What is the place of sportsmanship in our culture today? We all were required to participate in some form of sports from a young age, in P.E. class, if nothing else. These games were intended to instill ideas of fair play in our young brains (in addition to physical fitness, of course), but there are also numerous examples of our “role models” looking out only for themselves, and trying to take any advantage, fair or unfair, that they can. And when they succeed, celebration is almost a prerequisite. How do these conflicting influences play out in the larger world we live in?
Recently, in a game against Brigham Young University, University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert threw punches, tackled players and pulled an opponent to the ground by her ponytail. And the only time she was called by the officials was for mouthing off on an unrelated call. She has since been suspended for her behavior, but it is clear that she was taking out her frustration at her team’s lack of success on the other team’s players, instead of focusing her energy on contributing to her team’s play.
But, last year, in the playoff game between Central Washington and Western Oregon, a player from WOU hit a homerun and after rounding first, collapsed with a leg injury. Unable to continue, she didn’t want the hit counted as a single, or to be counted out if her teammates helped her. Then two of the players from CWU asked the official if they could help her round the bases. As there was no rule against it, the official allowed Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace to carry Sara Tucholsky around the bases, touching each base for her first career home run. In doing so, they contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs, and the end of their season.
Holtman said of her gesture, “She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she deserved a home run.”
Stories that make national news make good examples and are usually either the worst or the best. Overall, I would hope that college athletes would be well enough led to be good sportsmen. At the professional level, it is generally accepted that the people who make it to that level will have an inflated view of self-worth to begin with and will have their faults mocked as much as their successes praised. The college level ranges from Division I football, where each week the stars are discussed at length and hidden away by their coaches, to Division III cross country, where players often go unnoticed and unappreciated, competing for their love of the game. I believe it is at the smaller level that you see sports playing a positive role more than at higher levels, because the attention is not on them to just win at any cost. The sportsmanship of players at higher levels is often good, but can be quite negative. That is one of my favorite things about playing sports in Division III.
This leads to athletes that graduate with concern for those around them, who will usually work well in a group and advance any team well. The ability to lead and be led is one of the many ways that sports allows athletes to be versatile, and the organization it takes to be a full-time student as well as an athlete is certainly valuable. What is speaks to us as a culture is that at close, personal levels we generally play fair, and it is rewarded with success. However, the professional athletes of business have always been just as selfish and whiney as the worst football stars. Who blames each other and refuses to take responsibility more than banking leaders at corporations such as AIG? Maybe Tony Romo? TO? Hard to say.