The runner at second base in baseball watches the catcher put down two fingers indicating he wants the pitcher to throw a curve ball. With a hand signal, the runner tips off the batter to expect a breaking ball.
Is this sportsmanship or is it gamesmanship? The basketball player takes a surreptitious “flop” foul so he can be awarded a couple of free throws. The punter takes a fall for an easy penalty without being touched by an oncoming player. Is this sportsmanship or is it gamesmanship?
The football lineman grabs the defender by the shirt pulling him off his path to the quarterback. Is this sportsmanship or is it gamesmanship?
A team scouts an upcoming opponent and notices that the game plays are being signaled in from the sidelines. After seeing the play being called, the coaches on the opposing sideline keep a keen eye out and pick up the signals the next week. Is this sportsmanship or is it gamesmanship?
Some would argue these examples are “part of the game” and thus should be considered “gamesmanship.” But when does gamesmanship stop and cheating start?
My favorite saying in life and the title of my ninth book I’m not working on is “All I want out of life is an unfair advantage!” Does that make me a cheater or someone who is well prepared for the challenge at hand?
Some referees in many sports give more leeway to athletes than others. Hand checking in basketball is a foul to one ref and part of the game to another. Contact five yards beyond the line of scrimmage is a foul on a corner back to some refs and part of the game to another. The old term “Let ‘em play ref!” comes to mind.
Most teams push the envelope to get the most of their athletes. Why leave anything on the field or in the locker room? What teams are generally looking for is fairness. Call the game the same way for each side.
Recently the New England Patriots were suspected of deflating footballs to give their quarterback Tom Brady an advantage. And yet, he scored fewer points with deflated balls than he did with properly
inflated balls. Was there really an advantage?
New England haters point to the integrity of the game being the issue, not the advantage one side gains over another. An argument could be made that every team on every play is guilty of committing at least one foul.
My good friend and retired NFL Referee Jim Tunney once observed that “You could call holding on every play if you chose.” That’s how close the calls are.
Coaches and players who want to win the “publicity test” may gain the respect of their opponents and supporters. But make no mistake; if they don’t win they’ll be eventually canned.
Those who excel at the “role model test” may be the most ethical losers in the game today. Again, win and you’re in; lose and you’re out!
Show me the reward system of any institution and I’ll show you where they truly place their values.
Those who excel at the Golden Rule, also called “the rule of reciprocity,” may gain the respect of their opponent and lose the game. As the late, great Coach Vince Lombardi once observed, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”
“You play to win the game! Hello… you play to win the game!”
exclaimed Coach Herm Edwards in 2002 when he coached the New York Jets. “When you say that winning doesn’t matter, get out of the game. It does matter!”
When a team uses questionable but legitimate tactics to usurp an opponent like clever formations and lineup schemes, is it the fault of the team for taking advantage of an opponent’s unpreparedness or is it cheating?
The more important field of exploration here might be to question if sports really builds character or does it reveal character? I’m not sure what the answer to that really is but I can tell you this. If you don’t win, you’re gone.
To quote the great Coach Lombardi “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do right things once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit; unfortunately, so is losing!”
Fair or unfair? You decide.
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