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Must Players Mind Their Manners?

Helping Hand Jon_Marshall via flickr
Credit Helping Hand Jon_Marshall via flickr

Perhaps you’ve seen the public service announcementwhere, Alex, a basketball player, realizes that he was the last to touch the ball before it went out of bounds in a critical late-game situation.

The referee, perhaps screened from the play, mistakenly awards the ball to Alex’s team. The team comes to the sidelines for instructions, and the coach is about to call a play when Alex announces that he touched the ball. Alex’s teammates are incredulous at both his announcement and his timing, but he holds to his principles. The coach then instructs the players not to foul when the ball isinbounded, the clear inference being that Alex’s team will lose. As the players return to the court, the coach stops Alex, but rather than berate him, he says simply, “Good call.”   

In a perfect sports world, all young athletes would behave the way Alex does, but, as we know, nothing about sports these days is perfect, or even ideal. The concepts of good sportsmanship and fair and honest play appear to have gone the way of the set shot in basketball.

In other words, they don’t exist anymore.

It may be tempting for some to say that dignity and decency in athletics were always myths, but that’s not true. There was a time when players helped each other up after a play and extended a hand of friendship after games. More importantly, time was when players didn’t preen and posture about after making a routine play. They didn’t go looking to the crowd or for a camera for validation after a dunk, and they certainly didn’t stop and stand at home plate to admire a home run they just hit.

There’s no right answer to the question of when and how this erosion in civility in sports happened, how the conduct of someone like the fictitious Alex became an outlier and not the norm. The obvious culprits are money and fame. Once the principal objectives of encouraging kids to take up a sport became something other than physical fitness and character building and instead moved toward earning a free ride through college or a big money pay day in the professional ranks, the die was cast.

If all there was to televising baseball, football and basketball games involving teenagers or even pre-teens was the simple presentation of a sporting event, we could all enjoy the Little League World Series for what it is, kids playing games for pure recreation. But we should know that showing something as seemingly innocent as 12 and 13 year olds playing baseball can carry complications and implications, many of which are harmful to the kids themselves.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can slow the train before it completely careens off the tracks and destroys the fun of sports.

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.
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