The media, as well as sports fans, often critique players and coaches who display poor sportsmanship, but rarely commend them for acting in an admirable manner on and off the field.
Good sportsmanship is taught starting in little league and gym class, but is often lost somewhere on the way up to the college and professional levels. It's time for that trend to change.
The examination of sportsmanship requires a look into an NCAA women's soccer game between Brigham Young University and the University of New Mexico. UNM defender Elizabeth Lambert committed a series of unforgivable acts that included punches, takedowns and dirty slide tackles. During one play, she grabbed an opponent's ponytail and yanked down so hard she pulled the girl to the ground. It may sound like an exaggeration, but it really happened - search for it on YouTube.
Amazingly, her teammates did not intervene, her coach didn't bench her and the referees only awarded her one yellow card. Most of her actions went unnoticed by the officials.
Lambert later publicly apologized for her actions, only after the footage was criticized and scrutinized on ESPN. She gave an interview with the New York Times in an attempt to make it clear that she wasn't a dirty player. This, however, did not prevent New Mexico from suspending her indefinitely.
Last weekend, the UCLA Bruins and the University of Southern California Trojans squared off in their last football game of the regular season. The 20th-ranked and heavily favored Trojans were comfortably leading 21-7 in the final minute of the game with the ball, but the Bruins still had timeouts left. Instead of running the ball to wind down the clock, USC took a knee and UCLA promptly called a timeout, despite being down by two touchdowns.
USC then called a play-action and quarterback Matt Barkley threw a deep pass to an open receiver downfield for a touchdown. USC head coach Pete Carroll, who strongly encouraged the play selection, raised both of his arms in triumph, and the USC sideline went wild. As the Trojans' dancing drifted onto the field, UCLA's sideline cleared, but their coaches headed off the players and prevented a fight between the two teams.
As a casual fan of NCAA football, I was disgusted with this display. USC blatantly ran up the score and demeaned an opponent. Yes, UCLA should have been able to stop the score, but it is unacceptable to show up an opponent like that. And then to raucously celebrate? I would've been ashamed to be a USC fan.
The game's broadcasters sounded shocked at USC's decision, and said they believed that the aftermath of the play would evolve into an altercation. Strangely enough, there were few in the media or in the world of college football who spoke out against the play when there should have been an outcry against such behavior. The Bruins and their coaching staff deserve praise for having the discipline to refrain from fighting, and then to downplay the incident after the game.
Professional sports fail to eliminate unsportsmanlike conduct as well. Just this week, professional tennis player Serena Williams was fined $82,500 for her actions at a Grand Slam tournament on Sept. 12. Williams yelled obscenities at a lineswoman after she called a rare foot fault. The penalty of a point that resulted gave Williams' opponent the match victory - her misconduct directly affected the outcome of her match.
Tirades of this nature occur more often than they should. It happens throughout all professional sports: whether it is Orlando Magic forward Matt Barnes throwing a ball into the seats, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler being fined for abusive conduct towards an official or Chicago Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley being suspended for criticizing his team.
Sports Illustrated has selected New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who had an unbelievable statistical year, as the recipient of their Sportsman of the Year award. He won the Hank Aaron Award for the American League's best hitter and a Golden Glove for his defense.
The committee was likely swayed by Jeter's leadership through a championship season and his Turn 2 Foundation that helps kids stay away from alcohol and drugs. Jeter showed how much he values sportsmanship when he called the award, "… One of the greatest honors you can achieve in sports."
Leagues punish players with fines and suspensions, but the message doesn't seem to get through to some professional athletes: when you are in the public eye, you have to behave appropriately. Kids look up to their favorite athletes as role models.
If younger fans see this type of behavior, it is harder for them to understand how wrong it is. Recognizing players like Jeter, as well as past winners such as Michael Phelps, Brett Favre and Dwayne Wade, can provide role models to other athletes and the youth of America.