Oh Sportsmanship, Where Have You Gone?

As a public address announcer for basketball I get to see the very best high school sports has to offer. I get to see great athleticism & talent, teamwork, life lessons and perseverance all from courtside. I get to hear the discussions officials have and discussions coaches have with those officials. I absolutely love it, I’m blessed (or cursed) with a loud voice and an opportunity that few have.

Sadly however what stands out to me as much anything at this point is the behavior of fans and some athletes during games. Before every game I read this script:

“Good sportsmanship is one of the primary purposes of educational athletics. Our student athletes recognize that judgment calls by officials, coaches and themselves are made in good faith and should be respected. Spectators should support both of these teams & officials by refraining from negative comments.”

I might as well say “please yell, boo and hiss as many negative comments at the officials, coaches and players as possible over the next couple of hours” because the amount of garbage you hear from fans is absolutely ridiculous these days. We aren’t at the NBA Finals, we aren’t at the NCAA Final Four, we aren’t even at a JUCO game, these are high school athletes that will only, for the majority of them, play until the end of their senior year but some fans and players act as if one game will define a lifetime. Remember what I say to start every game, “good sportsmanship is one the primary purposes of educational athletics”. Do I think every player should play hard, absolutely, do I realize there will be some hard fouls, of course, do I think emotions will boil over from time to time, no doubt. Do I think learning about winning and losing is important, hell to the yes, but that can be taught by doing things the right way. That’s a part of competing, learning how to control emotions but right now it seems like for a lot of people that isn’t possible.

Last night I saw a young man get punched in the back of the head while diving for a loose ball. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it as things like that happen in the course of a game. However, it stood out last night because the same kid that threw the punch was yelling about cheating in the sportsmanship line after the game. Does anyone else see the irony in that? The kid that threw a punch was yelling about cheating in the SPORTSMANSHIP line after the game. Let that sink in for a second.

I think a lot of this anger, this ferocity at games happens for a couple of reasons. Players try to get a steal these days on every possession and the type of play is run and gun at every opportunity. A trap is sometimes initiated 90 feet away from the hoop. There has been times this year when I look down for a couple of seconds after a made basket and by the time I look up again the other team is already making a bucket on the other end of the court. It’s hard to grasp how fast that really is. So instead of teaching the old fundamentals of defense, keeping a man in front of you in a half-court game, you almost always tend to see chasing, reaching for steals and a lot of full speed collisions. This causes a lot of slaps and players having to contort themselves so that the ball won’t be stolen, this leads to lots of body contact throughout the game and all of this leads to chippyness, missed calls, angered coaches and angered fans/parents who think yelling at officials is going to someone help. I see it everywhere I go; no gym is different.

Do I think officials miss calls? Yes. Do I think it has ever affected the course of a game? Only one time in the hundreds of games that I’ve seen. Officials miss calls on both ends of the court so I’ve never felt it has changed the outcome of a game besides that one time. The majority of officials I’ve seen are really good guys that are trying to do their best in an extremely fast paced game with very hostile fans down their throats.

It’s gotten to the point for me that if I was ever asked my opinion (I won’t and this will never happen so I’m writing this blog about it) I would tell district administrators to begin having games with no fans. Simply have both teams, coaches, referees and silence until fans can learn to behave again. Maybe do it for a few games and let fans appreciate what they get to watch. It is seriously getting that bad at these events. Parents can get a video copy of the game if they need to watch their kid play. Seriously, a lot of people are that terrible.  It will never happen because people will say “I pay taxes for those kids to play and I deserve to go watch them.”  What they are really saying is “I’m paying for this through my taxes so I can be a jerk tonight.”

Next time you go any high school game or event remember you’re watching young people. Set the example, CHEER for your kid, CHEER for your friends, CHEER for great plays even for the other team, BE THE CLASSY PERSON in the gym; don’t be the trash that is too often heard. When an official misses a call, just think they’ll miss one on the other end and it will even out, I can guarantee you it almost always does. More importantly have fun, years are fleeting and a high school career is over in the blink of an eye. You have enough health to attend games and your athlete has enough health to compete, be grateful for that. Let’s bring back sportsmanship, because oh my, it’s gone right now.


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