Good sportsmanship

Friday, December 3, 2004

Let's see. Several Indiana Pacers were suspended by the NBA after a brawl with fans. Clemson and South Carolina removed themselves from any bowl games after the two teams engaged in a brawl that took 100 law-enforcement officers to quell. And a dispute in northern Wisconsin over a deer stand left six hunters dead and others wounded.

That was just one weekend.

But stories like this -- perhaps not so violent or involving so many players and sports fans -- have become part of the sports landscape in recent years.

Unsportsmanlike conduct has always been a dark cloud on any player in any sport. But the Bobby Knights have marred the reputation of coaches who have long fostered fair play and best efforts over fistfights and intimidation.

The actions of fans also have become a major component of recent sports melees. Unhappy fans throw drinks -- and anything else at hand -- at players, coaches and referees.

What to do about this lapse in sportsmanship and common decency? Or are sports simply prone to bad behavior for which there is no cure?

Parents start teaching their children about right and wrong from birth. A youngster's first exposure to pre-school is all about getting along, sharing and taking turns. High schools have policies in their handbooks that promote civil behavior and, in some case, ban booing or denigrating the opposing team.

Professional players have no excuse for their unruly behavior. For the millions of dollars they are paid and the millions more they get from corporate sponsors, these players are expected not only to play better than anyone else, but also to behave accordingly.

And there is no excuse for some of the prickly actions of fans who unfairly taunt players, coaches and officials.

So where does it stop? With each of us. Players have to control themselves -- or sanctions that affect innocent teammates will be handed out. And fans need to think about when their support for a team becomes abusive and outrageous.

Maybe that book is right after all. Everything we needed to know we learned in kindergarten.

--Southeast Missourian