Sportsmanship Losing Out to Desire to Win

It is not a hidden fact that I am a sports official. I have written several times about rule situations. I?ve defended the referees on several occasions. Now, I would like to talk about something that affects every sports fan directly, not just officials.

What is unsportsmanlike behavior? It is defined as bating, taunting, hitting, disrespectfully addressing others or just plain being a jerk?that which is not sportsmanlike. All sports are intended to be, and always have been, a sportsman?s game. Winning is the overall goal, but winning fair and square is the key.

One Saturday afternoon, I was officiating a little league football game at a high school in Salt Lake City. During one gremlin (8- to 9-year-olds) game, the parents took it upon themselves to run a flag with the initial of the school the team represented around the entire field every time their team scored. That particular school was ahead 32-0 late in the fourth quarter when it scored again. The score was 39-0, and once again, a female adult ran the flag around the field. As she began to run the flag around, one parent from the opposing bench looked at me on the field and said, ?That?s the most unsportsmanlike act I?ve ever seen.?

I agreed with him, but there was really nothing I could do. Referees do not deal with the fans, the administration does. I continued to watch this female adult run her flag behind the opposing bench when I saw a male adult grab the female adult to stop her from running the flag around the field. She fought her way free, and then a group of the opposing parents gathered around her. A confrontation ensued. This woman and a mother from the opposing side began slapping each other in the face. It was basically a brawl. My partner and I hurried over to the sideline and broke up the fight and called the game. No one argued that decision to end the game. It was sad to see two female adults hitting each other. No, I?m wrong. It was hilarious!

I?m sorry the kids had their game cut short because parents do not know how to control themselves. But it was funny to see two women taking it upon themselves to be idiots.

Both sides were wrong. One side was wrong for intentionally rubbing the fact their team had scored in the other side?s face. The other side was wrong for overreacting.

Unfortunately, this is not a one-time scenario. It actually happens more than it should.

Studies show that kids are not nearly as into winning as the coaches and parents are. The kids are just out there to have fun. They?re out there to be with their friends and play in a controlled setting, like they see on television. They want to be like their heroes. When parents and coaches?who often are the parents?get out of line and become disrespectful, they ruin the game for their kids.

When this occurred, the kids were just standing there, wondering what should they do. Perhaps someone wondered why his mom was fighting with another mom.

So, what do I think about the NCAA?s tight hold on celebrations? For the most part, it is a good rule. But when a player high-steps into the end zone after just barely getting past defenders, the officials would probably be better off leaving their flags in their pockets.

The celebration rule is intended to keep players from bringing attention to themselves and to keep the game a team game. For the most part, it does that by preventing players from jumping into the stands, doing touchdown dances, playing to the crowd, et cetera.

Keep in mind, though, that it?s part of football and all sports to celebrate success, and when officials penalize them for celebrating success, the official has gone too far.

But, most of the time, that?s not the case.

As I have said before, the XFL tried to integrate unsportsmanlike behavior into football, and it lasted one year before it crashed and burned. The NFL still allows some dancing and spiking of the ball in their game, but it is not excessive.

As long as players, coaches and fans do not try to rub in the fact that they beat the other team, it is acceptable celebration. But when anyone tries to show-up or put down an opponent, it is unnecessary.

Winning and losing graciously is, and always has been, important. It shows you are confident in your ability. It shows you are intelligent and have trust in yourself.

Most of us have been on some sort of winning team. It is fun to win. Then again, most of us have been on some sort of losing team. I think I speak for everyone when I say that?s no fun, and that defeats the purpose of the game.

Lance welcomes feedback at: [email protected].