When Animals Interrupt the Sports we Love

Sometimes, we forget that our man-made stadiums and structures aren’t invulnerable to the natural world.

Sometimes, we forget that our man-made stadiums and structures aren’t invulnerable to the natural world. Covid-19 has reminded us of the extent to which nature can interfere with sports, as the pandemic has been postponing seasons, preventing fans from attending live games, and infecting players. I’m usually not a big fan of harkening back to glory days we remember more fondly than we should, but it’s fun to reminisce upon when the natural-world interruptions in sports were less virus-related and more like the occasional kangaroo hopping onto the course in a golf tournament. Here are a few of my favorite animal interruptions:

Squirrel Strikes Blow in Squirrels-Baseball Rivalry

The eastern gray squirrel is ubiquitous in the American Northeast. You have probably seen a few of these rodents hoarding food and prancing around Lawrenceville’s campus. During a Philadelphia Phillies-Colorado Rockies baseball game, an eastern gray scampered across the field, drawing play to a halt. The camera panned to the squirrel’s swift, graceful galloping as the squirrel reminded the crowd that remarkable athletic exploits aren’t limited to humans. Seemingly making eye contact with the catcher, the squirrel froze, exhibiting its characteristic indecisiveness that torments drivers all over the Northeast. The squirrel took a few uncertain steps as the whole ballpark awaited the squirrel’s next move. Eventually, the squirrel wandered to the edge of the field. Play resumed as the squirrel continued to frantically prance across the field, seemingly visiting every single corner of the ballpark. The Rockies won 3-1 against the Phillies, but the squirrel, in a show-stealing display of athleticism, secured a victory in the more important competition—the longstanding squirrels vs. baseball rivalry for the fans’ attention (see: squirrels in Marlins-Phillies, Indians-Royals, Tigers-Indians, and Reds-Mets games).

Rebellious Pigeons become Fan-Favorites

Pigeons were bred and domesticated for the cities because of their homing instinct; they are remarkably good at finding their way home. Pigeons are pretty similar to humans, actually—they have found greater success in urban environments, mate for life (though not always happily), and are really good at causing mass disruption. As such, pigeons have been a recurring hindrance to several sporting events. When they were in Oakland, the NFL’s Raiders were repeatedly interrupted by flocks of pigeons. Tennis tournament Wimbledon hired a falconer to keep pigeons off the court. Pigeons even infiltrated a game between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays despite the stadium possessing a closed roof. The invading pigeons were met with huge cheers, and when Rangers players attempted to scare the pigeons away, they elicited a chorus of boos from the crowd.

Three Legged Alligator Ignored by Golfers

“I heard it’s the size of a dinosaur,” said New Zealand golfer Danny Lee, referring to the massive three-legged alligator, dubbed “Tripod,” that regularly wanders onto the course in PGA’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans. Golfers nonchalantly resumed play around the 11-foot apex predator, walking right past the alligator to finish up play on the 17th hole. Despite the copious amounts of pesticides and artificially manicured grass, golf courses attract quite a lot of wildlife. Around New Jersey, golf courses seem to have been tailored to the living needs of Canada geese. Water hazards in the Deep South, on the other hand, contain a surprising number of chill alligators.

Kangaroos Invade Australian Open

Not all golf course invaders can be as relaxed as an alligator. A dozen kangaroos hopped onto the course during the 2013 Australian Open at the Royal Canberra Golf Club, holding up play. Just as American golfer Lexi Thompson completed the ninth hole, a mob of kangaroos invaded the fairway, causing a brief delay. Play resumed even while the kangaroos remained on the course. The kangaroos began grazing right next to a putting green, testing the concentration of nearby golfers.

Weasel Invasion Presents Moral Conundrum

In March 2013, a pine marten invaded the field of a Swiss professional soccer match and, in the middle of gameplay, began running alongside the players. The players paused and watched in astonishment as the pine marten ran across the field, causing utter chaos. A few players and officials briefly attempted to give chase, diving and throwing objects at the pine marten, but the pine marten deftly evaded its pursuers. Eventually, Zurich defender Loris Benito intervened, diving and grabbing the pine marten. He sustained a serious weasel bite, but play resumed and the crowd erupted into cheers.

But are we to cheer for Benito? His intervention allowed gameplay to resume, but should he really have tackled the weasel? We are biased towards our own kind, feeling sympathy for Benito’s bite, but the weasel was provoked! Athletic events exist for competition, sure, but another aspect to athletics is the exhibition of athletic prowess. Can we really blame the pine marten for showing off its elegant sprinting form on the pitch? Can we admire both the weasel’s gracefulness and Benito’s outstanding catch? Who are we even rooting for here? Sure, actual sports are fun to watch, but the moral ambiguity and complete absurdity make animals interrupting sports just as interesting as the game itself.

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