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Good Sportsmanship: Still To Be Found

Between rampant misconduct among some professional athletes and what sometimes seems to be a culture of winning at any costs, it sometimes seems that good sportsmanship and character are vanishing from American life. A recent article by Brad Herzog makes the important point that character and honor are still found on the country’s athletic fields.  A couple of examples, starting with the story of Sarah Tucholsky:

In April 2008, the 5-foot-2 right fielder for the Western Oregon University softball team had never hit a home run, not even in batting practice. Yet in the second inning against Central Washington University she knocked a pitch over the center field fence for an apparent three-run homer. She exuberantly sprinted toward first base, then forgot to touch it. She stopped abruptly … and felt something give in her knee. She collapsed in the base path and crawled back to first.

The umpires informed her coach that rules forbade Tucholsky’s teammates from assisting her around the bases. And a pinch runner would relegate the hit to a two-run single. So much for the only home run of her four-year career. That’s when Mallory Holtman, the opposing team’s first baseman, and the all-time leading home run hitter in the conference, spoke up: “Can I help her out?”

Holtman and teammate Liz Wallace gently lifted their injured opponent and resumed the home run walk, pausing to allow Tucholsky to touch each base. The three of them began to laugh as they rounded the bases, but the rest of the folks in the stadium—the Western team, the coaches, the crowd—were wiping away tears.

Or there is this story from a boys’ basketball game in Wisconsin in February 2009:

At a local hospital, co-captain Johntel Franklin, surrounded by several of his teammates, was by his mother’s bedside as she lost a five-year battle with cervical cancer. Coach Aaron Womack Jr. decided to cancel the evening’s game. But Franklin talked him out of it, and early in the second quarter of a close contest, the grieving son showed up at the gym. The team called a time-out as players and fans offered hugs and condolences, and Womack invited Franklin to take a seat on the bench. “No,” he said. “I want to play.”

Unfortunately, the coach hadn’t included Franklin on the pregame roster, meaning the other team, Dekalb High, would be awarded two technical foul shots. Dekalb coach Dave Rohlman refused. “We’re not taking it,” he told the referees, over and over. Still, the refs insisted. Rules were rules. Dekalb senior Darius McNeal walked toward the free-throw line. “You realize you’re going to miss them, don’t you?” Rohlman told him. McNeal nodded.

His first shot landed two feet away. The second time he just dropped the ball. When the home team realized what was happening, the players stood, turned toward the opposing bench and began clapping. Soon, the crowd was applauding the visiting team too. After the game, which Milwaukee Madison won, the two teams went out for pizza together. Said Rohlman, “This is something our kids will hold onto for a lifetime. They may not remember our record 20 years from now, but they’ll remember what happened in the gym that night.”

Read the whole thing. All over this country, Americans keep choosing to do the right thing and it is particularly heartening to see that so many people in the rising generation have already learned some of the most important lessons life has to teach.

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  • Jeremy, Alabama

    Being born in England, this resonates with every Englishman and cricketer of a certain age. Before the advent of Big Money, it was absolutely expected of a batsman to walk after whiffing at the ball. Waiting for the umpire to pronounce was treated with the deepest ignominy.

    Having been gone for twenty-plus years, I’m not exactly sure when the change occurred, but Cricket has definitely changed. Partly, extremely cynical umpirage by Pakistanis and Indians is to blame (the West Indies teams never needed any help from local referees, and some of those Pakistani and Indian teams did not need help but got it anyway). But most notably, when there are large sums at stake, cricketers behave a whole lot more like NFL wide receivers after a loose catch. Winning is not the main thing. It is the only thing. And it would be the only thing for me, too, for a few thou.

  • Anthony

    Character and honor attributes not publicly promoted nor culturally mass valued in our consumer/acquisitive society; however timeless attributes that speak to human capacity for selflessness (in this case sportsmanship). Thanks WRM for these two examples of generational hope.

  • Jim.

    Competition is critical to determine what human potential is.

    Sportsmanship is critical to prevent hypercompetitiveness from creating a hellish environment for us all.

    Living in a world without Competition is pathetic – people who think we should do so deprive humanity of one of its most powerful tools.

    Living in a world without Sportsmanship is horrifying. People will fight against it, and rightfully so.

    If you like Competition — teach Sportsmanship.

  • Some Sock Puppet

    Thank you for this. I’m in an area where character is frowned upon and doing the right thing is for suckers.

    I miss my small town roots where people were decent to one another.

    This helped remind me of that.

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