The yips. They come without warning or explanation, afflicting the minds of world-class athletes, who lose the ability to perform basic tasks. After years in the majors, all-star Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch suddenly couldn’t make a routine throw to first. Placekickers with the yips might hit field goals from fifty yards but find themselves unable to make extra points.
There is no treatment or therapy for the yips. You can get over them, get your career back on track, and go years without thinking about it. Then one day, it yips right back up. Just ask the Wisconsin Badgers’ all-time winningest quarterback, Joel Stave.
A Wisconsin kid with SoCal looks, Stave walked onto the Badgers team he grew up adoring and started as a redshirt freshman. As a sophomore in 2013, he threw for 22 touchdown passes, second most in school history to Russell Wilson, all while earning Academic All Big Ten honors. He was a big man on campus in Madison, and looked primed for a breakout season in 2014. But that summer, Stave got smacked with one of the nastiest cases of the yips in football history.
Ultimately, Stave’s story was one of perseverance. He regained the starting job, led Wisconsin to bowl victories, and landed on the Kansas City Chiefs. It seemed like his yips had been burned and buried. But it turns out the yips can play outside the lines. According to friends and family, Stave still suffers from generalized yips that permeate just about every facet of his life.
Stave can walk just fine, but putting his best foot forward when he meets someone is damn near impossible. Despite shaking thousands of hands in his life, Stave will choke and grab only a person’s fingers or miss their hand entirely. Then he’ll fumble his own name, mispronouncing Stave, or worse, introducing himself as former Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger.
No matter how high he turns up the heat, Stave cannot boil water. It’s like he gives the water the yips.
On the Road
Stave can’t bring himself to exceed the speed limit, and just the thought of the left lane brings out a minor panic. Turning right on red? Forget about it. He knows it’s legal, he sees that no cars are coming, and he hears the other motorists honking behind him. But he just can’t bring himself to do it, so total are his vehicular yips.
In 2015, Stave recovered the ability to throw screen passes, but found it came at a price: he could no longer operate screen doors or screen windows. As far as Joel’s concerned, doors and windows should be open or closed. The ambiguity of screens–at once barrier and passageway–makes him uncomfortable, and that’s when the yips really start to hit. He’s walked right into, and even through more screens than he’d care to admit.
Stave’s yips really flare up in the locker room whenever teammates start talking about modern feminist theory. Thinking about how sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and xenophobia are interrelated is dizzying for Stave, and his yips often make him declare outdated second wave opinions.
In the Bedroom
Whether you call it performance anxiety or venereal yips, plenty of guys have trouble getting a condom on. That part is easy, even fun for Stave. It’s taking the damn thing off that makes him seize up. He doesn’t want to touch it, let alone deal with disposing of it. And subconsciously, he enjoys the continued protection it provides. He’s been known to leave them on for hours, even days, before they finally slip off in the shower.
When Joel tries to empathize with other humans, he yips it so hard that he can only conceive of people through the lense of his own yips. Trying to access the pain of another person, all he can think is: well, at least they don’t have the yips. This is making it increasingly difficult for friends and family to be around Stave, who now spends most of his time off the field alone.
But being alone is hardly a refuge. When Stave searches deep within for what he’s made of, all he can find are more yips. Being himself? He doesn’t know who that is anymore.