The Importance and Power of Sportsmanship In the Time of a Pandemic

Who wouldn’t like Merriam-Webster’s definition of sportsmanship: conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport?” The word and definition sound so – British – in a really good way.

According to our friends at Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the data speaks for itself in that our word “sportsmanship” ranks right up there as one of the most popular words used in today’s society. The word had its origins from our friends across the pond in England and dates back to the 1700s with those men in the upper class who engaged in country sports, such as hunting and fishing according to

Although I am not a fan of the root word “man” in sportsMANship, for the sake of argument, let’s move into the 21st century, and corral both men and women into our commentary. At long last, this brings us to the main point of my argument, which is that not so much the word, but the meaning behind the word, is at the heart of the matter – what has happened to sportsmanship, not only on the field and court but in all aspects of our lives? What in the world has happened to our fair and gracious conduct?

In high school and college, I played several sports. The goal was not only to win but to win in a fair and competitive manner. At the end of the game, regardless of the score, shaking the opponent’s hand and uttering those words “good game” to each player on the opposing team was a part of the expectation and conclusion of the game. Maybe a player or two on the team played dirty or wasn’t particularly a good sport; yet, they still offered their hand or stick as we extended our graciousness to the team. We then boarded the bus and were either happy that we won or deflated that we lost. However, the point was that we would get back on the field and court and with our teammates, play our hearts out over and over again during what often became a very long season.

Those of us who have played a team sport typically take that mindset into the classroom. During class, we attach the principles of playing a sport to those around us. We work hard and fair and compete within ourselves to tackle the content of each subject. In group work, we collaborate and discuss a mutual solution. At home, we do our best to get along with pesky siblings and complete the chores and errands that seem to devour us during our precious waking hours after school and playing a sport. We may not always like being a team player, but the moral and ethical values imparted to us when we first started playing a sport stays with us.

Whether we go to college or not, we apply our sportsmanship behavior to our careers. We approach our area of expertise with gusto, determination, and the ability to play along with those we both like and dislike – we apply our sportsmanlike conduct to one another and feel quite proud of ourselves.

So, what happened? How did we lose this willingness to be a part of humanity? When we started the year at school, we made the pledge to “stay apart to stay together.” We faithfully wore our masks all day and we kept our social distancing. We were part of a community, part of a team. We were proud of ourselves. Outside of our campus, we quickly realized that not everyone wants to play in our game.

A quick drive to the local grocery store finds my team spirit demoralized as many wear a mask under their noses risking the spread of the COVID-19 virus to others. Over the Thanksgiving break, while I stay home with just my husband and daughter and furry family eating our first attempt at cooking a turkey, I hear about other family members traveling in planes and cars to have Thanksgiving together. I watch the news and see people shoved into a political event with no mask in sight. Ugh, I have been playing the game and doing my best to be a team player, but why can’t everyone else? It’s hard to model sportsmanship-like behavior when everyone around you refuses to play along.

But, there is this silent minority of those of us who refuse to quit. We will keep up playing the game in the real world and sticking to our sportsmanship behavior. It will be hard and sometimes we will want to throw in the towel; yet, here we are because we truly believe that the world is a good place and those of us who play by the rules may lose a game or two, but our sportsmanship spirit will always make us a winner – every single time!