Wahoo wears pinstripes and bats left-handed. He is frozen mid-swing, lifting one of his size-48 cleats toward an incoming non-existent fastball.

3:33 Sports Short #41 // The Kindness of Heart by Mark Budman

After a break during the Summer (how did the Olympics in Rio treat everyone?) the final batch of Sports Shorts is on the way. Mark Budman's piece explores how the mental sport of chess now exists in the digital realm. Enjoy this, and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!


Kindness of heart is little use in chess.
—Nicolas Chamfort

You don't imagine yourself a spider or vampire sitting in the dark cave in front of a game computer and catching the weak and naive to suck their blood and spit the cask out. You're above the melodrama. You're a grand master. Your chair is calf leather. Your pajamas are silk and your scarf is cashmere.  And your monitor, with its screen that you dimmed to the bare minimum—the bright light hurts your eyes—is the state of the art.

3:33 Sports Short #40 // Handful of Throttle by Jolene McIlwain

He didn’t just hit that jump fourth gear pinned, he sailed, bits of earth spinning off those knobbies.

I thought he’d plummet back down. That’s when the trees leaned in and the clouds fell from the sky a little, coming in closer to see how a man on a Yamaha could wing like a hawk. They tapped the top of his helmet with their storm-filled palms and then buoyed him milliseconds more.

And I waited there, ground-bound, knees wanting to give out, scared even to kick the starter of the bike beside me, scared even to lift my leg over the seat and mount something so wild, knowing I’d fall over at the first blush of crash.

When he landed it, he took off again, the motor yammering, hammering the turn, sinking the front tire into the loamy berm. He glanced back to see if I was still there, if I’d been struck by the roost of his trailing dirt. I hit the button and let the shutter open again. It’s all I could do.

3:33 Sports Short #39 // Running Through Wet Cement by Sam Price

I started running without headphones and music about a year ago. This is not some ‘how to improve your life by spending more time with your thoughts’ post. I have not improved my life in any perceptible way. I only listen to less music. Maybe even have fewer thoughts, for my mind was probably driven on by the lyrics and melodies. Now my mind, when running, wanders too far off and I am unable to receive messages from it.

3:33 Sports Short #38 // My Feat by Shanda Connolly

My feet.  All I felt right now was the pain in my feet.  My mind was centered on it.  For the last two hours, I had been running up a steep clay and gravel road with no shade from the relentless sun.  Now, I was on the other side of the mountain, and my thighs wobbled as I ran down a field of flat gray boulders.  I looked at the ground in front of me and followed the white chalk arrows.  There was no one else in sight.  My feet felt like they were swollen to twice their normal size and throbbed in agony.  The pain from the giant blister on my right heel had settled into a dull ache.  It registered in the back of my brain along with the other aches in my legs and my hips that, together, comprised the symphony of aches accompanying the loud, screaming pain of my feet. 

3:33 Sports Short #37 // Оксана by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Pink sequins & mall bangs, teenage tears & hand-me-down skates. An upset, an underdog, a doe. Oh, we’re sick of that American melodrama, but here’s a fresh breath of Eastern air! A lost national anthem, “the” Ukraine, how do we even spell your last name? There are too many ways to translate Cyrillic, but boy you Soviet girls sure know how to skate.

Black swan, white swan, toepick, toeshoe. Don’t worry so much about the technicals, Oksana. Let the other girls spend their whole programs up in the air. You are Odette! You are Odile! Sixteen years old, a hollow-boned bird, are those arms flitting & flapping or are they wings? Forget the trailer trash and the broken-kneed ice queens, everyone come & see the orphan from Odesa turn this frozen rink to lake.

3:33 Sports Short #36 // An Icy Romance by Lareign Ward

A man in an overly sheer white shirt grabbing a woman by the waist and flinging her into the air would not normally be my idea of a good time, especially when both man and woman have razor blades sticking out of their shoes. Yet as a teenager, watching a pairs figure skating team pull off a successful throw jump was one of my favorite things about the Winter Olympics, even if I had no idea it was called a throw jump.

I assumed every couple on ice was secretly a little bit in love with each other, even if they didn’t want to admit it. I was very sad when I found out that some of those couples skating together were actually brother and sister.

3:33 Sports Short #35 // Western Riding by Pamela Balluck

The American Quarter Horse Association Show was coming up. The money had been spent. I had registered at first chance and received a number to pin on my back months ahead. I had registered in more classes than ever. I was preparing on my own, though I could still phone Claudia, but I could not pay Claudia, and apparently neither could my family, which I somehow understood even as a self-involved tween was why I was no longer in need of a trainer. Claudia kept abreast because Buck had been bought from her; she had rehabilitated him from past abuse that for one resulted in a blue-grey blind eye. Claudia had trained me to show him.

3:33 Sport Short #34 // After the Horse Show by Karissa Womack

Most high school athletes keep old uniforms, trophies, and photographs, things that can be stored in boxes, left in basements. When equestrians stop showing, we’re left with a horse. Like my 17-year-old, roan-spotted Appaloosa mare, Willow. And the velvet helmet I got for my 13th birthday, the Ariat tall boots that pinched the back of my knees, the fake white tail from our trip to Tennessee for a regional show. I still have the board fee, vet bill, farrier fee, the price of grain and hay.

I’ve graduated from horse girl to horsewoman. I quit the hunter jumper circuit for a lot of reasons, though injury makes the top of the list. I tore the tendons in my right foot just before the equestrian team try-outs at Auburn University, then Willow foundered, damaging her front two hooves. Years later, after we’d both rehabilitated, I found I didn’t have the time or money to show as a young adult.

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