Sportsmanship: Lost and Found

     Remember Howard Cosell?  Never knew anyone who was lukewarm about him or his sports reporting, most famously on Monday Night Football and whenever he could get close to Ali, which was often.  Ali, self-proclaimed “The Greatest” with good reason, knew a good thing when he saw it, and Cosell was great for Ali, augmenting Ali’s effective self-promotion seemingly on television every day.   “Sports is the toy department of human life” is a famous Cosell quote of yesterday, but today sports is often a regrettable example of rude, childish, and dangerous behavior.  Coaches and players at all levels, rant, rave, argue, dance, punch each other, proclaim they are out there to take a player out of the game, toss clipboards and headsets, throw tantrums that would embarrass a three year-old, and so on. 

     Even the television announcers get into the act, pointing out players and coaches who are “working the officials” to “get them thinking about their next call.”  What does that have to do with sports?

     We more mature veterans of life, at least those of us who have played some ball, often observe to each other how coaches and players of our day would be laughed at if not simply tossed out of a game or even kicked off a team for much of the rude and classless and downright dangerous behavior so prevalent in many of today’s athletic contests. 

     But there are still coaches and players who manage to provide a good example of what it means to be a good sport, to savor the competition but not be consumed by it, and to approach sports with a sense of respect and gratitude for the privilege of being healthy and able to compete.

     Witness a recent letter from Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha to Chicago’s Mt. Carmel High School’s Father Carl, Coach Lenti and others following Carmel’s loss to Maine South in a state championship football game played on November 27, 2010.  Mr. Troha escorted the Mt. Carmel team to the postgame awards ceremony, photo, and press conference.  A few quotations from Mr. Troha’s letter:

“…As you can probably imagine, attempting to gather a group of teenagers who have just undergone the greatest heartbreak of their young athletic careers is no enviable task.

…At the conclusion of the contest, after briefly addressing the team, Coach Lenti instructed the players to report to the stage area for the trophy/medal presentation.  Despite the disappointment each of those players were feeling at that very moment, as a team they gathered themselves and followed their captains on a jog to the stage….After Mount Carmel’s portion of the awards ceremony ended, a few players began to turn to walk toward the locker room, but were quickly told by No. 4 (who I would later identify from the roster as senior captain and quarterback Chris Sujka)that the team would stay put and clap for their opponent as they received their awards….I felt your young men showed an incredible amount of integrity in this action, as it was clear that they would have offered this respect to any opponent, in victory or defeat….so I simply wanted to take the time to let you know that in a season where it was awarded the second-place trophy, the Mount Carmel football program remains first class.”

     Yeah, yeah – I’m a proud member of the Class of 1957 and more than a little inclined to favor all things Mt. Carmel, and receiving this letter once again reminds me of how lucky I am to be a part of the Mt. Carmel family.  And doesn’t a display of real sportsmanship still make us sit up and take notice? 

     One of the many quotes we had to learn as Air Force Academy cadets was this one from General Douglas MacArthur: “On the fields of friendly strife are sewn the seeds that on other days and other fields shall bear the fruits of victory.”  Today’s coaches should put more emphasis on the phrase “friendly strife” and supplement friendly with a few other adjectives such as classy and, yes,  respectful. 

     Play hard and support your team with great enthusiasm, but also with basic human decency, good manners, and always with class and sportsmanship.


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