The big game. Whether it’s pee wee soccer. A gymnastic meet. High school football. College baseball or the NFL we all want our team to win. That’s what a game is all about. There’s a winner and a loser. Every game is defined by rules we all accept from the outset and the referees who decide when those rules have been broken.
I was taught sportsmanship, defined as, “Conduct becoming to participants in a sport e.g. fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing,” was integral to every game.
From the the first time we interacted as toddlers we were taught it’s, “not whether we win or lose, but how we play the game” that matters.
Good sportsmanship defined our character. It was how we could trust the game would be honored, players respected, rules followed and the results accepted regardless of the outcome.
Mouthing off, starting a fight, ignoring the rules, disrespecting the coach or referees was met with immediate action that made clear- this behavior won’t be tolerated.
After an initial warning, those who crossed the line were kicked out of the game if their inappropriate behavior continued.
But today these types of actions have become commonplace.
What was once considered shocking, unthinkable and inexcusable has now become so routine many accept it as the price of admission to the game.
It. Is. Not.
We have allowed it to go unchecked for so long we now have a shortage of certified little league referees because of the abuse and even violence they’ve been suffering for years at the hands of angry parents unhappy with a decision.
In 2021 youth sports had become so hostile nearly half of the referees quit, forcing the cancellation of a significant numbers of games.
Sadly this is not new.
15 years ago when my daughter was playing in a middle school basketball game the police were actually called when an argument between a parent and referee turned violent.
All because the score his daughter had made was ruled out of bounds.
I was horrified to see the message he was sending to all present. Especially the kids- don’t like the call? Just argue, threaten, intimidate and if that doesn’t, work hit the referee into submission. And equally appalled by the few cheering that parent on.
Now, if the game doesn’t end the way you want, there’s no gracious shaking of hands and congratulating the other team. Instead, question the results, yell it was stolen, the referees were biased or unprofessional and refuse to accept the results.
Initially it was seen as a shocking tactic, spurned by those of us raised to honor the rules, sure it couldn’t gain any traction. But after decades of slowly eroding the foundation sportsmanship was built upon, a win at all cost attitude has become mainstream.
Repeat the mantra
“It was stolen,”
Hundreds of times and the shock wears off.
Repeat the mantra,
“It was rigged”
Loud enough, and that’s all people hear.
Repeat the mantra,
Often enough when all data proves you didn’t and those spewing lies drown out the truth people begin to think
“it must be true.”
Then the slow erosion becomes a massive divide, encouraging anyone to spout that answer when they don’t like the result.
Throw distrust, anger and fear into the mix and no game is safe.
According to one of the greatest destroyers of truth and disseminators of propaganda and lies – Nazi Joseph Goebbels said,
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”
It’s not just winning or losing at stake. It’s the fabric of our society. Our humanity. If we cannot remain civil during a sports game. If we cannot graciously accept defeat on the playing field then nothing is off limits.
Rules only work when we all abide by them. Not when they suit our purpose. They can’t be rewritten to favor one side over the other when we don’t like the outcome. They can’t be arbitrarily ignored when they don’t go our way. Then it’s not a competition for the best to win, but a foregone conclusion.