Monday, June 11, 2012

On Sportsmanship

No one denies that sports create a hyper competitive atmosphere in which two opponents square off in order to beat the other.  These situations create tension, cause adrenaline to flow, and stir up emotions like frustration, anger, ecstasy, and relief.

While watching game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, I came to the conclusion that both teams, were they to win, deserved the victory for their effort and tenacity throughout the series.  These two teams had their differences, but in the end, the both teams showed heart and played with fiery competitiveness.  The Heat won game 7 and thus earned the right to move on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals beginning tomorrow in Oklahoma City.

With about half a minute left in the game and the score skewed in Miami's favor, Doc Rivers, the Celtics head coach, removed his star players from the game.  The Heat allowed the clock to run out, thus beginning a celebration in the American Airlines Arena in Miami.  Instead of walking onto the court and shaking hands following the final buzzer, Celtics point guard and center, Rajan Rondo and Kevin Garnett respectively, left the court for the locker room.  Back on the court, the two head coaches shook hands, as is customary, and the other players gathered amongst a throng of reporters and player personel to shake hands.  Whether these players actually congratulated each other or merely made dinner plans is unknown, but one thing is for sure, Rondo and Garnett were no where to be seen.  The ESPN cameras made sure to follow the two Celtic stars as they left the court and headed directly for the away locker room.

Flyers and Penguins players shaking hands
 following a hard fought playoff series
This sparked a conversation between me and my friend Jake concerning sports and sportsmanship.  Jake, a devout hockey fan and player, remarked that he disliked the post-game activities of the players, and he especially expressed disappointment in Garnett and Rondo for leaving the court without even shaking hands.  He pointed out to me that at the end of every NHL playoff series the players from both teams line up in the middle of center ice and shake hands.  This tradition does not exist for every regular season game or even every playoff game, but is mandatory after a playoff series.  The NHL seems to understand something the NBA does not, that sportsmanship is important.

Professional athletes are role models and should act accordingly.  In Baseball the winning team usually celebrates by shaking each other's hands in the middle of the infield, while the losing team retreats directly to their respective locker room.  As a high school baseball player, we were expected to shake hands with the opposing team following the final out, lest you found yourself being chewed out by the coaches.  In American Legion Baseball every player and coach lines up before the game and recites the official pledge, which states: "I will keep the rules.  I will keep faith with my teammates.  I will keep my temper.  I will keep a stout heart in defeat.  I will keep my pride under in victory.  I will keep a sound soul, a clean mind, and a healthy body."  Imagine if every NBA player had to recite those lines in front of 20,000 fans and millions of television viewers.  It would never happen, but it should.

Every statement in the American Legion pledge speaks to sportsmanship.  First, all players should abide by the rules of the game, also known as, "no cheating".  Every player should have faith with his teammates because teammates should be respected too.  Keeping one's temper under check, having a stout heart in defeat and quelling one's pride in victory all point directly to good sportsmanship.  Players should not gloat when they win or throw a fit when they lose, these are characteristics of immature children, not honest competitors.  Finally, keeping a sound soul, clean mind, and healthy body refer to respecting oneself as much if not more than one's opponents.  So, to recap, according to American Legion Baseball, players should respect their teammates, the other team, and themselves.  I would think that if 16 year olds can abide by these simple maxims that professional athletes could do the same.

At the end of every soccer match the players cheer for the fans.  They say "thank you" to their fans for supporting them in victory or defeat, a gesture never seen in the four major American sports (Baseball, Basketball, Football, and Hockey).  Not only do the players shake hands with each other and thank the fans, often times they will exchange jerseys with the opposing team's players in order to have a momento with which to remember the match.  Don't get me wrong, there is no love lost in soccer, but no matter how hard fought and grueling, following any given match, the players make a public showing of good will towards each other and the fans.

The issues with sportsmanship and professional sports are many, but they are easily ameliorated.  NBA commissioner David Stern should fine both Rajan Rondo and Kevin Garnett for walking off the court before the end of game 7, and issue a separate fine for not shaking hands with their opponents.  After incidents like the "Malice in the Palace" and Metta World Peace's "accidental" elbow to James Harden's head, the NBA needs to portray less of a thug image.  Fining two of the NBA's best and most visible players is a good start, but David Stern should also institute a rule saying that both teams (we are only talking 12 players per team) must lineup and shake hands at the end of every playoff series, similar to the NHL.  It should take place before the customary celebration and trophy ceremony so that the fans, both in the arena and on TV, see that despite the fierce competitive spirits portrayed during the games, the players are peers who respect each other.

The NBA is not the only league in need of a sportsmanship makeover.  Major League Baseball and Bud Selig should direct all teams to shake hands following the end of every playoff series.  The celebratory dog piles seen at the end of every MLB playoff series make for great TV, and are well deserved, but after the dust has settled, both teams should lineup and shake hands before retreated to their respective clubhouses.

Wade and Rajan Rondo
As Garnett and Rondo left the court prior to the final buzzer sounding, the ESPN commentators made quick mention of the Celtics' early exit, but said nothing else concerning the matter.  I assumed that the next morning I would hear SportCenter anchors talking about the unsportsmanlike conduct displayed by Rondo and Garnett, but instead they barely made mention of it.  As a sports fan I was very disappointed.  Usually pundits salivate over their chance to mention a sports star's improprieties, but not in this case.  If a player is arrested for DUI, accused of rape, or in the middle of a divorce, cable news channels pounce on the story, reporting up to the minute details as if martians had just landed on earth, but a lack of sportsmanship goes unreported.

So, let's all remember that a sporting event, while fun, exciting, and important, is just a game.  Nothing is more important in competition than respecting your opponents, your teammates, and above all, yourself.  Parents remind your children, friends remind your friends, and fans remind your fellow fans that we should all show some sportsmanship and be respectful of one another.


  1. Remember last year when Dirk walked off the court after beating the Heat in the finals
    He didn't shake the Heat's hands and instead wanted time for himself. No one complained that Dirk was being selfish, unsportsmanlike, or disrespectful. Instead people took it as a sign of how emotional he was and how he finally captured his dream. If you watch the whole thing you will also notice Lebron walks off, without congratulating as well. I love to rip on Lebron but in this case these is nothing wrong with it. When you come that close to your goal and lose it you will be an emotional wreck, and everyone deals with it in their own way. There is nothing wrong with what he did, and when he loses to the Thunder in the Finals this year, I expect him to do the same again.

    To state that Rondo and KG need to be fined is ludicrous. They acted with emotion. There is a precedent in basketball that shaking hands is optional in big games like this, and to act dignified calling out these two players is way out of line. If anything this should focus on why the NBA allows this, because hundreds of basketball players have done this, and is part of NBA culture.

  2. First, thanks for commenting. Second, let me defend myself. Sports are emotional and to professional athletes it is their careers, their livelihood, their lives. These games are important to them and to their fans. I played sports for years and let me tell you teams I played on lost more than we won. Defeat isn't easy, especially at such a high level (see What Rondo and KG did is typical of the NBA. You bring up a good example, that Dirk Nowitzki did something similar in the finals against the Heat last year, and you're right. I couldn't include every instance of players leaving the court before the game is over or leaving before shaking hands with the other team because there are too many.
    KG and Rondo were singled out in this article because they were the most recent culprits. I could care less about being an "emotional wreck" because these players are supposed to be professionals. A true professional deals with his emotions like a man, and doesn't pout by leaving the scene without congratulating the victors or at the very least saying "good game". Just because there is precedent for what they did doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean that it shouldn't change. I'm saying they should be fined because it is an epidemic in the NBA, as well as other leagues, and somebody needs to put a stop to it. I'm not saying that teams should do this after every game, just at the end of playoff series. You think that NHL games don't have emotions in them? The NHL still makes the teams shake hands after playoff series despite the fact that the two teams just spent a minimum of 4 games knocking the stuffing out of each other. It isn't about pointing a finger and it isn't about bias, it's simply about good sportsmanship.

  3. When stuff like this is common in American Sports
    something like shaking hands doesn't have the same urgency or meaning to sportsmanship. Now I know that they're supposed to lead by example and all that but they're not shoving that aside like it don't mean anything. They know it's important, they honestly do but we're talking about post agme. We're talking about post game man. We're talking about post game. We're talking about post game. We're not talking about the game. We're talking about post game. When you come to the arena, and you see them play, you've seen them play right, you've seen them give everything they've got, but we're talking about post game right now.