The Lost Spirit of Good Sportsmanship

“Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness, and respect for authority are the price each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
-Vince Lombardi

Manning and Brady shake hands after the game.

A friend on WildcatNation wrote a timely piece on the decaying spirit of sportsmanship across America today.  Really, it’s a global phenomenon.  From the Football Hooligan of Europe to the assassination of sports stars who fail on the world scene such as the Olympics and the World Cup.    In America, we have Soccer Moms fighting with each other.  Fathers berating their sons on the Football field and fighting with other Fathers and Coaches over playing time and Coaching Tactics.  Fans fighting in their seats in every Stadium across the Nation.  There was the big brawl during the Pacers~Detroit game.  The infamous Knicks~Miami brawls.  Football players and Basketball players carrying guns into the Stadiums and Arenas across America.  The list goes on and on.

Lighthouse touches on all of this and gives a few suggestions as to how to improve this dynamic for the future in the following article:

Sportsmanship, What Happened?

Who’s at Fault?

Webster describes sportsmanship as, “a fairness, courtesy, being a cheerful loser etc.” How far have we come from the time in our country when that was a meaningful description? I’m ashamed to say, too far. Who’s to blame? Again I’m ashamed to admit, me, you, parents, coaches, administrators, rules makers, officials, in other words, we are all guilty in one way or the other.

We in Kentucky are very fortunate to have many outstanding athletes at all levels who compete each year in a multitude of sports on the gridirons, fields and courts. These student athletes are coached by a dedicated group of professionals and are supported by thousands of parents and fans. However, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association reports that approximately 700 players and coaches are ejected from high school contests each year due to unsportsmanlike conduct. (The breakdown is 80% athletes, 20% coaches. No statistics are kept on fan ejections, which could easily surpass those of players and coaches). When you add in the NCAA in all sports and levels, it’s mind boggling.

During my nearly 30 years of officiating basketball, football, baseball, and softball, I have seen the decline in sportsmanship in all sports at all levels. I have had the privilege of officiating every level, especially basketball, from small children to the old ABA professional level. I felt blessed to officiate every game, but have personally experienced several upsetting situations. One was at a peewee football game; a dad ran out of the stands and yelled at his son that he would whip him if this much bigger kid knocked him down again. At a DII basketball game; police had to be called to control a coach who the next day was fired because of his behavior. I had to remove a scorekeeper and have fans escorted out. We had to stop a college basketball game because four teenagers were using thick rubber bands to shoot nails at the opposing players. Finally they were arrested. And I could go on and on. I feel very fortunate to have only ejected a few players or coaches.

As you can imagine, I’ve endured a lot of verbal abuse. I guess I’ve heard every vulgar name you can think of. I once had a school administrator threaten me on my way to the locker room at halftime. One of my friends received a very nasty letter, anonymously of course. One official was shot at with a BB gun, they missed. Some of this stuff you expect, but some of it, certainly not. One fact I’m particularly ashamed of, Christian schools are among the worst. I heard this comment from a High School official, “Those Christians, they pray before the game and then all hell breaks loose.” And I have to admit it’s true because I witnessed it myself.

I strongly believe the underlying problem is the lack of respect that individuals have for each other and for authority in our society. Many people feel they can say whatever they want to whomever they want. This particularly seems to apply to individuals in positions of authority. All you have to do is ask school teachers, policemen, even parents. And, the problem is widespread.

We recently witnessed trash talking used to get in the heads of opposing players, and it seemed to be supported by the coach. We hear vulgar chants from fans, and they are not all students, but it is never addressed by school administrators. Hence, a message of support. This language is allowed in the classroom, so why not in the gym. Our students learn in the gym just like they do in a science lab. This lack of respect detracts from the otherwise positive benefits derived from sports participation.

I challenge everyone associated with athletics to make good sportsmanship a priority. Set a positive example to reinforce these critically important values associated with interscholastic sports participation. I propose the following specific measures to improve sportsmanship and the student athlete experience.

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UCLAs Aaron Afflalo comforts Adam Morrison after a loss in the NCAA Tournament

ATHLETES
Just play the game! Concentrate on your performance, not on putting down your opponent. Whether you’re a professional or in middle school, realize you are a role model, and you have someone looking up to you, so set a good example.

COACHES
Hold your players accountable for their conduct. Remember, you control your players’ most precious commodity-playing time. Don’t allow your players to engage in unsportsmanlike behavior. Set the proper example with your own conduct. Your players will take their lead from how you behave. Never allow your players to abuse opponents under any circumstances. Never berate the officials. If you disagree with a call, ask (in a gentlemanly manner) for an explanation of what the official saw. If you feel you can “bait” an official, simply scratch him, because the other coach probably feels the same way. If you’re both right, that official has no business on the court anyway.

ADMINISTRATORS
Create an atmosphere at your athletics where good sportsmanship is expected. Don’t allow your students to engage in vulgar chants or demean the other team. Have zero tolerance for any act that is not in the interest of good sportsmanship. Use athletic contests as an opportunity to teach positive values. Control your coaches, after all, they are teachers of young adults and you would never allow a science professor to act like some coaches do.

FANS
A spectator’s ticket for admission must be considered an opportunity to watch the performance of highly impressionable athletes from children thru college and even into adults. It’s not a license to abuse coaches, players, officials or other fans. Fans must understand that attending a game is a privilege and should be treated as such. Fans should focus on positively encourage their teams and not engage in demeaning conduct toward opponents. Fans need to understand they are subject to removal from the premises if they exhibit inappropriate behavior. Officials are going to make bad calls, players are going to make mistakes, and coaches are not always going to play the players fans think they should play.

OFFICIALS
We must shoulder some of the blame for the deterioration of sportsmanship. When we fail to address unsportsmanlike actions by coaches and players, we do a disservice to the game. We must have the courage and conviction to address those situations. When it comes to dealing with unsportsmanlike acts, we have broad discretion in our responses, from verbal warnings to ejections. Remember, enforcing rules related to poor sportsmanship, and all rules, is our job. The game is there for you, you are not there for the game. You know the rule for walking so, call it whether it happens in the paint or 30 feet out. It does have an effect on the game. If you allow a coach to “bait or work” you and you turn a deaf ear because you’re worried about your rating, please for the betterment of the game, turn in your stripes!

Everyone associated with athletics must take responsibility for improving sportsmanship. From player to coach to official, we are all equal partners in promoting the positive values inherent to interscholastic participation. No matter what your role is in the game, do YOUR part to support good sportsmanship.


I’ll admit that I’m guilty of some of these activities.  I’ve heckled the refs in my time.  Mostly in fun.  To get a laugh from the crowd.   However, I can see how it can be taken too far.  I’ve heckled fans as well.  Coming close to physical altercations a time or two in the past.

I reckon it’s time to modify my behavior so as not to countenance this behavior in the future.

It’s a great piece Mr. Lighthouse.  Thank you for taking the time to highlight this issue.

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One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.
— Knute Rockne, football coach

I never thought about losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right.
— Muhammad Ali, boxer

Always imitate the behavior of the winner when you lose.
— Anonymous

“In the end, it’s extra effort that separates a winner from second place. But winning takes a lot more that that, too. It starts with complete command of the fundamentals. Then it takes desire, determination, discipline, and self-sacrifice. And finally, it takes a great deal of love, fairness and respect for your fellow man. Put all these together, and even if you don’t win, how can you lose?”
-Jesse Owens

When the Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the Game.
— Grantland Rice, sportswriter

It’s good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling. Mark Twain



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