IT WAS the men's singles tennis final. The armchair sportsman adjusted his TV set and sat back comfortably to watch his favorite sport — played by the current champions. TV cameras panned around the huge crowd. The day was hot, tension hung in the air and the contestants were nervous. Play began and the shots were dazzling. The match was even. As it hung in the balance, tempers flared — and then came a disputed line call. It was all that was needed to set off a torrent of abuse at line judges, the umpire and spectators. Then came the throwing down of a racket, the hitting of balls in the net and vocal exchanges with spectators. It was an all-too-common "sporting" scene and not confined only to tennis. The TV viewer's own anger now erupted at the hold-up in play. "Get on with the game," he shouted at the TV set. "Don't take that from him, Ump. Send him off the court! Ban him from the game." But it fell on deaf ears. The TV set couldn't transmit his feelings.
Disrespect for Rules and Opponents
Good sportsmanship seems old-fashioned, a thing of the past. Anger and argument have invaded even the usually placid gentlemanly sports. Like golf. Notice the thrown-down golf clubs, kicked up turf, and clubs thrown at golf bags. Cricket sees scuffles and jostling among batsmen and fielders. Defeated players walk off the playing arena and refuse to acknowledge the umpire. Wild melees involving every player on the field are commonplace. And now even the gentlemanly circles of ocean sailing have caught the modern plague of bad sportsmanship. Witness the claims and counterclaims of foul play and unfair tactics surrounding last year's America's Cup challenge off Rhode Island. Then think also of the efforts of mostly volunteer labor. The players win prizes. The volunteers work for nothing or little. Yet they, as well as umpires, submit to uncalled — for abuse for doing their job. Newspaper and magazine writers describe many sports in terms of the battlefield: "Crushed, blitzed, demoralized, flattened, devastated." Games are described variously as combinations of "brawls and brilliance" "mayhem and magic." Have you ever wondered why so many athletes look like ex-boxers? The cauliflower ears, broken noses and facial scars all attest to the reality that violence in sports has become part of theĽ game. The number of crippled players at hospital casualty centers after various games demonstrates how injurious many sports have become. What has happened to society that many sports can no longer be played in a fair and good spirit? Even the Olympic Games seem entangled with politics, and Olympic hopefuls with illegal sporting practices.
To Win at Any Cost
Winning, it would seem, is all that matters. Money going mainly to the winner is too strong an element to allow much time or thought to being fair. Yet, to win is often the difference of only one stroke, one point, one second or one goal. Coaches know only too well that all the world loves a winner and that no one seems interested in who comes second. They know the all-but-impossible task of psyching up a team that knows it has no chance of making the finals. With this pressure on professional sports it's little wonder that children and teenagers emulate adults the same way. The tragic eruption of violence plagues underage sporting events. We have a generation that mimics the brats of tennis, the muggers of British football, the belligerent of cricket-yes, and even mimic the drug-takers that are coming to light in many sports today. Oh yes, some few individuals do take a stand against obnoxious players. And some efforts are also made by sporting bodies to promote decent play. Credit should be given them. Administrators and officials and the majority of athletes are concerned about violence in sports. They express a loss at how to go about cleaning up the mayhem. But journalists report that increasing numbers of spectators want to see blood, to see violence happen, to see a fiery crash at motor sports. And so, in the confusion, the motivation to win at any cost is too strong for most sports to change today. So what can you do to help promote good sportsmanship? Whether participant or spectator, refuse to give in to temper, anger and the human desire to punch or hit back at another. Develop greater skills, if you are a player, to keep out of danger. Win by talent and ability-not by unfair tactics. As a sporting man or woman, be known for your fair play and self-control. Be a good sport! Don't buy the concept that winning is everything! True, winning is important in life. It is a goal to strive for. Do try your best. But only winning is not what's most important. Equally important is to be able to hold your head up in defeat. Why be sour faced and crestfallen at losing when often such loss was only by a few points and the game could have gone either way? Someone must win-and no one is at his or her best all the time. Don't be overcome by whimsical defeat. It is after all, just a game. It is unlikely for the present that we can expect trends other than more obnoxious behavior, more disrespect for authorities and more violence. Watch for the unthinkable to happen-actual fisticuffs on the tennis court and golf tee! Until the heart changes, practice won't. To change the heart takes a change of spirit and character. It takes character to keep a tight rein on your emotions when you are provoked. It takes character to lift up your head when an opponent rubs it in about a thrashing and when the newspapers criticize your team.
It's How You Play the Game
But character will become the new trend that one day will permeate all sports. And that same character built in sports will hold you in good stead for the game of life. Did you know that one biblical writer, the apostle Paul, wrote of character in a sporting analogy? He observed the techniques of athletic training. He explained that character is keeping control of your emotions and temper. He described how he kept himself in check: "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air [like a shadow boxer or a contestant who misses the chin of an opponent]. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection... " (I Cor. 9:24-27, Revised Authorized Version). Paul strove to be a disciplined person who could take defeat as gracefully as receiving the glory for winning. Enjoy sport, but play it fair. It will do more for your character and produce a happier attitude. Finally, there is a lot of truth in the old-fashioned saying: "It isn't whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." If you can't play sports fairly and in a good spirit, what will be your approach to playing the more important game of life?