The Golden Rule

October 24, 2014

Competitive athletics are filled with rules. They include contest limitations and eligibility, conduct and playing rules. But apparently the “Golden Rule” is not one of those rules.

In competitive athletics, teams look for competitive advantage, which is often at odds with the spirit of “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.” Seeking competitive advantage sometimes devolves from a legitimate attempt to exploit an opponent’s weakness to rule-shading gamesmanship and, in its worst form, to blatant cheating. Do unto others what you can get away with.

Furthermore, in competitive athletics, emotions often run high – both among participants and spectators – and this leads easily to overheated partisan perspective, lack of good reason and loss of behavior that is respectful of others’ beliefs and feelings.

It’s hard to treat nicely people who act nasty. It requires, in fact, a supercharged Golden Rule that says “Do unto others better than they may do unto you.”

It’s hard to treat people better than they treat you; but if there were ever a place where there is more opportunity to do so, it’s in competitive sports where people are blinded by partisanship for their team or their child. Perhaps it’s only a political election campaign that presents as tough an environment for the Golden Rule.

Years ago in a radio commentary, Character Counts’ Michael Josephson said: “People of character treat others respectfully whether they deserve it or not. I’m reminded of the politician who refused to get in a name-calling match with an opponent, saying, ‘Sir, I will treat you like a gentleman, not because you are one, but because I am one.’ Sure, it’s hard to treat people better than they treat us; but it’s important to realize what’s at stake. If we allow nasty, crude and selfish people to drag us down to their level, they set the tone of our lives and shape us in their image.”

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.