Essay on Sportsmanship
March 22, 2006
Richelle Simonson, associate athletic director for ticketing and events services, said in a preseason football press conference that the university would be placing an emphasis on sportsmanship this season.
"I think we've always had it as a pillar of what we do, but sportsmanship is something we want to try to take to a new level here at Ohio State University," Simonson said. "We're relying on our fans."
"Things like vulgarity, people who may have too much to drink in the stadium or outside the stadium, taunting of the players, taunting of the coaches, throwing things at the visiting team band, all of those things are considered unsportsmanlike conduct."
People may say the university failed after reports stemmed from the actions of fans at the OSU-Texas game in September prompted university President Karen A. Holbrook to issue a public apology.
Fast forward one month to the Ohio State-Penn State football game in Happy Valley, and Buckeye fans, as well as band members, found themselves quite literally in the middle of poor sportsmanship crossfire.
"I saw a fan pushing their way into the ranks of the band, which is frightening," Dr. Jon Woods, director of the OSU Marching Band said in an interview with WBNS 10-TV.
What makes matters worse is that people come to expect poor sportsmanship when they travel. Jessica Burns is a junior at Penn State who plays in the Blue Band and said in an interview with The Collegian that their band should expect to be treated similarly by University of Michigan fans during their away game that weekend.
"Whenever we go to an away game, their fans hate us like our fans hated OSU," Burns said.
This makes it official: The Big Ten has a problem with sportsmanship and we know it. However, they have already taken the first step in attempting to make the problem less severe.
Earlier this year officials from each Big Ten school met with the Big Ten, administrators from the Mid-American Conference and their member schools as well as administrators from select Midwest state high school athletic associations. The discussions included the "decreasing values of sportsmanship at the high school and even the middle school levels" and what can be done to solve the problem.
John Mack, the associate director of championships for the Big Ten, said that the schools launched a joint sportsmanship initiative.
"We asked Big Ten schools to come up with 5 sportsmanship-related initiatives," he said. "Home institutions should be creating an environment to watch their team compete that's not threatening or intimidating."
Several Big Ten schools have already started programs geared at increasing fan sportsmanship. Wisconsin started the Welcome Wagon, a group of people that hand out informational flyers and try to make visiting fans feel welcome in their stadium. Iowa's Hawkeye Pride program has university officials going to classrooms to promote good sportsmanship.
The University of Michigan has partnered with the Michigan High School Athletic Association and created the "Values for the Victors" program over the summer. Maher Salah, director of student-athlete development at the university, said that their student-athlete advisory committee met and discussed what they thought were the pillars of good sportsmanship.
"The student-athlete advisory committee is like an undergraduate student government - one representative from each team meets and shares input," Salah said. "We're targeting high school students but we are also aiming it towards our own fans and sports."
Each high school was sent a letter (http://mgoblue.com/images/academics/sportsmanship/sportsmanship-letter.pdf) encouraging them to exhibit respect, responsibility, leadership and integrity, the four pillars the SAAC agreed upon.
"The message comes from our student athletes as they wrote the letter and have taken the initiative," Salah said. "You have to be realistic and get the message out to respect the other coaches, players and teams. You don't focus on the bad, instead focus on the good."
At Michigan sporting events, pictures of the posters portraying Michigan athletes promoting the program are displayed on the video board while announcements are made throughout the game.
While no formal partnership exists between the Ohio High School Athletic Association and Ohio State, the OHSAA has had its own sportsmanship initiative in place since the early 1990s.
Originally titled "Be a Sport", the new "Respect the Game" is the association's way of getting the message out to member schools.
"Our program involves respect for sportsmanship, teammates, officials and all involved in the game," said Duane Warns, assistant commissioner of the OHSAA. "We want to teach young people values, to make them better citizens. That's why sports were started in schools."
The OHSAA program has its own Web site that features video messages from Dr. Daniel B. Ross, commissioner of the OHSAA; Ohio State greats Archie Griffin, Clark Kellogg and Katie Smith and even sports officials. Materials are available that target all aspects of a sporting event from game management to the athletes to parents and fans.
Warns believes sportsmanship has decreased throughout the decades but progress has been made to better it in recent years.
"Anytime uncivil behavior is directed towards other people is unacceptable," he said. "I never heard profanity as a kid at Ohio State football games, now I hear four letter words in every direction."
The initiatives are not aimed at only the fans. Stiff penalties are in place for athletes or coaches who are ejected from a game.
"If a player or coach is ejected from a game, they are automatically suspended for the next two games," Warns said. This suspension includes any other teams that the offender participates on and can carry over from one season to the next.
However, schools and athletes can be honored for good sportsmanship.
The association annually gives out the Harold A. Meyer sportsmanship award to schools who exhibit good sportsmanship over the course of the school year. According to the OHSAA Web site, eligibility for the award includes having rules in place for dealing with problems, plans for dealing with heated rivalries, ongoing campaigns for good sportsmanship and annual evaluations of coaches, among others. Three schools across the whole state have received the award each year.
Warns is pleased with the program thus far and said that elements of it are promoted though announcements being given at games, posters hanging at schools, and talk with coaches and administrators.
The tricke-down effects have even reached youth sports. Julie Dubielak is the assistant director of the Catholic Youth Organization in Toledo, Ohio.
"We're hopefully not about winning or losing, we're about the child," she said. "We're just trying to teach kids about playing sports."
Dubielak said some of their leagues do not even feature league championships and others do not keep a final score. This helps place the emphasis back on the game.
Unfortunately, stiffer penalties have recently been put in place to deal with decreasing sportsmanship. For example, if a coach or player receives a singe technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct in basketball, they are immediately ejected and receive a one game suspension. A second technical foul can result in suspension for the remainder of the season.
The sportsmanship landscape is very moldable right now. When high school athletes see events such as the Pistons-Pacers fight or a pregame brawl between two whole football teams they then think they can get away with it.
"Problems stem from the collegiate level and then the high schools have to deal with it," Warns said.
Steps are being taken better promote better sportsmanship at all levels. The Big Ten, the MAC and National Federation of State High School Associations should be proud of the initiatives they have started. They should also continue to build on the momentum they have created.
Warns effectively sums up what is at stake.
"It [sportsmanship] is very important," he said. "It is the foundation of interscholastic athletics and we need to preserve it for future generations."