Sportsmanship appears to be making a comeback. After some of the outrageous displays we've seen in professional sports in recent years-a boxer biting his opponent's ear, a ballplayer spitting on an umpire, a basketball star punching his coach, just to cite a few-a renewed emphasis on true sportsmanship would be downright refreshing.
The legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice said it best: It's "not that you won or lost-but how you played the game." But those words have lost some of their meaning. Somewhere along the line we lost our way.
An article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune last week appears to support the belief that sportsmanship is rallying back into vogue. For instance, while fewer than 2,000 schools celebrated National Sportsmanship Day in 1991, today that number is estimated to be near 10,000, and most of that growth occurred within the past two years. Those schools are at all levels, from elementary schools to universities. In Illinois, the state high school and elementary school associations organized a sportsmanship summit, which will bring together 1,000 administrators, coaches, students and parents.
According to Dave Fry, director of the Illinois High School Association, "Sportsmanship went by the wayside as people became increasingly self-serving. We are a society of victims, of people who say nothing that happens to me is my own fault. Athletic events bring out a voicing of inner attitudes."
At one Illinois high school last year, members of the football team treated the opposing team to dinner before the game. The players sat together and got to know one another. This year, the same two teams dined together again after their game. As one of the coaches said, "A big issue in our school is civility. People realize it's time to put it in the forefront, and I think civility and sportsmanship are being focused on again."
On the national level there's the recently founded Citizenship Through Sports Alliance, which includes nine national organizations representing high school, college, Olympic and professional sports. Its goal is to promote personal growth through sportsmanship.
There have, of course, been many great examples of character and sportsmanship. The Tribune article cites the 1969 Ryder Cup golf tournament, during which Jack Nicklaus conceded a two-foot putt to Tony Jacklin on the 18th hole, and the competition was halved. Another golf story involves Greg Norman. He was leading the 1990 Palm Meadows Cup in Australia but disqualified himself after an accidental illegal drop. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany cites other inspiring examples of sportsmanship. One involves a Wisconsin rowing team that lost a race because team members stopped to pick up a competitor who had fallen into the water and was near hypothermia. Then there's the example of the Minnesota men's hockey team that raised money to rebuild an opponent's rink damaged by floods in North Dakota.
More recently, there's the mutual admiration and camaraderie that sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have displayed publicly for each other as they pursue the major league home-run record for a single season. Their behavior underlines the spirit of civility and sportsmanship that should permeate all sports-amateur and professional.
But these traits shouldn't be confined to athletics. After all, they're part of being a decent citizen. If we don't watch out for one another and don't respect one another's needs and values, all the talk about teamwork amounts to empty words. Some individuals seem to think that vanquishing their competitors by lying and cheating-doing whatever it takes to win-is the American way. I don't believe that for one minute, and I sure hope you don't either.
Charles S. Lauer