Why There Are Rules

June 25, 2013

In 1907 William James put in writing a series of lectures he had given in Boston the year before titled “Pragmatism:  A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.”  Included in the third lecture is this gem:

 “… the aim of a football-team is not merely to get the ball to a certain goal (if that were so, they would simply get up on some dark night and place it there), but to get it there by a fixed machinery of conditions – the game’s rules and the opposing players;”

This, to James, was a given, cited to help him make a more profound point.

But the point is profound enough for us. Without rules, and opponents playing by the same rules, there is no validity in moving the ball to the goal. Without rules, there is no value in sinking the putt, making the basket, clearing the bar, crossing the finish line. Without a regulatory scheme adhered to by all competitors, victory is hollow.

(Note: These words begin the Foreword to “The History, Rationale and Application of the Essential Regulations of High School Athletics in Michigan.” Click here for the full document.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com 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.