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Bad sportsmanship not a well-liked topic

In a recent online column titled "Amateur baseball goes soap opera," which was about poor sportsmanship displayed at a number of baseball games recently, where particular teams and participants were called out, a small uproar reached my desk after the story had been posted on for a mere two hours.

It struck a chord with a number of people, the offenders, other offendees, and even Minnesota Public Radio.

Initially, I took it down because I try to respect the readership and the feelings of those involved, whether they deserve it or not.

Nobody was rude in our conversations.

Those who contacted me expressed their distaste for how I reported the incidents, namely by singling out individuals and naming names.

I personally apologized to Mr. Phil Kirchner, who was incorrectly named as a source of some angst.

Another caller from someone mentioned directly in the story was appreciative of my defense of their actions, whether or not my delivery of such was to their personal taste.

One caller even acknowledged that the point of my column was not to blow up a situation.

I was trying to fix one.

With fear of sounding like an old man, back in my day, there was a code among young ball players that came down from parents and coaches and that was to play with class.

I got sick of hearing it.

Win with class. Lose with class. No matter the score of a game or the eventual outcome, I was taught to come off the field with pride that I did my best and was grown up enough, regardless of my real age, to understand that in sports my best might not always be good enough.

From minor league, to little league, Babe Ruth, Legion and varsity athletics, and not just baseball, there was no whining, no complaining and there was certainly no swearing.

In essence, and this is not just me here, "we" were taught to be good sports.

There was no back talking. You listened, you understood, you adhered to the premise that a small phrase like "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game," meant a lot.

It does, or at least it did and I remember hearing it countless times as a kid.

I now have two nephews and I feel obligated to pass on this knowledge.

One in particular, I make sure to defeat soundly in Whiffle ball to the point he starts bawling and crying for his mother.

You know why?

It isn't whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game, nephew.

The best my sister can do to console her son is, "You have to watch out with Uncle Bob, he's tough."

I want my nephew to be a good sport and I would be a rotten uncle knowing I didn't help instill that ideal in him.

It isn't an idea. It's an ideal. Nobody is perfect and kids are going to be kids.

Sportsmanship is not an easy lesson to learn, but it is an important one and one that I now know is sadly lacking in some arenas.

There are also some great representations of the opposite.

The Perham boy's basketball team comes to mind first as a team that as a group plays with class.

Head Coach Dave Cresap and his entire staff, along with the players, are a prime example of what sportsmanship is about.

Whether it was the state title two seasons ago or this year's trip that fell a game short, everywhere that team went people talked about the pride Perham should have because of the way they conducted themselves winning or losing.

The Perham cross-country team, who lost the state title to heated-rivals St. Cloud Cathedral by the slimmest of margins, is another fantastic example of teams with pride and respect for themselves and their opponents.

I witnessed Brady Speicher congratulate St. Cloud Cathedral runners after the tough loss at St. Olaf and I know he doesn't really like those guys.

Because of that, I am a bigger fan of the cross-country team and because of a simple act like Speicher's, the entire town of Perham can be proud of that team.

His actions and those of the rest of the team that November day are a direct reflection of Coach Jeff Morris, his staff and families of the kids on the team.

Those are just two examples of what makes my job great and there are far more good examples in our area than bad.

There is a need to point those stories out more often, as well.

There is also a need to confront those who blatantly disrespect the game, the fans, the referees and umpires.

This issue is bigger than the metaphorical lump hiding under the rug.

The Minnesota State High School League has a Good Sports Manual online with everything from suggested reminders during games to keep fans and players in check to promotional strategies to encourage sportsmanship and proper respect for opponents and game officials.

What kind of world do we live in where we need such things?

Everyone involved in local sports should not need my assistance or a promotional strategy to be respectful of others and any show of poor sportsmanship that I reported on is a direct reflection of the coaches and players themselves.

That is the truth.

It has very little to do with me.

I am not here to belittle people and I believe my work speaks for itself in how I do my best to relate what happens at sporting events in a positive fashion.

What should I do when what happens on the field is not positive?

Just sit there and pretend it isn't happening? Keep my mouth shut.

This topic is not some new fad. It was something I heard about all weekend.

It isn't just me bringing it up.

But I am not going to mention any names of people I've discussed the topic of sportsmanship with for fear of having to field phone calls from them.

People don't like being called out. People want the truth but find it hard to swallow when it is about them.

I saw offended people this weekend - people who were trying their best and giving of their time to assist in putting on a display of sporting entertainment at multiple events.

One tournament was created to raise awareness of teen suicide. It wasn't even about baseball.

Teen suicide is a far more heinous topic than poor sportsmanship.

To display such bad attitudes in the realm of a tournament built around philanthropy to prevent such acts and create empathy for those who have lost young relatives to self-inflicted deaths is embarrassing.

There is no excuse for it. I don't care how old you are. I don't care where you're from and I don't care who you are.

I have buried stories of certain parents almost getting tossed at state tournament games for the same reasons of not wanting to offend anyone.

I have to see a lot of people in my job and the last thing I need is someone all hyped up when I walk into a gym or on to a field because I reported about something they did that they feel was inflammatory.

The thing is, I didn't do anything inflammatory. I simply jotted down a note or took a picture.

My job is not to embarrass people.

However, just listening to people relate to me the lack of sportsmanship they have seen recently, combined with what I have witnessed, is too embarrassing to keep quiet about.

When the truth is brought to light and names are dropped and quotes are attributed to the people who actually said them, those who should be embarrassed are embarrassed and they don't like it. However, if it is someone else, it can skate by with little response.

Case in point, in a boy's basketball game in New York Mills last year, an opposing player made a rude gesture to the hometown fans and received a chorus of Eagle boos and a benching from his coach.

I noted his flagrant display as less than sportsmanlike and included a picture of him in the next week's paper.

I never heard one peep of protest. Not even from the player or his family. Even if I had, I'd have run the story and the picture anyway.

That is not my job, to spare people from the ramifications of their own actions in public.

Sounds more like something for the police or a psychiatrist.

I attempted to light-heartedly end the soap opera column with the phrase, "maybe they are just crazy from the heat," as an explanation for what I witnessed.

It was hot last weekend.

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Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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