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The Vanishing Art of Sportsmanship

This is not your father's sports world, as too many incidents show the loss of civility, on and off field.

March 02, 2003|From Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Civility in sports sometimes seems to be as out of style as Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers, short shorts and the four-corner offense.

Grant Teaff understands the problem. When he coached football at Baylor, his players celebrated victories by walking over to the student section, removing their helmets and saluting the fans.

There was no dancing, no taunting, no fighting.

Today, a decade since retiring, Teaff is bothered by what he sees. Athletes shimmy their shoulders and finger-point on routine plays, coaches chase officials and question calls, fans charge onto the field and riot in the streets.

To Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Assn., the outbursts demonstrate what's wrong with today's athletics -- the erosion of sportsmanship.

"Basic values are not being taught," he said. "Then we're shocked when we ask what the word 'integrity' means. You'd be surprised at the answers, and these are college students."

Tuesday is National Sportsmanship Day, and many in college athletics are searching for ways to reinforce the importance of civility on the playing field.

While many worry about the safety of players, coaches and fans after postgame "celebrations" turned dangerous last fall, they find the actions on the field most troubling.

Some administrators see more arrogance, more fighting and more contempt for officials, and the list of recent incidents is indicative of those fears.

* In mid-January, Pittsburgh Steeler Coach Bill Cowher chased an official to challenge a call after the Steelers lost to Tennessee, 34-31, in the AFC playoffs. He later apologized but insisted the official was wrong.

* In early January, Indiana Pacer guard Ron Artest smashed a TV camera after a game. Later that month, Artest got into a shouting match with Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley and made an obscene gesture at the crowd. He was suspended for seven games in the month.

* In December, Indiana Coach Mike Davis ran onto the court and started screaming at an official while the ball was still in play. Davis drew two technical fouls, was ejected, and his Hoosiers lost, 70-64, to Kentucky.

* In November, Ohio State fans tried to tear down the goal posts after a win over Michigan. Other schools around the country faced similar problems the same weekend, but the Buckeyes' "celebration" spilled into the streets where fans lighted more than 100 fires, torched nine cars, broke windows, and pelted firefighters with rocks and debris.

The trend has, not surprisingly, trickled down to high schools.

Last fall in South Carolina, two prep football teams were excluded from the state football playoffs because of a brawl, and this season, a rural Indiana girls' basketball coach was attacked by a player's father following a game.

Part of the problem is the evolution of what is meant by sportsmanship.

Sue Willey, an associate athlete director at the University of Indianapolis, began teaching a sports ethics class after one student claimed that ethics in sports were different from ethics in life.

That was only the start.

Willey asked her students what they thought of a well-publicized play in a high school game several years ago, when one player was shooting a free throw and a teammate was instructed by the coach to get down on all fours and start barking like a dog to distract his opponent.

Most men in the class thought it was brilliant. Most of the women thought it was absurd.

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