Think About It

On Being a Good Sport

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | September 29, 2012

“One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.”
Knute K. Rockne

From the moment our children begin playing sports we try to teach them to practice good sportsmanship.  We tell them not to be sore losers.  We tell them to respect their opponent.  We tell them to congratulate the winning team. 

Some children find that easier to do than others.  But every now and then we encounter a remarkable example of good sportsmanship.

On June 2, 2012 Meghan Vogel emerged as such an example.  For her, lending a helping hand was more satisfying than winning an Ohio State Championship. 

According to Dave Long in the Springfield News-Sun, “The West Liberty-Salem High School junior of Springfield, Ohio was the surprise winner in the Division III girls 1,600 meters in the finals of the state track meet at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Stadium.”

“She broke away from race favorite Tammy Berger of Versailles and Delainey Phelps of Toledo Christian with 300 meters to go.  She won going away in 4:58:31.  It was the first time she had broken the five-minute mark.”

But it was in the next race – the 3,200 meters – that earned for her a standing ovation from the spectators.  With 20 feet left to go before the finish line, Arden McMath, a sophomore from Arlington High School, collapsed in front of Vogel.  But rather than run by her, Vogel helped McMath to her feet and helped her across the finish line.

Long reported, “The crowd came to its feet with the roar growing louder with each step.”  Later, Vogel admitted, “Helping her cross the finish line was a lot more satisfying than winning the State Championship.”

According to Division III rules, a runner in track or cross-country is automatically disqualified for aiding another runner.  In this case, however, meet leaders took no action, which gave McMath 14th place and Vogel 15th place.

When I first heard this story I was deeply moved by such a stellar example of good sportsmanship.  In any athletic competition, this kind of sportsmanship is most unusual. How surprised I was to learn that not everyone shared my sentiments…or those of the spectators that day or even the meet management.

One person said, “Give the fallen runner’s coach, Paul Hunger, an F.  Even with time to think about it after-the-fact he still had the IQ of a crown of broccoli.  Give the crowd-that-roared a D.  Give high school junior Meghan Vogel a C for… being ‘selfless.’  Selfless means suspending any use of your rationality.  Give the meet management an F as well.”

Another person asserted, “The single most important person in Meghan’s life is – or OUGHT to be – Meghan! That is, in a sense, selfISH. It means that Meghan will seek to be the best person – the best Meghan – that she can be, to realize and maximize her potential as a human being.”

These responses seem very dark indeed.  As I read them I was amazed at the way a few people viewed good sportsmanship. 

Jessie Ventura went much further but he captured the unsportsmanlike approach of some when he said, “Win if you can; lose if you must, but always cheat.”

We don’t have to look very far to find ample evidence of unsportsmanlike conduct.  Out of control fans (especially parents) and coaches and players bring disgrace and embarrassment to themselves and everyone around them.  How easy it is to forget that it is only a game.

In the words of Jesse Owens, “In the end, it’s extra effort that separates a winner from second place.  But winning takes a lot more than that, too.  It starts with complete command of the fundamentals.  Then it takes desire, determination, discipline and self-sacrifice.  And finally, it takes a great deal of love, fairness and respect for your fellowman.  Put all of these together, and even if you don’t win, how can you lose?”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
Responses can be emailed to president@vfcc.edu
Official page:  Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer

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