Good sportsmanship will never replace good play
(Reprinted from Aug. 20, 2009)
  Winning is everything.
  Although Vince Lombardi’s famous declaration isn’t typically quoted with complete accuracy, those three words have nevertheless resonated with sports participants and fans for decades. Anything less than success is considered unacceptable.
  That opinion is OK if it’s being used as a motivational tool to encourage athletes to give it their best shot, but far too many people adopt an all-or-nothing attitude. Other than Cubs fans, who doesn’t yearn to leap off a sinking ship?
  But if an e-mail I recently received from an organization called the Awards and Recognition Association isn’t a complete fabrication, I’m incorrect in my assumption and Mr. Lombardi was way off-base as well.
  According to a survey cited by the ARA, 94 percent of Americans would rather see their child lose a big game than fail to display good sportsmanship. At first read, such a statistic engenders a warm, fuzzy feeling within me.
  Then I caught myself and realized something else: About 90 percent of those people were probably shoveling cow pies.
  Come on, should we even for a nanosecond believe that all but six percent of our country is guided by a sense of fair play? Heck, the politicians alone exceed that number, and we all know what an honorable profession they represent.
  And if you think I’m just being argumentative for the sake of a column, here’s something else the ARA presented: In the same study, 85 percent of Americans aged 20 and up believe sportsmanship is worse now than in previous years, and that opinion has been largely unchanged over the past four years. The statistic is a little more favorable among the 30-and-under crowd, but even then only one-third of the respondents deem today’s level of sportsmanship to be superior than that found in the 1980s.
  So if 85 percent of the public looks negatively upon the role of sportsmanship these days, how on earth can 94 percent claim to be on such high moral ground? It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that those figures simply don’t jibe.
  What’s especially interesting is that a vast majority of people agrees that exhibiting sportsmanship is vital at the youth-league level, yet that’s often where the worst behavior takes place. Actually, the kids are all right, but parents frequently embarrass their offspring, and that doesn’t change when the children reach high-school age.
  And even if you choose to excuse the hysteria on the grounds that adults get a little crazy with anything that involves their progeny, how do you write off the boorish behavior exhibited by fans with no direct connection to a team?
  Remember, for example, the Oklahoma football zealot who threatened the well being of an official whose wrong call cost the Sooners a win against Oregon a few years back? How about the Penn State backers who dogged Joe Paterno on an Internet site hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks had taken place? Let’s not forget, either, the angry mob that wanted a piece of Steve Bartman after he got to a foul ball faster than Moises Alou could during the 2003 National League Championship Series.
  And if you think spectators are the only parties sadly lacking in sportsmanship, you haven’t been doing much sports viewing. Or don’t the ridiculous home run-admiring displays of many major leaguers, end zone celebrations of touchdown-scoring NFL players and finger-wagging antics of NBA dunkers count?
  Sportsmanship also wouldn’t allow for cheating, but it goes on all the time. It may not be flagrant in nature, but when was the last time an athlete admitted that his foot really was out of bounds when he made the catch, the ball actually bounced into his glove or he took extra steps before he released his shot?
  You know why mum’s the word on those occasions? Because the object of any game is to win, just as Lombardi stated.
  Coaches don’t save their jobs merely by populating their rosters with nice guys. They may not always finish last, as Leo Durocher implied, but those nice guys better finish high enough in the standings to avoid shame.
  It’d be great if the ARA’s findings represented real life. But they don’t.
  And I’ll bet at least 94 percent of sports fans, under penalty of having to watch “Dancing With The Stars” nonstop for one week straight, will agree I’m a good sport for telling the truth about that.