A Tennessee high school athlete, Codie Thacker, has pulled out of a competition after being assigned to compete wearing the number 666.

Thacker refused to wear the number because of her religious faith: “I didn’t want to risk my relationship with God and try to take that number,” Thacker told a local television station. Her coach realized the problem and tried to have a different number issued by the race officials but were unsuccessful, so Thacker withdrew from the competition.

While the unlucky number 13 is widely avoided (even in building floors and airplane seats), 666 has an especially sinister tone for many people. According the Book of Revelation a Satanic figure will appear in the End Times and begin to take over the world. Devout Christians are urged to reject anything associated with 666: “And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (13:17).

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Thacker is of course not the first Christian to take issue with the number. Earlier this year a Tennessee man quit his job as a maintenance worker because the W-2 tax form he received included the number 666. A Colorado / New Mexico road originally numbered 666 was also re-numbered Highway 491; it had been dubbed “The Devil’s Highway” due in part to the Satanic connotation and its high number of traffic fatalities.

Satan, Superstition, and Sports

Thacker’s stand on the issue has divided the community. Some dismiss her as a superstitious sap who threw away a chance at a state championship. Others, however, see her as a hero for standing up to the school and sticking by her Christian convictions.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, Thacker’s decision was almost certainly the wise one: competing under the sinister 666 would definitely have affected her performance. Not because of Satan, but because of its psychological effect.

Competing is difficult enough as it is, and as any athlete knows, the game is as much mental as it is physical. It doesn’t matter how hard you train or how good your equipment is, if you can’t focus you won’t achieve peak performance. Thacker’s belief in the Devil and concern over wearing the Antichrist’s number would have distracted her and kept her from doing her best, turning the situation into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Superstitions are common in all walks of life but are especially prevalent among athletes. Part of the reason sports seem to spawn such beliefs is that there is always an element of luck or chance in the competitions.

Athletes who win may come to believe that something else they did (beyond simply training and preparation) may have somehow helped them win, from wearing a lucky shirt to eating a specific meal the night before. This is a form of a logical fallacy called faulty causation, in which our brains seek causes and connections between unrelated events. Even though the athletes may rationally know that a lucky shirt won’t win a race (or an unlucky number won’t cause them to lose it), most of the time it’s harmless.

And after all, it’s better to be safe than sorry; Thacker’s confidence that God will support her because of her refusal to wear 666 in this race might just help her achieve a victory in her next one.

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