How You Play the Game.
I’ve never been much for sports.
I’ll give you all a moment to digest that, as I’m sure it’s a shocking revelation for regular readers of this column.
Somehow even the buckets full of sweat, distinctly unattractive uniforms, overblown machismo competitiveness, and unlimited exposure to all sorts of injuries have failed to entice me with their considerable charms. Not only don’t I play or watch the stuff, I don’t even know when the big events take place. I’ve no idea whether it’s football season or tetherball season, let alone who is playing. (I developed a technique long ago to avoid baffling sports fans with my lack of interest. Whenever I’m asked, “Who are you rooting for?” I simply respond with “Who do you think?” This, without fail, prompts the sports fan to suggest, “The Neanderthals [or whatever their favorite team is named], am I right?” to which I reply, “Of course. It’s a no-brainer!” Thus, I’ve hidden my deliberate ignorance and dispatched with a conversation I prefer to avoid.)
There is, however, one aspect of sports which the Curmudgeon very much appreciates: the tradition of good sportsmanship. It’s a deeply imbedded set of codes that dictate behavior, and you know how I love that. Good sportsmanship calls for fairness, playing by the rules of the game, respecting the chain of command, and acceptance of the final decisions made by the authorities. In many cases, violations of good sportsmanship—appropriately called “fouls”—generate penalties.
The sports world has some honorable rituals that demonstrate this philosophy, like the handshake line in basketball and hockey and the tennis tradition of meeting at the net at the end of the match to shake hands. After a play in football, it’s considered good form to help up a fallen member of the opposing team. Hell, even boxers are gentlemanly enough to touch gloves before pummeling each other half to death.
To be called a good sport, one must also be gracious in both victory and defeat. Sore losers deny the outcome of the competition, accuse the winner of cheating, or claim to be the victim of some other sort of injustice. Sore winners are those who gloat while continuing to taunt and insult their opponents after the game is over. Both types of behavior are considered classless and thuggish, and always reflect poorly on the athlete who conducts himself or herself in so uncouth a manner.
But it was not a sports competition that recently brought all of this to the Curmudgeon’s mind. (As I said, I don’t care for the stuff.) As we’ve all been witnesses lately to an unprecedented level of bad sportsmanship from a certain former elected official and his team, it occurs to me that this is exactly the sort of thing that elicits the harshest of judgments from sports fans and should elicit the same kind of response from American voters.
Because, as it is with sports, the world of American politics has certain codes of etiquette—some of which we didn’t know we had until we experienced their violation. After the last election, there was no concession speech, no congratulations from the loser to the winner, and no letter left in the oval office from the former occupant to his replacement. And in a truly shocking break with propriety, the loser did not even attend the winner’s inauguration ceremony. Meanwhile, accusations of chicanery have been nonstop from the losing side, despite a complete lack of evidence. Even after the arbiters of such things considered, then dismissed, the complaints, the sore losers continue to deny their loss. These behaviors show terribly bad form as they flout honorable and well-established traditions.
It’s a shame and a disgrace for many reasons, not the least of which is the poor example it sets for a nation full of little leaguers who now believe the way to avoid losing is to keep insisting the loss didn’t happen.
For generations we’ve been teaching young competitors that “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Sadly, we are witnessing the complete opposite of the spirit of that principle from those who are supposed to be leading. And in addition to weakening the pillars of our political system, pitting parties against each other, fostering a sense of instability among the citizenry, and yes, inciting violence, the piss-poor bad sportsmanship of the sore-loser-no-longer-in-chief and his entourage of adherents is setting a damned disgraceful example of how people ought to comport themselves.
I may not know much about sports, but I know foul behavior when I see it.