Wednesday, July 7

The Regrettable Shift from Sportsmanship to Gamesmanship

I liked Dennis Rodman. I devoured his antics, hairsyles, and tireless effort as a refreshing novelty. He was a one-of-a-kind rebel never to be duplicated. Today, he serves as the American personification of the repositioning of morality in sports that threatens to undo generations of the fabric of sports. Perhaps I'm being overdramatic, like a whiny Terrance Mann, but there is no disputing that my enjoyment of sports has become increasingly diminished on the basis of what is now being considered acceptable behavior.

Sports has long served as the backdrop against which many lessons could be taught by parents to their sons and daughters. With the abandonment of decency and sportsmanship in favor of gamesmanship and winning trumping all, where does one gleen these lessons? Is it reprehensible that we demand stories of sportsmanship not be reserved for the final segment of Sunday's Sportscenter? Sports serve as a mirror to society and it's hard to imagine a less attractive image starting back. CEO's have said screw the working man, our company will do whatever it can to make the most money. Beholden to no one but the almighty dollar these companies were viewed as wildly succesful and stood as examples of what other companies should aspire to be. This attitude lead to the crumbling of the American economy and had devastating effects the world over. Many Americans would rather suck on the teet of governmental handouts than make a life for themselves. It's not difficult to draw the comparison between these two mindsets and the de-evolution of sports.

"Rock," he said -"sometime, when the team is up against it -- and the
breaks are beating the boys -- tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper...
Today, Knute Rockne's 'Win one for the Gipper' speech seems archaic, overly romantic and cynics might even call it cheesey, but the idea of triumphing through hard work and effort alone would likewise be described in the same manner. Even Al Davis's "Just Win Baby" has even be replaced by "Win at all Costs." It's no longer acceptable to try and fail. Players now view attempting to gain a competitive advantage through less scrupulous means as not only acceptable, but as requisite.

In the World Cup the world has watched as countless players have taken dives with hopes of inducing a referee's whislte. These players are often mocked by their opponents, but those cat calls turn to cheers as the mockers enjoy a free kick based on their own player's flopping and flailing. The cheers grow deafening if the antics lead to a 2nd yellow card or red. Uruguay's Luis Suarez may be villified in some countries for his goal saving handball against Ghana, but there's also a large contingent that will decry his infraction as a smart play and if Uruguay were fortunate enough to win the World Cup he'll be deified in his home country as the legend who made it possible. The idea that winning justifies poor sportsmanship erodes the fabric of what makes sports great, just as many American workers have been victimized by insatiable greed.

This pandemic is not limited to the "Beautiful Game" by any means. Baseball players pretending to be struck by pitchs hoping to gain the free base. Wide receivers acting as though they were knocked down when they know the pass is uncatchable. The NBA Finals were marked by undeserved foul trouble, based often on overdramatized contact, verbal flopping and players seeking to draw the foul rather than attempting to make a play. One sequence from Game Six that sticks out was the sensational tip-in by Rajon Rondo, a championship play, that was immediately followed by Derek Fisher hurling his body into Rondo with the desperate hope of drawing a foul on the young guard who was standing on the ground with his hands straight up. In crunch time of the most important game in their series, Fisher determines that trying to get a handout was a better option than actually trying to make a play.

This culture has given birth to a generation of fathers that inject their children with steroids, sharpen their football helmet clips to cut their opponents, get thrown out of Little League games and have for all intents and purposes sucked the enjoyment out of their offspring's childhood. These parents are ridiculed when their stories becomely known, but few can deny that as a society we're at the very least inching closer to these parents being more the norm than not. There will always be the extreme, but how many have argued balls and strikes at a 10-year olds baseball game? How many have booed an official at a 12-year olds basketball game? This lack of sportsmanship and awareness of the big picture has become an increasingly ugly part of the American sports culture at the youth level.

I love sports. I love competition. I love seeing the underdog win, but based on heightened execution, a little luck or just a team playing above their head, but not based on getting a opponent removed from a game without cause. I love seeing the better team win, not on the basis of drawing undo calls, but on hard work and execution. I love seeing someone give it their all and failing, getting off the mat and trying again. I love seeing someone making a big play in a big moment, not seeing someone hope an official will blow their whistle to make the play for them. Many of these despicable acts are justified as being 'smart plays', but they wouldn't be if they were seen as disrespecting the game or if they called in to question the integrity of those who participated in them. Maybe I'm being too romantic, too idealistic, but sports shift in philosophy to winning trumping all is not a lesson I look forward to passing on.

/Puts official ASD soap box back in it's resting place

1 comment:

Cleet said...

The resting place for the ASD soapbox? You guessed it, right next to the Trent Tucker jerseys and the copy of WCW vs. NWO for N64.