Inside The Gruesome European Sport That Involved Throwing Foxes

There was a time when the choice of leisure activities was slim pickings. Leisure wasn't at the forefront of peoples' minds during times when getting a splinter meant the likelihood of a tetanus infection that could lead to your ultimate demise. Even if people wanted to blow off steam, it's not like they could kick back and play some Xbox on your 50-inch TV screen.

However, as times started to change and medical treatments advanced beyond bloodletting, there was time to have some fun. Some sports we play today were in their earliest stages hundreds of years ago and evolved into the version we know today. Of course, there were other ideas that didn't catch on long enough to be enjoyed by 21st-century audiences. One of these was the sport of fox tossing, although, it's tough to imagine how any audience — 21st century or otherwise — could enjoy this, but according to Listverse, they did.

Fox tossing was essentially what it sounds like

Fox tossing is, as the name implies, a sport in which live foxes were thrown skyward, but foxes weren't the only animals used in this cruel game, they just got top billing. According to WBUR, author Edward Brooke-Hitching penned a book about the lost sports called "Fox Tossing: And Other Forgotten and Dangerous Sports, Pastimes, and Games." Brooke-Hitchings said that he learned about the sport in an old German hunting manual that dates back to 1720, which featured an image of 18th-century aristocrats playing the bizarre game.

Fox tossing was played on a grassy field, with players partnered up, generally in mixed couple teams comprised of a man and a woman. Members of each team held opposite ends of a long sling (roughly 20 feet apart) that Brooke-Hitchings described as "a cloth a bit like a badminton net." The sling was held loosely between the two participants so that the middle of it sagged and laid on the ground. When the game was ready to start, foxes (or, on occasions where fox tossing organizers wanted to shake things up, badgers and wildcats) were set loose and started running around the playing area. If any of the animals stepped on one of the slings, the players gave their ends a quick tug, which tightened the cloth and launched the helpless animal into the air. The winner was whichever team launched an animal the highest, with the all-time top score being a toss that was measured at 7.5 meters, or 24.6 feet, into the air (via Topend Sports).

Fox tossing ended by killing all the foxes

Obviously, fox tossing was wildly inhumane, and the animals that were getting thrown into the atmosphere were facing serious injury risks, especially when you consider that none of them volunteered to be part of an 18th-century German aristocrat's field day. According to Listverse, the terrified animals sometimes caused injuries to the human participants while trying to escape from the game. Sadly, any animals that weren't killed during the game were euthanized afterward (not humanely either).

Additionally, foxes are known to carry an array of parasites and diseases. According to The Fox Project, many animals — foxes included — can carry a parasite called toxoplasmosis that can affect various parts of the human body. Fox tossing was one of the few sports of the era that women played alongside men, however, modern doctors often warn pregnant women about the dangers of contracting toxoplasmosis.

Another concern — albeit a rarity in modern times, per The Humane Society — is that a fox could be carrying rabies. However, in the era of fox tossing, the frequency of foxes carrying rabies was much higher (via Fox Rabies Blueprint).