Jared Lankford: Legislating sportsmanship

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Lankford

Most coaches will tell you that if given the choice of playing home or away, they prefer home.

It is not that hard of a question for them to answer. Home field and home court advantage are coveted in athletics. In the NFL, when teams are evenly-matched, oddsmakers always give the home team a 3-point edge.

Chiefs fans proudly tout that Kansas City is home to the loudest stadium in the world. They thrive on making teams struggle with their ear-splitting noise. Chiefs Nation makes it clear to opposing teams upon entering Arrowhead Stadium -- they are firmly in the midst of a hostile environment.

Two of the most difficult places to win basketball games in the Big 8 Conference are Mt. Vernon and McDonald County. Why? The student sections create raucous environments that support their teams and intimidate the opposition.

Screaming, yelling, chanting and cheering are just part of the game experience for fans, but that interaction is increasingly coming under the magnifying glass.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) recently made national headlines for an email sent to athletic directors, asking them to enforce the guidelines set forth in its 33-page Sportsmanship Reference Guide.

I agree that high school games should be a positive learning environment for all involved, and that fans -- whether students or adults -- should display good sportsmanship.

I don't believe that it is the sole duty and responsibility of the state's sanctioning body to determine what constitutes poor sportsmanship, and then take drastic steps to ensure their policy is enforced.

There are two truths about sportsmanship I believe are struggling to be taught today.

First of all, games have winners and losers. Our society has become one in which everyone gets recognition and a trophy just for participation. Sports, by their nature, are designed to reveal and display a form of superiority, accomplishment and reward for achievement.

There are several valuable lessons that are to be taught and learned with each game. If you win, you learn to handle success with grace and seek your next challenge. If you lose, you should be motivated to work harder, to become better. These early contests are crucial in learning sportsmanship.

Secondly, parents should take the lead in teaching their children about being good sports and the value of self-control. However, those lessons are not always being taught. You can plainly see this displayed by fans with a complete lack of respect for anything said or actions done during an athletic contest.

Some expect these lessons and values to be taught by our schools, then complain when a policy is made that they view as too restrictive.

What we are left with is groups like the WIAA dictating and defining terms, which lead to this public uproar.

According to WIAA's sportsmanship guide, chants of "U.S.A.," "Air-ball," "Over-rated," and "You can't do that" -- plus 24 others -- are expressly forbidden. Plus, a Potter Stewart-esque "I'll know it when I see it" power is given to schools and officials to remove any fan for any type of chant or act deemed to be unsportsmanlike. Even public address announcers are forbidden from showing favoritism when announcing the games.

With rules like this in place, it takes much of the game experience out of the equation.

I believe that fans and students can create a loud and hostile environment for opposing teams while still being positive. Monett has made strides this year to encourage its student body to become more involved at games, encouraging tailgates, signage and human-team tunnels.

Cassville lifted a five-year ban on cowbells, giving fans another outlet to display their approval.

The teaching of good sportsmanship should begin at an early age. This matter revolves around common sense.

Some fans have it, and those who don't are making it harder on the rest of those who want to cheer.

sports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-235-3135.

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