This weekend, being an avid football watching junkie, I took delight in getting to watch all of the college football conference championship games on TV. With all of the best of the best teams playing, it is a great opportunity to see some of the most talented players going up against equally strong opposition. I expected that I would be viewing the teams that had gained success by having their players make the largest sacrifices in order that their team would be greater, players that were willing to put aside individual honors for team success, and players that were the model of discipline to the sport. Those are high expectations, but game after game I saw some of the worst examples of sportsmanship I have ever seen. I am not naïve to think that what I saw didn’t take place every other week of the season, but we should expect better.
Have we come to the place where we have dumbed down our American football game to treat opposing players like the bull in a bull fight? Have we taken a game that was built around fundamentals of blocking and tackling and made it into some form of organized assault? Have we made winning at all costs the only measure of success for college coaches to the point that sportsmanship is an afterthought?
I know one thing that I have seen time and time again this year is a player that gets into a scrap with another player. If I can tell that if left in the game that player is going to go right back and start scrapping with the other player on the next play, doesn’t it seem that it might be a wise idea to take that player out for a play or two and get him cooled down. Instead, I have seen coach after coach send the player right back into the fray and most times wind up with personal fouls or be ejected on the next play. What are the coaches thinking?
In other instances over the weekend, I saw several wide receivers that couldn’t do anything on the field without going and barking in the defender’s facemask about how great they were. They would catch a 5 yard pass and felt compelled to go butt heads with the defender because he was so great. They would get a pass interference penalty thrown by totally flailing over any contact and then immediately they headed back for the ear hole chatter. That is not to mention the need to flash the first down sign in the defenders faces every time they got past the marker.
In addition, I saw countless numbers of players targeting with their helmets that somehow were not called. I guess the conference championship games allow teams to get the fullest leeway on that rule. The only time I saw it actually called I thought it was called incorrectly. Once again, we have accepted some form of punishment style defense in place of fundamental tackling techniques. In every play there are players looking around to see if they can get one more cheap shot on the ball carrier or quarterback. In one play over the weekend, I saw a player push a player out of bounds and then give him an extra push that sent him into a medical golf cart on the sideline which injured the player. Where is the sportsmanship? And the idea of helping a player up off of the ground after the whistle blows and the play is dead is a definite taboo thing in today’s game.
We can’t expect the players to be fully responsible for the lack of sportsmanship rampant in modern sports. Where are the coaches? What are they trying to instill and coach into their players? Where are the referees? Are these not areas that need to be penalized out of the game? The penalty is actually called Unsportsmanlike Conduct. The college game needs to be the example and call penalties on players chirping or taunting in another players facemask. We need to get rid of players in a game that have intent to injure that goes beyond a regular football play. If referees start setting the standard of sportsmanship, I bet coaches will change their attitudes about how their players approach their opponents.
I can remember growing up, my brother taught me about sportsmanship. He was 7 years older than I. In the community that we lived in there were not a lot of other kids close by. I was about 4th grade and he was a junior in high school. About a block from where we lived, there was a basketball goal in a parking lot next to a church where we would go play basketball sometimes. One time, I remember going down there and another couple of kids showed up to play. They were probably 7th or 8th graders. We decided to play basketball with the other kids. We decided on the game “21” and the only natural break for teams was for them to play us. My brother was a great athlete at the time and being late in high school could have beaten all three of us by himself. We immediately would go up by 7 or 8 points and then we would get to where the score was around 15 to 4. Somehow, my brother would stop hitting the shots that had been falling the rest of the game and we would struggle. The other kids would make a comeback and get to around 12 to 13 points. Miraculously, around that point his shot would start falling again and we would wind up winning with a score of like 21 to 15.
After about three games, I noticed a pattern going on but I couldn’t tell why. After we had played about 5 games and we were all worn out we were walking back home when I asked him about it. He gave me some advice that I remember to this day. He said that we could have beaten them 21 to 0 in every game we played. The only problem with that is after a couple of games the other team would have been demoralized and quit and gone home. If we gave them a chance to feel like they could compete, they would still have some hope and would continue to play with us. We played those kids several times during those years and occasionally when they got close they would hit a few shots and almost beat us. I can’t remember if they ever did or not, but I will remember my brother’s advice forever.
What is your view of what sportsmanship should look like today? Have we lost the ability to show respect for our opponents on the field? Can we get back to players being role models for society that take the same discipline they used on the football field to be leaders in their career field? In the name of winning, we have an unbelievably large group of men with sociology and sports management degrees out on the street looking for jobs. Have we misplaced our priorities for “collegiate athletics” entirely?