During a high school cross-country race last month in Minnesota, Andover's Josh Ripley stopped to aid injured opponent Mark Paulauskas from Lakeville South, carried him more than 100 yards to medical help and then jumped back into the race. As Ripley came to the finish line 211th in a field of 261, the Lakeville squad greeted him with cheers (http://tinyurl.com/3bjzhsv).
If "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," Ridley failed miserably. We worship winners and assign the losers to public recognition's dustbin.
Yet did you know that Vince Lombardi, just before he died, regretted his one-liner?
In his "What It Takes To Be #1," Vince Lombardi, Jr. quotes his father the football coach: "I meant the effort ... having a goal. I sure as hell didn't mean for people to crush human values and morality."
Can we restore human values and morality to sports?
Let's put aside sports' tawdry realities and nonsense: ubiquitous commercialization, athletes' enormously lopsided salaries, the unholy marriage of sports and media, controversies over performance-enhancing drugs, obnoxious fans and out-of-control parents.
We need to resurrect the 1926 Sportsmanship Brotherhood's cliched "not just that you won or lost, but how you played the game." In our outcome-oriented world, this appears hopelessly naive. However, the road to achieve the outcome irrevocably shapes its quality.
Sports is about how we play the game -- that is, sportsmanship.
Sportsmanship invokes excellence -- the display of skill, respectful competition, mental toughness, courage, determination, solidarity, friendship and fair-play. Sportsmanship requires that we compete -- whether bloodied, battered, silent, or poised -- with unreserved effort and decorum.
This is straightforward morality. Albert Camus, the French philosopher and 1957 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, was a goalie for his soccer team before contracting tuberculosis. He claimed that all he learned about ethics came from sports.
No doubt, sportsmanship is tackled at the knees by the cult of winning. Read Buzz Bissinger's 1991 "Friday Night Lights," and Jeff Benedict and Don Yeager's "Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL." When we yawn over displays of disrespect and brutality while conceding "It's part of the game," we spectators conspire in this.
However, the heart and soul of sports is not just about sports. Sports represent life. They demand hard work and persistence. And like life, sports demand competitive maturity, respectful competition.
As all of us who have played sports know that, as in life, competitive intensity can cloud over moral sentiment. And here is where excellence shines through -- in self-control, composure, and restraint.
This is not just about following rules. Sportsmanship feeds the spirit behind the rules, the spirit of the game itself. In the 1982 French Open semifinals, 17-year-old Mats Wilander of Sweden requested to replay Argentine opponent Jose-Luis Clerc's groundstroke down the line that was officially called out and which gave Wilander the match. Though rules require that players accept the umpire's call, Wilander believed Clerc's drive was in bounds. The chair referee agreed to replay the point, and Wilander went on to win, honorably.
Is there hope for genuine sportsmanship in our ego-inflated, in-your-face, end-zone antics, fist-pumping world? Here is my challenge to parents, coaches, teachers and athletes:
In sports, as in life, we must not only insist but show that how we pursue our goals ultimately matters.
Positive role models, past and present, are abundant. We will always triumph if we pursue our goals with perseverance, self-control, fair play and respect, and maintain modesty in victory and grace in defeat.
To see more of Dr. Brannigan's work, go to http://www.timesunion.com/brannigan.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.
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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.