Bad sportsmanship is so prevalent these days that it's almost become acceptable. Athletes and fans act out not only with hostility, but sometimes even with violence. But should we now ask ourselves is it safe to attend an NFL game? Is Missy or Junior going to learn anti-social traits like bullying by playing midget league football or T-Ball?
Good sportsmanship isn't so good anymore. It's been replaced by bad sportsmanship at epidemic levels. Oftentimes, bad sportsmanship is so toxic it even involves people being seriously injured, automobiles being overturned and set on fire, and young children being vomited upon, all in the name of winning a game.
Because of the media, the most flagrant instances of poor sportsmanship seem to occur in the big arenas of college and professional sports. It's almost getting to be a modern-day version of feeding the Christians to the lions. Being a world-class athlete isn't so world class these days. But bad sportsmanship is escalating in youth sports, too.
There's a new question to ponder: Is allowing Junior or Missy to play peewee football or try out for tee ball a good thing?
In early October 2013, Kentucky opted for its high schools not to have post-game handshakes for all sports. After three years' worth of more than two dozen physical confrontations ensued after competitors came together to consummate good sportsmanship with the after-the-game handshake, this benign symbol is no longer part of the game. Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett admitted on his organization's website that it is "disappointing" for such a drastic decree to take effect, but it has become a necessity. (1)
Emotions are often frazzled and frenzied after a tough athletic battle and it only takes one irate competitor to set off a group brawl. As Knute Rockne once said, "One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it." But in today's athletic arena, little lip service is being given to Rockne's principle. Another famous saying seems to pervade: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Even with the origins of this famous quote, there's bickering that continues regarding who it rightly belongs to: Some claim it's Henry Russell "Red" Sanders, UCLA Bruins football coach; while others attribute it to Green Bay Packer Head Coach Vince Lombardi. Don't get into a bar fight over its origination, however; it's not worth ending up in jail on felony charges.
Sound ridiculous? Things of this nature are happening. In early October 2013, three people were stabbed at a bar in Beaver County, Pa., with the impetus of this violence being a dispute over another's wearing of an NBA basketball jersey. Although it only took about 15 seconds, one of the victims was stabbed six times and ended up in Allegheny General Hospital in serious condition. The two attackers, Maryland natives who'd just moved to the Pittsburgh area, admitted they hate the Steelers and Penguins. Well, it all came to consequences of several counts of aggravated assault and attempted homicide. (2)
Of course, there are always rationalizations for this sort of violent antisocial behavior. According to a study conducted in Spain, men can blame "hormone spikes" for such antisocial acts as bar fights after altercations ensue over sports issues.
Researching male and female fans who watched soccer matches, it was revealed that elevated levels of testosterone and cortisol increase during times of stress. This leads to higher levels of pure chemicals (those manufactured by the human body itself, like testosterone and cortisol). This study claims "social self-preservation" can be blamed for antisocial outbreaks, particularly when a male fan's team is losing. "The testosterone surge is tied to status, too. Apparently, testosterone levels increase during situations that are challenging . . ." (3)
So if you're up on attempted homicide and assault charges after busting up your local sports bar and your violent acts put some opposing fans in the hospital or morgue, let your attorney know of these scientific findings. It might just help get you off some nasty consequences from the guy wearing the black dress.
Even Heisman Trophy winners get into bar fights, making them part of the American tradition. In July 2013, Texas A & M Quarterback Johnny Manziel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of "failing to identify himself to police" after an alleged fight at a college bar. A disorderly conduct, along with using a fake driver's license charges, were dismissed, according to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Texas A & M's student newspaper. (4) - Just pawn this off to the old adage, Boys will be boys, and It happens to the best of "em.
Not all incidents of bad sportsmanship that turn into crimes are in the Mickey Misdemeanor category. On Nov. 30, 2013, Adrian Laroze Briskey, 28, killed 36-year-old Michelle Shepherd. Briskey was livid that the victim did not seem upset over Auburn's upsetting the Crimson Tide by a 34-28 score. [With no time left on the clock, Auburn ran back a missed Alabama field goal for more than 100 yards, killing any hopes of Alabama playing in the national championship game.] (5)
"She said we weren't real Alabama fans because it didn't bother us they lost. And then she started shooting," said Nakesa Shepard, the victim's sister. "It was over a football game. I'm never going to forget it because she died in my arms." (5)
The YouTube craze and even the possibility of becoming famous on TMZ burns the bonfire of bad sportsmanship. Baltimore Ravens Receiver Torrey Smith was quoted on NBCsports.com as he was working on a Habitat for Humanity project, that if it wasn't for TMZ's reporting that some lady named Sweet Pea emerged from a party bus and cracked Ravens teammate Jacoby Jones alongside the head with a booze bottle, nothing would've come of the incident.
"I think it's funny that we're doing this, building a home, one day after everybody found out about this other thing. We all know it comes with the territory," Smith said.
YouTube is filled with videos depicting horrible sportsmanship: Everything from a girl running for first base and hitting the opposing team's first basemen so hard it could easily have led to paralysis; to a karate sparring incident wherein the loser gets into an altercation with the head referee after losing his fight, then grabs the championship trophy and tries to storm out of the arena with it, fighting with innumerable people and destroying the garish opulent prize in the process. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEh1cBeJdJM)
Page after page of bad sportsmanship offerings are available on YouTube -- everything from pee-wee football atrocities to angry dads taking to the mat at wrestling matches, brutalizing their sons' opponents; to Philadelphia Eagles fans pelting their opponents' fans with a tonnage of hard snowballs - thrown MLB pitcher style -- with enough force and speed to necessitate emergency room visits for the poor guys wearing the jackets that aren't midnight green and silver. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvXNjfXbUaQ)
Running up the score has always led to outrage, particularly in high school sports. Adolescents are at a tender emotional age and killing the opposing team has always been a big no-no. In December of 2012 in Indiana, Arlington High School's girls basketball team annihilated a competing team 107-2, backfiring on the winning team's home victory with very big losses in the national media limelight: ESPN, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and radio stations coast to coast were interested in this story and rang Arlington High's phone off the hook. This devastation of an opposing rival isn't new, however. In 2009, Texas Covenant School's girls' basketball team cremated Dallas Academy 100-0.
When Mark Twain quipped, "It's good sportsmanship not to pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling" America's great literary saint had no idea bad sportsmanship would ever come to this level of nuclear attack and ball-all-logical warfare.
The Saint Louis Sports Commission rules on the country's most vile examples of poor sportsmanship, with the focus being on how teens and even pre-teens are effected. In 2012's report, which looked at incidents from 2011, topping the list was New Canaan, Conn.'s coaching staff of a youth football team. These supposed trusted servants of children took so vehemently to their team's third-place finish that after their awards banquet at season's end, the youngsters were taken to a nearby park, the coaches made the kids throw their trophies into a pile, then the coaches poured gasoline on the trophies and set them on fire. Another incident making the list was the assault of a referee in Sarasota, Fla., which led to three football coaches and a 14-year-old player being charged with assault and battery. Another wall-of-shame moment involved a Detroit middle school football coach putting on a football helmet, challenging a 13-year-old player to tackle him one-on-one, with the mismatch resulting in the child taking a crushing blow leading to a broken collarbone. (6)
It's always been touted that playing sports helps children build character. Athletics are good for the soul. It helps children develop not only physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. But maybe this is hyped up, too. In early November, 2013, news broke of a football coach who wanted to take his team to a restaurant not known so much for its food, but for its skimpily clad, buxom waitresses, who oftentimes flirt with customers.
Taking adolescent boys to a place that bills itself as "delightfully tacky, yet unrefined," is in very poor taste and is way-over-the-top for adolescent boys' cognitive processes. But Coach Randy Burbach remained adamant and insisted his 7th and 8th grade football team have their post-season dinner at a Portland, Ore., area Hooters restaurant. In a KATU interview, Burbach said, "Yes, this is worth losing my coaching job over." He also admitted Hooters isn't a "pizza parlor."
The school's athletic director, J.P. Soulagnet, said he spoke to many people about Hooters as a location for this post-season get-together. "I started off the conversation by posing a question, 'Outside of a bar, tavern, or strip club where would be the next worse place in the lines of restaurants to take a middle-school football team to?' Time after time the reply was Hooters," Soulagnet said. (7)
During the autumn of 2007 in central New York state, online forums and letters to the editor of local newspapers buzzed about Westhill High School's varsity football team defeating winless LaFayette/Fabius-Pompey 90-0. The Post-Standard, Syracuse's leading daily, published essays and examples of high school students who wrote about and practiced good sportsmanship. In her essay, Kate Wawro, a Westhill High School freshman and a member of the cross country team, wrote: "The coach of a team winning by a wide margin should put in the alternates who don't normally get a chance to play." (8)
Yes, this very worthwhile piece of advice came from a child's pen. At one time, what Kate advocates in her Post-Standard essay was an unwritten rule of any high school sporting event. But with today's engenderment of state rankings directly tied into high scores (giving a lift to a school's state ranking), this golden rule has been tarnished beyond repair.
With sports involving children (and let's remember that even upperclassmen high school students are children), good sportsmanship and bad sportsmanship are directly correlated to how adults react. "Kids who have coaches who care only about being in first place and say that 'anything goes as long as they win,' pick up the message that it's okay to be ruthless on the field. If parents constantly pressure them to play better or second-guess their every move, kids get the message that they're only as good as their last good play -- and they'll try anything to make one." (9)
It's always been touted that playing sports during pre-teen and adolescent years is a great way for children to build character, build stable friendships, and spawn habits of physical conditioning that usually continues throughout life. Sports can help mold your kid into a great adult, was the buzz phrase of Baby Boomer parents, and has been megaphoned about now, towards Baby Boomers who have children, and even grandchildren. Really, though? Is playing for a terrible team good? On the flip side, is playing for a league-dominating juggernaut good? Can a child become a victim of bullying due to a passion to be a team member? Can athletes with superior skills adopt a bullying mindset when their teams destroy opponents on the playing field, on the track, the mat, or in the gymnasium?
A parent of a Fort Worth, Texas, area high school student filed a legal bullying complaint after undefeated Aledo High School's football team pummeled Western Hills 91-0. After 21 plays, Aledo's coach pulled his starters, kept to a ground game, even let the clock run down, but still his Bearcats managed the walloping victory. (10)
"It wasn't good for anybody," Bearcats' Coach Tim Buchanan said of the mid-October, 2013, win over Western Hills in a Class 4A matchup. "I've sat and gone over and over and over it on what we could have done differently. The score could have very easily been 150 to nothing."
Even John Naylor, Western Hills' coach, did not agree with the bullying allegations by a parent; but this parent claims that Aledo's coaches "should have made their players ease up and quit playing so hard." (10)
"There is no such thing as sportsmanship," Terrell Davis, longtime Denver Bronco and Georgia Bulldogs running back once said. And although this can be construed as a cynical view, it's being played out more and more in athletic contests nationwide, from the midget league to the NFL.
What kind of example are we giving to our children with fans' longstanding hideous tradition of booing Santa Claus (and even throwing snowballs at St. Nick when the clouds provide snow in the stands); college and professional sports' coaches and players being hit with bottles and metallic objects from fans who really belong in jail; group brawls in large arenas necessitating undercover police officers to sit nondescript among "the faithful;" riots and lootings in some urban areas after wins and losses resulting in destroyed parked autos, broken storefront windows, utility poles being toppled; "negative" cheering at games after an opposing player is injured; and tailgating get-togethers involving the opposing team's bus being pelted with bottles and rocks? (11)
Yes, winning isn't everything; it's the only thing. And let's not forget: There is no such thing as sportsmanship. But how about your own kids? Should they be encouraged to play sports in these troubled times? Well, that's up to you to decide. And of course, there's always the marching band. And 4-H, And the Boys Scouts or Girl Scouts. How's about the drama club? National Honor Society? Of course, the hand-to-eye coordination benefit of playing hours of video games while eating potato chips and drinking soda might be something to consider, too.
1) Kentucky.com: KHSAA advises schools to stop organized post-game handshakes at sporting events. See: click here
2) CBS Pittsburgh -- KDKA 2: "3 Stabbed After Fight Over Steelers, Pens." See: click here
3) The Daily Dose: "Hormones to Blame for Sports Bar Fights," See: click here
4) NBCSports.com: " Manziel enters plea deal for bar fight arrest." See: click here
5) ESPN College Sports: "Witness: Shooting Over Alabama Loss." See: click here
6) St. Louis Sports Commission (website): "St. Louis Sports Commission Reveals Worst Sportsmanship Moments from 2011." See: click here
7) Huff Post Sports. "Middle School Football Coach Fired for Refusing to Change Plans for Team Party at Hooters." See: click here
8) The Post-Standard (at Syracuse.com): "My Take: Good sportsmanship is everyone's responsibility." See: click here
9) KidsHealth from Nemours: "Sportsmanship." from See: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/sportsmanship.html#
10) AP via MSN News: "Texas dad alleges bullying in 91-0 football game." http://news.msn.com/us/texas-dad-alleges-bullying-in-91-0-football-game
10) Other related matter: See GQ: " The Worst Sports Fans in America." See: http://www.gq.com/sports/lists/201104/worst-sports-fans-in-america#slide=6 (although this ending paragraph was a generic summary of terrible sports fans' acts, GQ's worth viewing for some startling revelations concerning terrible sportsmanship. Some of GQ's research was also used in this article).
Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi and Florida for about a decade. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in English (both degrees were awarded by Youngstown State University).