Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Content of Our Character Must Include Good Sportsmanship


When I stepped up to high school, I also stepped up to become a member of Pep Club, responsible for creating a devoted fan base for athletic contests. We were legion for football and basketball, but few of us rallied for the lesser sports: swimming, tennis, and baseball.

Even if our dedication was inconsistent, our behavior code was not. At all events, we wore school colors and if the Cheer squad sold pennants or poster buttons for the game, we wore those, too. More important than the colors of our clothing was letting the colors of our character blaze.

We never hissed or booed the opponents’ band as it took the field. We applauded enthusiastically before and after every half-time performance.

We never cheered if an opposing player was down on the field of play. We celebrated his sportsmanship when he rose to his feet and left to recover on the sidelines.

We shouted positive words, celebrating our team without demeaning or insulting the other players.

We left the stadium or gym amicably whether playing at home or away. Our teachers taught us to respect ourselves and others so we did so even if the game had been intense, even if the rivalry older than our low double-digit years.

When I became a teacher, I heard coaches, administrators, and club sponsors make the same speeches that I listened to as a student. For the most part, our students lived up to our expectations and demonstrated good sportsmanship.

So I must ask: what’s happened since high school to those attending political rallies, debates, and stump speeches? Many in attendance seem to have forgotten the lessons of sportsmanship. They boo when their guy speaks the name of the other guy.  They cheer at the notion that some people should just be left to die if they don’t have health insurance because government is just too dang big and government should never play a role in saving lives if it must spend their tax dollars to do so. Death threats and shows of intimidation, including openly bearing arms, have become familiar to those of us who watch news feeds.

And all of this divisive noise drives us further from the real concerns we ought to consider. The media never take up the content of the crowd's character. They are, both left and right, like that dog in the animated movie, “Up,” easily distracted by bright, shiny objects: by discontent, by hints of disobedience and dissatisfaction, by squirrels running up trees to hide in the leaves. Instead of discussing the merits of health insurance and government’s role, they play and replay the lurid moment when some folks cheered for the deaths of fellow citizens. Instead of discussing ideological differences between economic paths to economic health for the nation, the media chase tales from Columbia, birth certificates in Hawaii, and dog care, both Donkey and Elephant-style.

Voters, I admonish you to return to the behaviors of high school, when someone was watching and might make a note in your permanent record. Show some class, please. Above all else, respect yourself enough not to snark, threaten, or wish for the fall of others for we are all prone to error and may need help from others, even organized as government, to pull us from the depths.