There are many attitudes and forms of mindset that we appreciate when we see them exemplified in the athletes we follow, or even in the sports we play ourselves. A sense of fair play, common decency, the ability to take grace in defeat and humility in victory. No one likes an athlete who is incredibly over-aggressive while still winning all of the time. Of course, certain outliers exist, such as how Conor McGregor kept up his mocking and playful persona throughout the entirety of his peak performance, but that was swiftly unmasked when his bravado in front of his titular boxing match was uncovered as just that.
However, just what is sportsmanship comprised of, anyway? Must it always be an athlete who rarely acknowledges their success, or as extreme as the WW2 soldiers from either side who kicked a soccer ball around on Christmas day? Surely we needn’t go to war to understand what sportsmanship is? That being said, even soldiers have their codes and honor in combat, which can be a sobering thought to those who have never experienced it, and perhaps twice as sobering to those who have.
We wish to take a stab at this definition. To us, sportsmanship is derived in the following ways:
A Respect For The Sport Itself
While it’s easy to become exceedingly pedantic amount the minutiae of a sport’s rules, there’s a reason we respect them. It’s because we know they are there for a reason. For example, if the UFC was all about finding the toughest man in the world, things would look very different, and the necessary weight divisions would be the first thing to go. However, we understand that common respect, the need to touch gloves, the ability for the referee to call the round as soon as one person is incapacitated or dazed for more than five seconds – it’s these rules and guiding principles that if respected, constitute sportsmanship. We immediately dislike the boxer who takes a free tap to the back of the head of his opponent after the bell rings. We understand that counterfeit sportswear sullies the safety of the participants. With this understanding comes appreciation.
Skills Cannot Lie
People, especially some athletes, are fantastic at explaining how great they are, or why they were justified, or in giving themselves credit. There was a reason that Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson were known to the world as the world’s most famous boxers. Their trash-talk was exceptional, but it wouldn’t have held water if they had failed. Skills cannot lie. We understand that. And a respect for this and a willingness to test them fairly is what sportsmanship is comprised of.
More Than The Sport
Sport matters. It brings people together, it can help change lives, and it also speaks to the best in us. But without people to play them with, sports are just boring rules in a rulebook, never lived out. When we know that the sporting experience is more than the particular sport in question, we understand that’s what really matters. It’s seen when an athlete attends to another injured teammate, or one on the opposing team. It’s in the shaking of hands and mutual praise after two boxers punch it out. This shows that while sport is crucial in life, more than the sport is needed to help it actualize itself correctly.
With these words, we hope you can think of sportsmanship in the best light possible.