A look at sportsmanship

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David Epps

When I was in the 7th grade, my father took me to my first high school football game. Dobyns-Bennett High School of Kingsport, Tenn., was playing Jellico (Tenn.) High. Dobyns-Bennett beat Jellico by a score of 89-0. It was a rout. D-B went undefeated that year and won the state championship. Later, I would play for that same school.

I should mention that D-B has seven football state championships and, as far as I can discern, more football victories than any other team in the history of Tennessee high school football. When I played, everybody hated us and, I presume, they still do. No one likes a powerhouse (think New England Patriots) except the fans of the powerhouse. Everybody wants to beat you, to knock you off, and, if possible, to humiliate you. If powerhouses are wise, they learn to win with grace and humility.

The United States Women’s Soccer Team defeated Thailand in the World Cup tournament last week by a score of 13-0. In football terms, this is the equivalent of 91-0. It is a crushing, humiliating defeat for a team whose culture puts a great deal of emphasis on saving face. The U.S. team has come under withering criticism by many.

Back in 1964, when D-B played Jellico, the state championship was determined by the sportswriters and not by a playoff system. Lopsided scores figured into the equation. Even today, in the College Division I playoffs for the National Championship, teams feel obligated to run up the score in order to secure a place in the “final four.” It’s not a good situation but it is what it is. This is not the situation in the FIFA World Cup.

There are those who say that the women’s coach should have pulled the first teamers out at, say, the 6-0 score and let the substitutes play. After all, this is nearly an insurmountable score, Others opine that it was fine to leave the starters in but they shouldn’t have taken shots on the goal after they were so far ahead. There is a valid argument for playing the subs. But to allow the starters to just play with the team and not do their best would be even more humiliating for the Thailand team.

One of my granddaughters was on a little girls soccer team a couple of years ago when this very thing happened. They were so far behind as to make winning impossible and the opposing coach told his girls not to score. It was terribly embarrassing for the losing team to feel like they were in a “cat and mouse” scenario where the other team was “just playing with them.”

The real problem, in my estimation, is that the U.S. team treated every single one of the 13 goals as if it was the shot that won the World Championship. The celebrations, while appropriate for goals 1 through 5, were over the top for goals 6 through 13. There was little grace and no humility demonstrated by the women’s team.

There’s a reason or two that the world hates the United States. In most things, we are the big dog. In most instances we are the victors. Often, however, we are also boastful, loud, and arrogant.

I do not fault the team for the 13-0 score. They did what they were trained and coached to do. “Play to the final whistle,” is the instruction most athletes receive. Athletes who stop short may find themselves on the losing side. One could fault the coach for not playing the subs, but that’s a coaching call. But the raucous celebrations on every single goal? There’s the rub.

Even the National Football League has banned excessive celebrations after a score. College football, ruled by the NCAA, imposed a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebrations. Most of American society deems these excesses as unseemly and unnecessary. And they are. Just do the job. Win the game. Don’t rub it in.

The downside is that the opposition will, if possible, get even. The Bible says, “Do not be deceived … whatever a person (or sports team) sows, that will they also reap.” Or, in the vernacular, “What goes around, comes around.” If the opposition can humiliate the big dog, you can bet your bank account that they will. It’s said that “nobody likes a sore loser.” It’s equally true that “nobody can stand an arrogant winner.”

Humility in victory goes a long way. The United States sports teams should try it sometime. It’s called “sportsmanship.”

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]