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3:33 Sports Short #17 // On Saturday Night’s Coin Flip, Cardinals 26, Packers 20 by Rob Stephens

Modern athletes stretch their bodies upon an anvil, the spectators raising the scalpel, the clamps, the hammer to destroy that body, a reverse transubstantiation in which the body turns into spiritual nourishment for the spectators, their bodies an oozed opiate leaking into the stands and through the TV. The sporting event bills skill as the deciding factor in a match between the bodies, and that skill is a measure of the body’s malleability as the athlete dashes, hops, throws, catches, crushes, or sways. Football players cover this malleability with the plastic and styrofoam of their pads, and so we demand more brutality from them to expose the body for an hour.

When that hour fails to fully expose the football players’ bodies, we turn instead to the coin flip, to decide who will get the first opportunity to win, to crush themselves into the painted field in what we deem “sudden death.” The winner of the flip gains agency in the form of the ball, which they must protect like bulls carrying postage.

And then somehow the referees fucks up the seemingly unfuckupable, the coin flip, as we saw Saturday night during the Cardinals-Packers game when the referee tossed the coin, it landed on heads giving the Cardinals the ball. The referee claimed the coin didn’t “flip,” so he reflips it, and this time the coin spins like a whirligig.

What if the coin flipped tails the second time and the Packers got the ball? The guardians of the game would have to reconceptualize the ritual for the spectators, to remind us that the we are all slave to the rules, which make the body more beautiful and create the game that is our opiate. And these rules include the skill of properly flipping a coin, which the referee was demonstrating for us.

Our favorite athlete stands at the podium defeated, as Aaron Rodgers did Saturday night, and we look at the cracks in his face as he must explain defeat, explain why his body could not stretch as we needed even after he threw an aorta out of his arm. He will mention but cannot blame the coin toss because he too expected more from his body.


Rop Stephens's nonfiction has previously appeared in Entropy, and his poetry has been published in journals such as Copper Nickel, Epoch, and Poetry Quarterly.

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