THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
What's the old saying? Life imitates art? Or is it art imitates life? Well, one imitates the other, right?
How about sports? Are sports art? Are sports life? Do sports fit into the conversation about one imitating the other?
On the surface, probably not. But here's a news flash: life imitates sports, especially when it comes to the sportsmanship of the Presidential Election of the United States of America.
Have you ever stepped back to ask why sportsmanship is so poor in American society at this point in time? The answer is very complicated and probably worthy of a dissertation (or at least an HBO special...HBO, if you're reading this, I'm available). There are arguments to be made until the end of time to answer this question. In fact, I would wager that if you surveyed ten different people and asked them to answer this question, it's very possible you could get ten different answers. Perhaps those answers would range from hazing and bullying to parental influence to imitation of idols to the self-centered belief of entitlement we perpetuate as a country.
However, one thing is for sure: if you watch the professional competitions we televise in this country under the heading of "sports," you may have enough evidence to write the book on poor sportsmanship.
Why is it that we get a story every week about two fans fighting at an NFL game? Why do we hear about parents and coaches berating officials at their 10-year-old kids' baseball games? Why do people suffer from injuries and trauma (both physical and emotional) due to hazing by their teammates? Why do regular fans get their brains beaten in when they root for the visiting team? Why do people put their heads through their television set when their team loses the Super Bowl?
It starts on the field.
On Monday night this week, we had a controversial call in the football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks when Seahawks corner back Richard Sherman was playing Special Teams to try to block a field goal attempt by the Bills to close out the first half. Sherman jumped before the snap of the ball, clearly committing a penalty of encroachment, which caused the officials to whistle the play dead. However, as per the rote of the tandem of long-snapper, holder, and kicker, once the ball was snapped, kicker Dan Carpenter approached the ball held still on the ground and went through his motion to kick it. Sherman continued to sprint around the line after getting a huge illegal jump and dove to block the kick. The problem was that he jumped right into Carpenter and injured him.
The officials did not call any sort of penalty other than the offside penalty. However, trainers rushed out to tend to Carpenter. By rule, however, since a player was injured on the play, causing the clock to stop and for trainers to tend to him on the field, and the cause of the injury was not a penalty of roughing/running into the kicker or similar, Carpenter had to come out of the game for one play. A whole mess later (which is another story for another time), Carpenter eventually came back in and missed the field goal to end the half.
Sherman is no stranger to these types of arrogant controversies. Later in the game, when he made an interception, he taunted Bills head coach Rex Ryan, causing Ryan to yell at Sherman not only for the immaturity of the taunt, but also for the perceived dirty play to injure his kicker. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was later asked about it, to which he responded that Ryan should worry about coaching his own team.
Ryan's response? To remind the pot to stop calling the kettle black.
Players like Sherman (and perpetuated by coaches like Carroll) are the epitome of what is creating havoc in the game of football. Other players like Colin Kaepernick and his protests of perceived racial injustice cause the same sort of response, causing those who watch football to create an opinion and become divided among their fellow fans who do not necessarily agree with said opinion. The dirty play and the unnecessary conflict that gets picked up by the media and broadcast to the world perpetuates a downward spiral of poor sportsmanship in all facets of life since the fans of these games have to live their lives outside of sports.
It doesn't stop with football. In baseball, the practice of hitting batters on purpose, or "plunking," is a stupid understood and unwritten rule about "protecting" players from being bullied by pitchers who can't control their pitches. If you hit a player on the other team, that team's pitcher will hit someone on your team. You hit the third baseman? That team's pitcher will hit your third baseman. You hit their best player? Your best player is getting hit. And if you're in the National League, watch out: pitchers have to bat. So it might be you getting hit.
And don't even get me started on hockey. This is a game that actually allows fighting. The penalty for fighting is a few minutes in a penalty box, the equivalent of being sent to your room for an hour when you were a kid. In the other sports, fighting gets you ejected, fined, and possibly suspended. In hockey, you're expected to fight. Your teammates, your coaches, your opponents, and even the officials are all expecting you to drop the gloves at some point that night.
If that isn't the perfect description of how society allows idiocy to remain in our lives, then I don't know what else is...other than politics.
Ironically enough, our political system is the equivalent of hockey. If you are a politician, you are expected to be critical, demonstrative, and down right mean and nasty to your opponent to get your way. Debates between politicians are seen as verbal wrestling matches, or perhaps as fights during a hockey game. Smear campaigns are the equivalent of mud-slinging. Everyone is expected to fight dirty, and the last man standing, all bruised and bloodied and covered in whatever substance was used to fight, gets their way or gets elected.
There is no better example to demonstrate this than the 2016 Presidential Election. What we have seen between the top two candidates (who don't even deserve to have their names mentioned here based on how poor of people they both are) has been one of the most ridiculous displays of poor human behavior in the public eye. Not one person comes away as innocent or unscathed.
But it doesn't stop there...
The hate has spread to the constituents!
Take a gander at your social media timelines, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or whatever else you use. Do you not see the overzealous and pretentious crap that spews from the fingers and the keyboards of those to whom you are connected? Do you not see your friends, family, co-workers, news reporters, and celebrities you follow just gushing with ignorant information in support of one horrible candidate over another? And worst of all, do you not see the responses from people who do not agree with those opinions and the fights that occur as a result? The division that results between friends and family over these political opinions and our lack of compassion for our fellow man is the beginning of the downfall of our civilized society.
This begs one question: why is it so hard for us to just be nicer? Why can't we each take the time to politely discuss the issues and try to see them from the perspective of the other person? We can still agree to disagree without hating each other, right?
A friend of mine recently opined very similar thoughts on Facebook, but she had a terrible story. Her mother had expressed her political beliefs, probably via Facebook, and had received such horrible, mean, vile threats that she was told to "go and stick her head in an oven."
I certainly understand the devil's advocate argument that this lady might have brought this on herself by decided to enter the public arena by sharing this information. Regardless, however, is that the proper response we want coming from other human beings as we try to live side by side? Is that how people get along and resolve conflict? In more specific terms, is it okay to tell a woman closer to senior citizen age than to youth to basically kill herself over who she supports?
If you believe the answer is yes, I'm sorry.
Here's another example. On Election Day, a popular radio host in sports talk radio in New York City revealed via Twitter that he voted for Evan McMullen, a third party candidate that unfortunately did not appear on the ballot in all states (which, in itself, is a travesty). That host was lit up on Twitter for "wasting his vote." And those people who criticized him for exercising his right to vote for whomever he pleases then began fighting among themselves over the top two candidates.
It's bad enough that our current system has devolved into a two-party system that gives no realistic chance at third party candidates to be elected. But our system gives each registered voter the right to vote for whomever he or she pleases. To insult someone for what you might believe is a "wasted vote" shows just how ignorant you really are to the fact that each American has the right to do what his or her vote as he or she pleases.
One final example: I have a private music student whose family is Republican. They live in a neighborhood and in a municipality that is mostly populated by Democrats. The family of my student chose to put a sign for the Republican Presidential Nominee on their front lawn, which is well within their rights. My student, a ten-year-old girl, has been getting mocked and ridiculed by her peers throughout the bus rides and in school because of her family's public beliefs.
That is as absurd as discriminating against someone because of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.
Whether we are discussing the candidates or the constituents, the fact of the matter is that sportsmanship applies to politics. Elections, campaigns, votes, and everything in between all consist of competition between opponents. The only difference is that these things usually do not involve the same physical dexterity required for athletic competition; this is a political competition that involves ideology and the forward progress of our society. However, we have let the practices of poor sportsmanship seep from the athletic field to the political arena.
And America seems to be okay with it.
Consider this fact that will hopefully get the ball rolling on changing this culture. Your opponent is not your enemy. The word "enemy" has a negative connotation. The word "opponent" does not. In sports, you compete with an opponent. You don't compete against an opponent. Players on various teams, however, don't keep this in mind when they compete. Some do. Others don't. I might argue that Richard Sherman does not. Someone like Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs probably does.
But the fans of these sports certainly do not understand this concept, as evidenced by the fact that fans of opposing teams get into fights, whether verbal or physical, over whose team is better. Apparently, it is impossible for these fans to appreciate both teams, even if each fan only roots for one. This behavior by fans then gets accepted into aspects of everyday living, and politics seems to be one of the greatest examples of where this acidic behavior begins to puddle.
America seems to want this, though. When a story of a behind-the-scenes truce between the two major Presidential candidates was presented, nobody in America noticed.
At the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York on October 20, 2016, the two candidates were in attendance and were backstage with Archbishop Timothy Dolan as the Catholic church was holding its annual fundraiser. Archbishop Dolan asked to pray with both candidates, after which they each reportedly showed a moment of unity. One complimented the other, saying she was an incredibly strong woman, and the other pleaded with the first, asking that regardless of the election, they come together to work hard at making the country strong again.
But America didn't pick up this story. They brushed it off and demanded that they return to the campaign trail to hurl insults at each other. They wanted the news and media outlets to influence the facts and color them in a way that their analysis feeds them what they want to hear. They needed more conflict to assure themselves that they were supporting the right candidate, and that anyone who supported the other candidate was not only wrong, but unintelligent, uninformed, and generally stupid.
And that's what they got.
As I scrolled through the various social media feeds on Election Day, I found myself un-following so many people who bothered to post anything about politics or brag about the fact that they voted. It was making me sick to see the stuff that people would just hurl onto social media with no recourse and no thought as to how it might be perceived. These premature rally cries actually screamed of fear: the fear that we, as a country, nominated candidates who may be the most imperfect and unfit to lead our country in its history. Because let's face it: if you're basing it on character alone and not on policies, there isn't a single person on the ballot who should be our next President.
And it didn't matter where I went, what station I watched on television, what radio show I listened to in the car, or anything else. People everywhere were just ranting and raving as to why their candidate was the best, why the other candidate was horrific, and that if you support the other candidate, you're stupid and probably not a contributing member of society.
And my heart broke.
Constituents hear only what they want to hear. They believe only what they want to believe, which is usually some brainwashed version of a devout pledge to one side of the political spectrum or the other. Others are too afraid to come out of their homes or to turn on the computer because they're afraid they'll get mocked for supporting a candidate that people around them do not support. We have ultimately begun to cultivate a political system that rivals the same oppressive culture that mirrors the times when racism was accepted or when religious freedom was a topic that got swept under the rug.
If you decided to cast a vote on Election Day for one of the two major Presidential candidates, fine. But if you didn't spend copious amounts of time in agony, debating which of those two major candidates is the lesser of two evils, talking it over, thinking it through, and researching it, you failed. You didn't just fail as an educated American citizen, but you also failed as a poor sport.
And if you're one of those people who encourages the behavior of poor sportsmanship in our political arena, you're probably also one of those people who allows it to occur in sports, whether professional or amateur.
Shame on you, America. You're better than this.
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Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.