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October 27, 1999

Sportsmanship Takes A Back Seat in U.S. Victories
An MHSAA Commentary by Executive Director John E. "Jack" Roberts;

Recent back-to-back "World Championships" - first in a Women's World Cup soccer championship game shootout, then in an unprecedented come-from-behind Ryder Cup golf victory - should have all red-blooded sports enthusiasts reveling in red, white and blue joy.

But to some, the victories don't feel as good as they should.

During the dramatic conclusion to the World Cup, the United States goalkeeper violated the rule that limits the goalkeeper to moving laterally, not forward, until the ball is kicked. The U.S. goalkeeper took two strides forward before the Chinese player kicked the ball. No call.

And worse, no apology. Even worse, it turns out the action was intentional, even rehearsed on the first penalty kick. The goalkeeper's response to the Los Angeles Times, "It is only cheating if you get caught."

Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre, writing in Referee Magazine's October 1999 issue, has stated: "It was especially interesting how, in our rush to embrace the U.S. Team and the slam-dunk, politically correct media opportunity, there was (and has been) no discussion whatsoever as to the significance of putting all our sports morals and ethics squarely in the laps of referees."

To make matters worse, another World Cup team member used blatant profanity in a post-match TV interview. Writing in the NCAA News, University of Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley stated, "It is a shame that the greatest moment in the history of U.S. women's team sports has, in my opinion, been dampened by the actions of one athlete."

And then there was this Ryder Cup match where spectators turned one of the few remaining sports with any civility into a partisan debacle where nasty words and gestures were directed at players and the families of players.

And in keeping with the disgusting display of sportsmanship by spectators, the nearly victorious U.S. Team stormed around and onto a putting green where a European waited to make a putt that could have reversed U.S. fortunes.

Many in the media have noted that outrage from Europe - where violence, destruction and death have often occurred at sporting events - is disingenuous. But that dodges the issue: our behavior was terrible - by some spectators throughout the three-day event and by our spectacular players at its conclusion.

It is a difficult chore we face in school sports to expect that players, coaches and spectators at our events will participate and observe with respect and decorum when they see the best of our athletes present the worst of our sportsmanship and so few people are outraged about it.

It is another hurdle for us to overcome in educational athletics.