An Absence of Sportsmanship

When the buzzer sounded at the end of the Covenant School-Dallas Academy girls’ basketball game on January 13, the score was 100-0. Winning in a close contest is one thing, but this game didn’t even deserve to be called a blowout: it was humiliation, pure and simple. In a country where bad sportsmanship in professional sports is not only prevalent but enjoyed by spectators—see any bench-clearing brawl between the Red Sox and Yankees for proof—the story of this episode of unthinkable athletic proportions swept throughout the country in a matter of days with outrage as opposed to pleasure. Local newspapers, national news networks, and bloggers everywhere were quick to pick up the story, and it even managed to dominate the airwaves of sports-talk radio in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

In the game’s aftermath, many have attempted to blame the winning coach for allowing it to happen, the athletic director and league officers for scheduling these teams to play, and even the parents and fans for egging on the Covenant School players with each successive made basket. While these are of course plausible sources for problems surrounding the game, the single most fundamental part of this game has gone untouched in the blame game: the players. Unless there is a fundamental change in the way our high-school athletes understand and are held accountable for their examples of sportsmanship, incidents like those in Dallas will continue to propagate concern and disgust to the wrong areas.

Understanding the facts at hand is important. The score at halftime was 59-0, and by the end of the third quarter, Covenant was up 88-0. While Covenant Coach Micah Grimes—who was fired the week after the game—was obviously not an example or promoter of healthy competition and good sportsmanship, a man who saw no problem with the “wide” margin of victory, neither he, nor the scheduling of this lopsided match-up, should be seen as the main problem in this event. It was the players of the Covenant girls’ basketball team, not the coach or the league staff, that continued to take three-pointers once the game was clearly out of reach, that continued to steal the ball on defense from an obviously inferior opponent, and that made the basket that marked the 100th point. This simple aspect has yet to be recognized as even apart of the problem.

More disturbing is the extent to which many commentators have gone to excuse the players on the team itself of any blame. Coaches are rarely blamed for a violent or an unnecessary hit in football, or a flagrant or personal foul in basketball or soccer—individual players are rightly penalized. Here, though, an unreasonable blowout has eclipsed the players’ realm and fallen onto the coach. The error with this partitioning of responsibility is seeing athletes as only beings acting physically on their fields and courts, with all of the mental processing being allotted to the coach. Of course, the coach is not on the playing surface and must work by mentally connecting and advising the players, but to think that these athletes have no conscious understanding, or more importantly control, of the sway of a game—especially when it becomes out of hand—is the fallacious thought process that talking heads have made across the country.

Of course, Coach Grimes was not blameless. Nor were the parents and fans, who acted as cheerleaders and affirmers of the lack of sportsmanship. It is all too easy to forget the actual players on the winning team, with normally almost any problem in youth sports being thrown onto the adults involved. While many problems do arise from overzealous coaches and parents who let ideas of grandeur make them ruthless, if we must exculpate the players from this sort of negative event, how can we ever credit them when they perform admirably? If we are to honor players for their good sportsmanship, we must be willing to cast them in a negative light when they exhibit none.

Even the rules of this high-school basketball league have been called into question, with demands for mercy rules and protocols for when the scoreboard should be turned off. While these may be useful in younger leagues where the youth players are less able to discern and control their style of play, no rule like this is necessary for high-school competition. A level of maturity and sportsmanship has to be required of the players, and not the rulebook.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this entire story is that the only reason it was picked up by the media was the roundness of its score. Blowouts occur frequently in all levels of athletics, but it was the two seemingly opposite and gruesomely perfect ends of the score (100-0) that thrust this particular game into the limelight. While the absurdity of the score is substantial, this game, with or without the ink printed about it, is another instance of the absence of sportsmanship. The Covenant School of Dallas has since issued an apology for the game and asked for it to have its own team forfeit the victory to Dallas Academy, but in the end this was never about who won or lost, but how they played the game.

Marcel E. Moran ’11, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.