Like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, sportsmanship in professional sports is being struck by many knives. First on the scene were the gloating end zone dancers, followed by the defensive tacklers' high-fives. Then, the worst of all, helmet hitters. Now, fans are showing they can be poor sports, too, as they roar up the decibels to drown out a visiting team's signal calling. We've even seen players on the sideline encouraging the interfering yelling (not to be confused with cheering).
Over the years, I've witnessed many great athletes thrilling stadium and arena crowds: Tom Harmon, Jackie Jensen, Hank Luisetti, Willie Mays and Stan Musial, to name a few. Certainly, they must have been happy after scoring crucial touchdowns, sinking long shots or hitting homers. Yet they did so with dignity and a touch of class. Trash talking? Leave that for the drunks in the stands.
Two of my favorite sports stories occurred in track and field: At the Australian National Championships in 1956, John Landy was on world record pace on the third lap of the mile run when young Ron Clarke tripped and fell in front of him. Landy hurdled him, but nicked Clark's shoulder with his spikes in the process. Then he stopped, came back to help Clark up and make sure he was alright before resuming the race. The record? Landy missed it by six seconds, the time it took to aid the fallen Clarke -- sportsmanship!
The other incident also involved Ron Clarke, who once held every world record from the 2-mile to the one-hour run yet never won at the Olympics. Years afterward, Clarke flew to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to visit Emil Zátopek, holder of four gold medals from two Olympics (1948 and 1952). As he was leaving, Zátopek handed him a small package, "Not to be opened until your plane is in the air."
Upon opening it, he found a gold medal with a note, "You have been much too good a runner not to have one of these. Since I have four, I gladly give you one. Emile."
When I directed the Alameda Boys' Club in the 1950s, sportsmanship was regularly stressed. What good were victories if unfair advantage had been used to gain them? Quite often the lesson was learned by example.
One Saturday morning, our club hosted four teams from East Oakland's Boys' Club. Just before the 90lb game, our coach, Chuck Fiannaca, announced that East Oakland's 90s only had four players -- what should we do? Tommy Harper, age 12, the best player on the team, immediately responded, "We'll play them with four, coach, it's the only fair thing to do!"
I can't really recall much about that game, but I'll never forget Tommy's words, " ... it's the only fair thing to do!" Tommy later went into the major leagues.
Our beginning reference to Caesar's death reminds me; tomorrow is once again the Ides of March.
Contact Joe King at email@example.com.