Sunday, along with millions of other Americans, I watched a football game where the big story was how old the 40-something quarterbacks were and how soon they would be retiring. Because they’re old. 40-something. At the end of the game, these two ancient men who could be my children hugged each other and showed mutual respect, even though one had won, and the other had lost. Their teams regarded one another on the field with mutual respect. Competitors showed kindness to one another. Even though some of them were winners and some of them were losers. That’s sportsmanship. Having a winner and a loser is the expected outcome of the game, a contest based on a mutually agreed upon set of rules, public rules with referees that make the call. Because someone has to make the call to keep the game moving. Referees enforce the rules and sportsmanship is the code of ethics that holds the system together. 

Billie Best writes about the need for sportsmanship.

Now I can’t help but look at recent political events through the lens of sports, and ask myself, what happened to sportsmanship? All those angry people storming the capitol — some of them, probably many of them, had to be football fans. Or basketball fans. Or baseball fans. Or soccer fans. Or hockey fans. Team sports are supposed to condition us for civility, collaboration, integration into a system greater than our individual selves, a shared set of rules that apply to all of us, the experience of a group effort, unity, recognition of the fleeting high of winning and the common bond of loss. Team sports are supposed to strengthen society by harmonizing our tribalism.

Sunday’s game was played in an empty stadium, the sad result of pandemic lockdown. Maybe that’s one reason our collective mood tilts toward anger. We have the very real feeling that we are losing something. Our bond to one another is weakening without the physical connection of crowds. Stadium sports gave us a way to experience our tribalism peacefully on a massive scale, a potentially dangerous situation made safe by the common code of ethics that holds the system together. Sportsmanship makes us safe. 

So, it seems incongruous to me that an army of probable sports fans could invade our nation’s capital and perpetrate violence under the banner of white supremacy. One of the main constructs of sports is that supremacy is temporary. That’s why we have championships. And how on earth do the white supremacists plan to implement their racial cleansing without disrupting professional sports? Do they plan to re-segregate the NFL? The NBA? MLB? Are white supremacists seriously demanding that their sports teams be all white people? That Black athletes return to the Negro leagues? Really? Goodbye Super Bowl. Goodbye World Series. Goodbye March Madness. Goodbye Tiger, and Venus, and LeBron. What genius thought this through? What are the economics of white supremacy? Because I’m pretty sure it’s a money loser for professional sports. In fact, white supremacy is unsportsmanlike conduct, a red flag violation of the common code of ethics that holds our whole world together. 

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12 thoughts on “Sportsmanship

  1. Dear Billie and Friends, for what’s it’s worth, i believe what happened at the Capitol on January 6th of this year, was a longtime coming. For decades, white men (most of the crowd at the Capitol) have been told (in school, the workplace and by the media) to be ashamed and to apologize for who they are – white men. Uh, sounds like racism to me.
    My other question is: how many of these men have been passed over for promotions for the above reason? And how many of these men have been locked out from their jobs, because of the flu? While covid is a very nasty flu, shutting down the economy only discriminates against healthy people.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sue. Of course, dismantling a system based on skin color will require taking skin color into account. White men aren’t suffering anything different than what Black men have been suffering for 400 years. It’s a challenging situation. Regarding Covid, you must know it’s not the flu. Frankly, it’s a variant of the same virus that causes the common cold. I know shutting down the economy is painful, and it hasn’t been done very even handedly. We have lots to learn. An economic shutdown hurts everybody. But maybe it will save lives.

  2. Billie,
    Thanks for writing this piece. The end game for the rioters is chaos. I can’t see that they will change any time soon. So glad to see that they will be paying for much of the damage they have done..
    Best to you.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anthony. I agree with you that the end game for the rioters will be chaos. But I don’t think chaos is what they intended as an outcome. Many of them seemed to believe they were part of a larger effort that would paint them as heroes.

  3. Great comparison & questions. Maybe all the pent up testosterone that usually has an outlet yelling & brawling after a great “tribal” sporting event added to the insanity on January 6th. Still, it’s no excuse, and how right you are to question the marauders’ as sports fans.

  4. Nice fur halo. I do know that sports fans, Pats/Yanks/International soccer can act like a vicious lethal mob. Proud boys of sports. I haven’t seen ’em personally, but my friends have. But well taken, Bil, as usual.

    1. Yes, I do know that some sports fans bring a lot of angst to the game. I interpret that as lethal tribalism. I think it’s the problem that organized sports are designed to address, but of course, sometimes fans behave badly.

  5. What an incredible piece of writing, of logic, of unattainable common sense. Your talent is remarkable. I admire you and am grateful for you.

  6. I agree with you ? but unfortunately if you ever attended a little league baseball or football game…yikes!! Sportsmanship is out the window because of some of the parents. My children are in their forties and I have to think that is where many at a young age never learned about good sportsmanship.

    1. I agree with you, Denise. I have received a few comments about the lack of good sportsmanship in youth athletics. I am hopeful that we are entering an age of renewed focus on the social graces, respect and kindness.

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