Whatever happened to sportsmanship?

By Mitch Calvert

Too often nowadays, athletes have transposed from the sports section to the front pages of daily newspapers—not for their record-breaking feats on the playing field, but because of their lack of respect for the laws that govern us.
Remember Adam “Pacman” Jones, who was arrested twice—once for assault and another for disorderly conduct and public intoxication? Remember Tonya Harding having rival skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knees taken out? And who can forget Michael Vick (dog fighting)?
Sports are supposed to represent our culture’s values, mirroring and shaping the way we ought to live in real life. Based on civility, sportsmanship, and athleticism, sports are supposed to be a celebration of the progression our society has made both in conduct and physical ability.
This weekend’s Sabres’ contests featured a good number of showboating antics from the visiting Thunder Bay Bearcats.
One of their defenceman, Brad Pawlowski, listed at 6’3 and 210 pounds, continually went after some of the smaller Sabres after the whistle on Saturday night but wouldn’t engage when Logan McDonell or Brendan Baumgartner tried to settle matters the old-fashioned way.
Pawlowski stood by and laughed as Baumgartner tried to free himself from the linesman at the end of the game to get after him, and then taunted the crowd one last time while on the way to the dressing room.
I mean, this was WWE stuff, folks.
Then there was the Selanne-like “shoot-the-glove” celebration after a penalty shot goal for the Bearcats in the series-opener Friday night. Sorry kid, but breaking the rookie scoring record in the NHL is worthy of that kind of celebration, not one in the first game of the SIJHL season.
Maybe if players were required to shake hands after the game, they’d be more inclined to play within the rules for fear of being held accountable when the final buzzer goes.
But not all of the blame can be placed on the players, either. There is an extreme emphasis on winning nowadays, which is at the root of the problem.
The pressure to win at all costs has led many athletes to cheat through the use of banned substances like anabolic steroids. The drug culture in a sport like hockey is probably overblown, as bulking up would limit one’s abilities to play such an cardiovascular activity. But when San Diego Chargers’ lineman Shawne Merriman was suspended for three games for testing positive for a banned substance last season, the public didn’t even bat an eye.
Maybe it’s expected in the NFL, where the wear-and-tear and physical abuse hardly would seem plausible without some sort of chemical assistance.
But then you see athletes like Roger Clemens and Marion Jones vilified for doing the same things, and you definitely begin to question the double standard in our sports culture today.
Before I ramble off in another direction, I also think this degradation of sportsmanship in today’s athletes can be attributed to the money-hungry values our society encourages. Winning puts butts in the seats at all levels of sport, and winning in pro sports brings with it big TV contracts and higher ratings.
Owners and teams now put up with the likes of Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson or “Pacman” Jones because they can perform well on the field, despite being bad ambassadors for the sport off of it. As long as they can contribute to the team in the win column, nothing else seems to matter.
Thankfully, not everyone in pro sports lives by this mentality. I applauded Carolina Panthers’ coach Jim Fox for bucking this disturbing trend and having the kahunas to suspend his No. 1 receiver Steve Smith after Smith decided to rearrange teammate Ken Lucas’ face during a sideline scuffle in training camp.
Despite losing their top player, the Panthers rallied around their coach and won their first two games of the season.
Winning certainly is fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s unfortunate what extremes players are willing to go to in order to win. The pressures professional athletes are under from fans, media, coaches, and owners, as well as the monetary rewards that come with improved performance, definitely can tempt someone into going to those extremes.
Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to change as long as sports continue to run as big business operations where players are just highly-paid pawns in the game.

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