Poor Sportsmanship Plagues Today’s Game

“CMS ROSTER – #42: sucks at track, went to Cabo and got herpes. #10: doesn’t play much because he sucks at basketball. #34: has a girl’s name, has a lot of gay flexing pics on Facebook.” 

These are only a few excerpts from the heckling “cheat sheet” sent around the Pomona-Pitzer stands during the first round of 2012 SCIAC men’s basketball play between rivals P-P and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. At the time, this scrap of paper was deemed funny and witty and was used by the fans to try and get into the heads of the players. Some students may believe that these types of actions are in the nature of a rivalry game, but did this one eclipse the nature of good sportsmanship?

The maintenance of good sportsmanship at any type of sporting event should be important for players, coaches and fans. In SCIAC play alone, it is easy to think of instances in which fans jeer at the refs, cheer when the other team messes up or boo when the other team does well. On a national level, the idea of good sportsmanship has been evaluated, and a 1999 study found that there was a higher prevalence of acts of poor sportsmanship at every level of athletics.   

Celebrations have become more ostentatious, acts of aggression more celebrated and the sports world more dominated by a preoccupation with winning. Our culture of sportsmanship has transformed into a culture of one-upmanship, and this shift has been found to start as early as childhood. Social psychologists have begun to apply social psychological theory to the reasons behind this shift. A study at the University of Texas, San Antonio found that ego involvement in sports reflects a sense of personal success based on social comparison standards such as outperforming opponents, demonstrating superior ability with little effort and receiving positive external evaluations. Additionally, a 2005 study found that children believe that perceived competence in a sport is related to being accepted by a group. This drive to be accepted thus leads athletes to become ego-involved.

Sports fans are given the power to dictate the acceptance of athletes, or lack thereof, but it is easy to get “lost” in the crowd. Players on the court or on the field are unable to know who is yelling, and fans know this. We are de-individuated in crowds and thus less likely to be “called out” for doing something; we lose self-awareness and become less concerned with how others may interpret our actions. The path to poor sportsmanship is clear-cut. Once it is seen that a handful of people are yelling insults from the cheat sheet, it is easy to join in, which could lead to more and more people joining in. Most people do not want to “miss out” on this group conformity masked by camaraderie. 

How do sports fans contribute to poor sportsmanship by athletes? Two studies performed in 2009 and 2007 found that negative spectator behaviors were predictive of negative player behaviors and that spectator misbehavior may provide a cue to athletes that poor sport behavior will be tolerated or endorsed. It has been found that the pressure of others can either positively or negatively affect a person’s ability to perform certain tasks, as demonstrated by the three clutch free throws by Kyle McAndrews PO ’15 against CMS to win the game last spring. This social facilitation effect can be found in any sporting event. Both athletes and fans realize that an athlete’s goal is to assert dominance to gain acceptance. By breaking down the mental focus of another player, fans are able to help their players win this battle. But the aforementioned 2007 study found that this egocentric behavior leads to subordinating moral concerns to the desire to demonstrate superiority. It is hard to fathom how many people would actually go up to CMS players on a Monday and say, “You have a girl’s name,” or “I heard you went to Cabo and got herpes.”

On a local level, we as 5C students must take a stand against poor sportsmanship and instead encourage good sportsmanship as players and fans. But on a grander scheme, there needs to be a lower tolerance for poor sportsmanship and consequences for these actions in all levels of competition. We must all remember that a focus on good sportsmanship, rather than winning, is key to positive interactions and fun. 

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