The Haunted Hotels on Athlete Travel Itineraries

Professional athletes have shared what they perceive to be paranormal experiences at haunted hotels, but what effect does that have on their performance?

Do you believe in ghosts?

It’s a fun hypothetical to consider for most people, but it’s a much more real concern for pro athletes who regularly find themselves caught in the paranormal crosshairs.

Athletes spend a great deal of time on the road, travelling from city to city and temporarily camping out in accommodations that are not of their choosing. While you’d think professional athletes would have the routine down pat by now — lay down, shut your eyes, and get a decent nights rest– it isn’t always that easy. That’s because athletes often find themselves staying in places purported to be haunted.

The two most infamous haunted hotels are The Skirvin Hilton in Oklahoma City and the Pfister in Milwaukee. Both have colorful histories rife with intrigue, innuendo, and tragedy, and both often end up on team travel itineraries. Carlos Gomez claimed that at one of his stays at the Pfister, he heard menacing voices while in the shower, which sent him running pants-less to the lobby. Brendan Ryan said he was woken by a shining light floating through his room.  Former Laker Metta World Peace claimed he was inappropriately touched by several ghosts when he stayed at the Skirvin.

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To get to the bottom of these tales of terror I reached out to paranormal investigative groups from both cities to get into the historical facts and their take on these alleged hauntings.

The Pfister Hotel

The Pfister Hotel is an iconic city landmark in Milwaukee, and the hotel a majority of teams frequent while in town to play the Brewers or the Bucks. Having never stayed their myself, nor knowing anyone who has ever spent a night, I reached out to The Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, more commonly referred to as PIM.

Grandstand: Tell us about the Pfister Hotel and why it’s supposedly haunted.

PIM: The Pfister was actually built in 1893, by Charles Pfister, and Charles is actually one of the ghosts that supposedly haunts the hotel. The Pfister is actually made up of two buildings. The original building was built in 1893, but then there is the tower, which is far more modern. All of the sports people stay in the tower, so they don’t actually stay in the old hotel. In the original ghost story, people claim to see Charles on the balcony of his office, which is in the original building.”

Grandstand: Have you personally heard from people who have stayed the night? If so, what type of occurrences have they reported experiencing?

PIM: Here’s what one of our Facebook fans had to say about staying there: “We have seen shadows darting around. Heard footsteps, heavy footsteps. Seen a lady in the hallway mirror main floor. Heard doors opening and closing when all doors are closed. Cold breezes. The most unsettling was the bride telling me with me standing next to her that someone was playing with her hair and nobody was with us.”

Grandstand: Why do you think so many pro athletes have had unexplainable experiences while staying at the hotel?

PIM: Athletes aren’t any more likely to have a paranormal experience, it’s just that they have more of a platform than the average person to be able to discuss it. They’re being interviewed on a daily basis, and they might be more apt to discuss things publicly. I know that one of the first claims surrounded someone, or a team, playing poorly, and they said ‘well you know, I didn’t sleep well because of the ghost in my room,’ and I think that that’s where some of this likely started. When the paranormal went kind of mainstream in the early to mid-2000s, especially on TV, players probably felt far more comfortable talking about it as well.

Grandstand — What steps can athletes take while staying at a hotel so they avoid these occurrences in the future?

PIM — “Well, if they think they are experiencing something paranormal, I find that it is cathartic for people to talk, so if something paranormal is going on they say, ‘Hey, I know that you’re here, but I got a big game tomorrow and need my rest, so please leave me alone.’ Again, I am not saying that anything is actually there, but psychologically, if you think that you can potentially reason with it, it might be easier to deal with.”

The Skirvin Hilton Hotel

The Skirvin Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City is another iconic city landmark with a disturbing story that led to this alleged haunting—a much darker haunting than the Pfister. NBA teams often find themselves staying there whenever they have to play the Thunder on the road, and it has created a number of situations that are difficult for players to explain. In fact, some players even choose to stay in another hotel just to avoid the Skirvin Hilton altogether.

Laura Spriggs holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma and is also the founder and lead investigator of Outkast Paranormal, located in Oklahoma City. I spoke with her about the history of the Skirvin Hilton, and what may be happening to the players who stay there.

Grandstand: Tell us about the Skirvin Hilton Hotel and why it is supposedly haunted.

Spriggs: The hotel opened in 1911, and the owner was a man named W.B. Skirvin, and the story is that he had an affair with a maid named Effie. She got pregnant during the affair, and Skirvin allegedly locked her in a room on the 10th floor and wouldn’t let her leave. Effie supposedly had the child, yet they still remained locked in the 10th-floor room. The rumor is that she jumped out of the building with the baby. As far as I know, there is actually no real evidence that this person actually existed.

Grandstand: Have you personally heard from people who have stayed the night? If so, what type of occurrences have they reported experiencing?

Spriggs: I don’t know a lot of people who have actually stayed the night, but I do know people who go there for different activities. They’ll go for dinner or concerts. I have personally stayed there once, and I had a couple of things happen to us while we were there. We were up on the 14th floor, and my daughter, who was 12 at the time, felt like she had her head touched while we were in one of the hallways, but I couldn’t find anything while I went up and down the hall trying to investigate. The next morning my daughter was in the bathroom getting ready. I am up on the bed with my feet towards the headboard. I was looking at the bill that was slipped under the door, checking out my charges. After I finish with the bill I set it down beside me, and all of a sudden, the bill just stands straight up by itself and stayed that way for a good 30 seconds. Once the cameras were off and nothing was being recorded, something decided it wanted to come out and ‘play.’ That was my only experience while I stayed there.

Grandstand: Why do you think so many pro athletes have had unexplainable experiences while staying at the hotel?

Spriggs: When you’ve already heard the rumors and you are already expecting it, and I think a lot of the time these players are creating this situation in their mind before they even get there. The anticipation can create a lot of fear and anxiety. ‘What’s going to happen?’ It tends to freak people out.

Grandstand: What steps can athletes take to avoid these occurrences in the future while staying at the hotel?

Spriggs: I think that if they do find themselves facing a paranormal situation, and they just keep in mind that these spirits were once people and treat them with respect while they’re there, a lot of times if you just acknowledge that the spirits are there in order to coexist with them, everything should be fine.

The alternative.

But what if these aren’t hauntings? Either someone or a cadre of individuals could have been playing the most epic of pranks on people for years. Or it could be purely psychological. Could it be that after decades of rumors and experiences, players just expect and accept a haunting even if there is nothing going on? In an effort to be fair to both sides of the argument, I reached out to Bill Cole, a renowned sports therapist from the west coast.

Bill Cole is an internationally recognized mind excellence coach and the head of William B. Consultants in California. Cole earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from The State University of New York at Buffalo in 1978. He holds a Master of Science degree with a specialization in sport psychology from California State University-Fullerton, as well as a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from Santa Clara University.

Grandstand: Numerous teams and players from Major League Baseball have reported unnatural occurrences happening to them while staying at the Pfister. These have included Adrian Beltre, Carlos Gomez, Bryce Harper, and Giancarlo Stanton. From a psychological standpoint, how would you explain so many players reporting strange experiences that they themselves can’t explain?

Cole: Well, other than maybe there is something real going on, there is such a thing as suggestion. Let’s say someone is out camping at night. ‘Did you hear that? I think I heard something.’ Well now people are going to start to hear ‘something’ because someone heard it, and they trust that person, and they believe that there is some sort of validity to what they are saying, and now their senses are heightened. Now they are looking for things. They hear a creak. They see something out of the corner of their eye. Something doesn’t smell right or doesn’t look right. Now they have a mental sketch, and that is that maybe this place is haunted. They will start looking for things everywhere because that was all planted in their head.

Grandstand: Do you think knowing that they will be staying in either of these locations can hurt their performances from a psychological standpoint?

Cole: Could it hurt them? Yes. Will they admit that it hurt them? We don’t know. Some guys are ‘macho’ or ‘hardcore,’ and some might be all aflutter about staying in the hotel. There is a lot of superstition in sports particularly, and I deal with it all the time. Some of the toughest people—I have some MMA athletes that I worked with quite a bit that were highly superstitious about certain things happening. All athletes have habits, routines, and processes that are rituals that they use, and this is all healthy and good. But if those routines don’t happen the way they are supposed to, athletes can begin to feel all out of sorts, and that is a perfect example of superstition affecting performance.

Grandstand: Have you ever come across a situation with a client who was dealing with experiences they couldn’t explain? If so, how did you approach it?

Cole: I have had plenty of people who have had plenty of superstitions, though I wouldn’t classify ‘haunted places’ as superstition, but it’s kind of in the same family. I can’t say that I have had anyone coming from the supernatural angle, but I have had people that are so driven that they can become counterproductive to themselves.”

Grandstand: Some of the claims made by players are pretty chilling. Bryce Harper told ESPN that he had laid out clothes on a table at the foot of his bed, and when he woke up the clothes were on the floor and the table was against the wall across the room. What would be your initial reaction if this happened to you, personally?

Cole: That would probably freak me out, but here are a couple of possible explanations. Was it real, did it really happen? That’s one explanation. Another is that he thought it was set up a certain way, but it really wasn’t. Meaning, it was more likely his mind playing tricks with his own memory.

Grandstand: Is there a big difference between superstition and ritual when we are talking competitive sports, and how would staying in one of these hotels potentially affect that balance?

Cole: All athletes have routines, habits, and processes which are ‘rituals’ they use, and those are all healthy and good. Rituals (routines and habits) are mostly logical and reasonable, whereas superstitions, or rituals taken to the extreme, trend towards illogical and unreasonable. It’s not a good thing when these rituals or superstitions become so prominent that they can cause social embarrassment or they start to screw other people up.

It’s understandably hard to empathize with people who say they have had a paranormal experience unless you are one of the people who has also experienced something that you can’t seem to explain. Regardless of which way you fall on this particular argument, there are far more than a few stories that are a little difficult to explain away based on the natural world.

Alex Scantlebury
Alex Scantlebury
Alex Scantlebury is a writer and podcast host for Grandstand Central. He is a former football and basketball player who grew up in Windsor, Ontario -- Canada’s football hotbed. Alex spends his days as a professor of Media Dynamics and Writing for Media and Communication at Algonquin College, in Ottawa.


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