Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Sportsmanship cool, ritual not required
After decades of the OSSAA's disingenuous PSA's and the Big 10's brouhaha between the Wolverines and Badgers, can we quit making a show of it please?
Of all the things to hate, loathe, abhor and detest, artifice, pretense, pablum and Air Supply’s entire discography are four strong choices.
That’s why, in a lifetime of covering high school sports, each time a PA announcer would drone on about sportsmanship, part of me was laughing.
Like, is this familiar?
Activity programs are primarily for the student participants. The purpose of this (INSERT SPORT) game is to provide positive learning experiences and opportunities for personal growth of our student athletes. This competition is being conducted according to the rules of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. Players, coaches, officials, and spectators can, and are expected to assist in the promotion and achievement of good sportsmanship ideals by taking personal responsibility for keeping this contest at a high level of fair, clean, wholesome competition.
Good sportsmanship is learned, practiced and executed. Respect for the opponent, spectators, coaches and officials are necessary at all levels of athletics and activity programs. At today’s game everyone’s behavior should be characterized by generosity and genuine concern for others. Display good sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is everyone’s responsibility, do the right thing!
They come from a two-page document, distributed by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, which instructs the first of those messages be read prior to every contest in every sport, while the second is one of several it requests be read “periodically” throughout each contest.
I’ve laughed when I’ve heard them because the number of athletes, students, fans or parents they’ve prodded into inspirationally earnest moments of thoughtfulness — They’re right, sportsmanship really is everyone’s responsibility, thanks OSSAA — is zero.
Indeed, they’re kind of insulting.
Because nobody’s against good sportsmanship, but some of us are against poorly written boring bromides created for no greater purpose than being able to say, after the fact, “Well, we tried to tell them.”
Think about it and good sportsmanship is a wonderful concept, but maybe a poor slogan. A better one might be, “Do everything you possibly can to win within the rules and norms of the game, but if you lose, get over it.”
What do you think?
Or, perhaps, what do you think given that the latest greatest breach of sportsmanship never would have happened if the two coaches and teams involved would not have participated in a postgame handshake line designed for the sole purpose of making a production of … sportsmanship?
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On the off chance you spent your entire Sunday reading a book and missing every SportsCenter, here’s what happened.
The buzzer had just sounded on Wisconsin’s 77-63 victory over Michigan and tensions remained high after the Badgers, who had emptied their bench, called timeout in the final minute despite victory in hand to escape a backcourt violation as the Wolverines, who had not emptied their bench, pressed.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard, of Fab Five fame prior to a 19-season NBA career, did not like the Badgers’ timeout, and in the handshake line was ready to blow by Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, only Gard wouldn’t let him.
The two coaches briefly put their hands on each other, then began a shouting match, which of course led to both teams converging around them, until Howard, in the middle of the surrounding melee, reached out and open-hand swiped across Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft’s head and face.
It’s been called a punch, but that’s debatable. Whatever, it’s not cool, can’t happen and the Big 10 has since suspended Howard the remainder of the regular season, five games. Gard, who clearly stopped Howard in the handshake line, received no suspension at all.
In its wake, the question isn’t whether handshake lines should be eradicated because it’s too narrow a query. The question is whether it’s time to eliminate perfunctory rituals in the name of sportsmanship that appear more involuntary than voluntary, moments after competition has ceased but the heat of competition hasn’t.
Are such rituals important, or as silly as the boringly poorly written PSA’s the OSSAA instructs member schools read before and during every game?
Sign me up for getting rid of the artifice and pretense (the pablum and Air Supply’s music, too).
Football has it right.
The coaches, surrounded by security, shake hands at midfield, while players do whatever they want.
The NBA, frankly, has become too congenial. Are there any rivalries left or just Russell Westbrook’s team against Patrick Beverley’s team?
That aside, the league’s lack of ritual is terrific. Fist bumps, generally, before the tip and whatever they want afterward.
The only NHL ritual is a handshake line, but only after a playoff series is clinched, a tradition so steeped in history it yields no issues.
On the diamond, there’s a lot of saying hello at first base, but otherwise it’s whatever, which works fine.
What nobody needs is the immediate ritual that led to a Big 10 brouhaha, or what happens on high school soccer pitches, where a midfield handshake line is formed seconds after game’s end.
I’ve been listening to coaches at every level, in every sport, forever, praise their athletes’ competitiveness, not their athletes’ sportsmanship, because it’s presumed.
So maybe quit trying so hard.
Don’t pressure the PA person to drone on, explaining “everyone’s behavior should be characterized by generosity and genuine concern for others” because it never will be. They want to win.
For the players, enforce nothing.
In the name of leaving everything on the field, court and diamond, athletes need not be asked to keep a little bit back to get through a ritual designed for everybody else, not them.