Respect the Player, Respect the Game

     

    At least I would have been pretty happy, if it hadn’t been for the umpire who called my now-nemesis safe at third.

    My biographer may note this as the first time I swore at someone in public. I threw my glove on the ground and ran up to the ump to loudly and angrily challenge the call. A short while later, I found myself watching the game from the other side of a chain-link fence.

    Sportsmanship is and should always be the most important aspect of any competition, organized or otherwise. The importance of mutual respect for athletes and the game itself on any playing surface should always supersede anything the scoreboard reads or a bad call (including the Great White Sox/Reds debacle of 2002).  It just makes sense that any lingering frustrations from on-field disputes should be channeled into a non-human punching bag or a frustrated run around the block.

    The consequences of poor sportsmanship have taken on more of a spotlight role recently — most notably in the death of Utah high school soccer referee, 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo. Portillo issued a yellow card to a 17-year-old goalie whom had shoved another player. The goalie then delivered a blow to the referee’s head that hospitalized and later killed him.

    While the goalie has been charged with homicide by assault and is awaiting trial, the whole institution of organized sports took a hit with the incident. No one will disagree that a yellow card is not worth socking someone, let alone killing themhim or her. The yellow card in this case was because of yet another breach of sportsmanship in shoving another player.

    Hockey has institutionalized fighting, and NASCAR (which my mother should’nt be recognized as a sport) drivers can thrive — and often do — by foregoing sportsmanship. But organized sports seem to support, in many cases, activity that goes beyond the values we’re taught in little league. (I ended up apologizing to the umpire, my coach and the other players. I think we’ve moved past it by now.)

    Case in point: A bench-clearing brawl between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers last month left Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke with a broken collarbone after an altercation with Padres left-fielder Carlos Quentin. Greinke, who had a history of hitting Quentin with pitches, was prepared for Quentin to charge the mound in the April 11 conflict. An ESPN news story praised Greinke’s foresight by going into the collision with the Padres slugger, noting that he “lowered his left (non-throwing) shoulder into Quentin.” According to the ESPN analysis, this was the smart thing to do.

    No. There was no smart thing to do in this case, except avoid the altercation in the first place. My colleague in the Guardian office (the lone Padres fan, I might add) could argue that Quentin was provoked, and, thus, the fault lies with Greinke. (Greinke was not suspended, while Quentin and two others were.). The bottom line is that neither man’s actions are to be commended. While San Diego may have been able to use Greinke’s absence to pole vault into fourth place in the National League West, both teams took a serious hit in the sportsmanship department.

    Professional sports’ take on sportsmanship differs tremendously from our little league days of lining up in those single-file high-five lines, where, due to obligation alone, we begrudgingly mutter “good game.” Major League Baseball games stupidly end with the winning team running out of the dugout to high five their own teammates after a win. This is not the sort of sportsmanlike conduct that athletes should be comfortable with, and athletics organizers should be constantly working to improve standards for sportsmanship. 

    With the exception of “The Hunger Games,” athletes should always be prepared to play fairly, concentrate on the virtue of athletic competition over a bad call or two and shake hands with the other team’s players at the end. Anything short is a violation of the fundamental beauty of organized sport.

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