September 22, 2011

Unsportsmanlike Behavior: An Act of Desperation

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Looking at the some of the sports headlines lately, I’ve seen an unsettling, yet growing trend in unsportsmanlike behavior.

Fans can hardly forget Serena Williams’ most recent tantrum during the U.S. Open final early last week. Williams was having a seemingly off day, missing a large number of serves and halfheartedly returning ground balls to opponent Samantha Stosur. Starting the second set down, Williams’ nerves must have been starting to wear on her because she initiated a confrontation with the chair umpire. The shot in question came when Williams returned a forehand to Stosur and yelled, “Come on!” This action sparked a “hindrance” call, which subsequently resulted in a point for Stosur. Staying true to her explosive nature (read: Williams’ foot-fault incident from two years ago), Williams verbally expressed her displeasure with the umpire as fans braced themselves.

So, what was my reason in detailing Williams’ latest temper tantrum? Well, in short, to illustrate the point that unsportsmanlike behavior is a terribly ugly side of sports that surfaces every now and again. This tennis tale demonstrated how athletes will occasionally lower themselves to the level of trading their integrity for a shot at winning. Williams must have realized that she was being blitzed by Stosur after the first set. Therefore, her only response was to whine, complain and make a scene in hopes of garnering support, right? Stosur played two excellent sets, winning the final (6-2, 6-3); however, her accomplishment disappears into the shadows of Williams’ tantrum. So, why is that?

I think that some people like sports not because they enjoy watching the technical prowess of the athletes, but rather because they enjoy watching the spectacle of the game. I’m sure fans were on the edges of their seats during the U.S. Open final because they wanted to see what Williams was going to do next (though, hopefully also to see how great a player Stosur is). The actions witnessed last week call into light what it means to show good versus bad sportsmanship. Of all the motivational posters I have seen haphazardly taped to the walls of locker rooms, I have never seen it more poignantly expressed than the following quote by former men’s tennis first seed in the world, Jim Courier.

“‘Sportsmanship for me is when a guy walks off the court, and you really can’t tell whether he won or lost, when he carries himself with pride either way.’”

Since coming to Cornell, I have seen my fair share of close victories and close losses for many of the Red’s teams. I have to say, however, that through all of the games I’ve attended, I have always seen the Cornell athletes exhibit only the highest levels of sportsmanship. Whether your team is winning or losing, there is no reason to ever lose sight of the goal and take cheap shots at the other team. Athletes who play sports — be it on a elementary, collegiate, or professional level — should always exhibit sportsmanlike behavior. When they go out onto the field that are not only representing themselves; they are also representing their team and the sport that they love. I think that accepting defeat graciously is just as important if not more important than accepting victory modestly. The cliché saying “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” could not hold more true.

So, while I am a proud Cornell Athletics supporter because I can see the respect that all of the athletes have for their sports, I am on the fence when it comes to the next level: the pros. Recently, I had a friend draw my attention to a concept known as “diving” in the world of soccer (Ahem, I mean the “real” football). Diving is when a player will dive to the ground and fake injury, in hopes of securing an advantage for his team through a penalty kick or awarding of a yellow or red card to the other team. Like I said earlier, I truly believe that some athletes will stop at nothing with last ditch efforts to earn even one point when they know they are losing or the odds are not in their favor. I feel that faking injury is just another act of desperation, with the athlete trading his integrity for an unfair advantage. This concept of feigning injury is not only found in the world of soccer, this phenomenon has also rooted itself in American football (read: this past Monday night’s Rams versus Giants game). I don’t think there is anything lower than a player faking being hit to gain a few more minutes on the clock. Based on what coaches have been telling me my entire life, you are supposed to go out on the field and give the game everything you’ve got. Playing a sport you are passionate about requires dedication, commitment, but even greater than these, it requires heart.

At the end of a game when both sides come together and shake hands, the sportsmanlike gesture should be more than just a gesture. Athletes should show respect for themselves and the game they play every time they step out onto the field. This means that whether they are the better team at the end of the day or not, they should leave the field or court with feeling proud of their performance. Athletes are role models for young people, so they should play with a sense of honor and pride in themselves and their team. Athletes today should move away from the practice of trying to get the upper hand and return to the days when you won was based on how well you played, not how well you played the rules.

Original Author: Lauren Ritter