Is Sportsmanship Dead?

I was recently reading an article that talked about the myth of American sportsmanship.  In it the author stated: “Sports today are conducted in a context that makes true sportsmanship — which is nothing more and nothing less than recognizing that your opponent is basically the same common clay deserving of the same respect as you are, not because of talent, but simply because he or she is another human being — almost impossible. Sports today, at almost every level, have arranged themselves in such a way that the athlete is made a commodity.” (Pierce, Charles P.  2014, November 5.  “Angles and Angels:  Lauren Hill, Mountain Ridge High, and the American Myth of Sportsmanship.”)

Contrast that with this text from the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s guidelines to sports officials:  “One of the goals of interscholastic competition is to teach values while enriching the educational experience of the young men and women who participate. Good sportsmanship is certainly one of the important values, and as a result, promoting good sportsmanship is clearly one of our highest priorities.”

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So which is it?  Is sportsmanship a myth and almost impossible or is it a value that should be promoted?  I would like to suggest to you that it is both almost impossible in today’s sports culture and a value that should be promoted.

In today’s sports culture, it is becoming more and more difficult for sportsmanship to thrive.  With 24/7 coverage of all kinds of sports, with the kind of money that is at stake, sportsmanship has indeed taken a back seat to commerce in America.  At the professional level it is easy to see.  Greed is what drives professional sports in America.  From ESPN, to billionaires who own teams, to millionaires who play a game for a living, money is driving everything about sports.  And we as consumers feed the beast.  As Americans we clearly value being entertained more than anything else because it is entertainers who make the most money in our society.  This leads athletes to promote themselves above all else and to try to create a “brand” for themselves.  It leads to people who care more about themselves than their team – or the example that they are setting for children.  It leads to players injuring themselves celebrating an individual play when their team is getting crushed by the other team (Bears player injures himself celebrating sack in 51-24 loss).

In this kind of environment, it is almost impossible to suggest that the greatest value of sports is the life lessons that they teach.  Yet that is what we believe at ECS.  We want our students to excel, to give their best efforts, but to do so for the right reasons.  Winning is not everything – it’s certainly not the only thing, no matter what Vince Lombardi said.  In a sports culture where greed drives everything, we have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and be a light in our community.  Our hope is that we will compete with excellence while playing with sportsmanship and treating others with the dignity they deserve as fellow image-bearers of God.