By now you probably heard the story about the collegiate women's softball playoff game in Portland during which a player, Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon University, hit a home run and blew out her knee while running to first base.
Because Tucholsky was unable to trot around the bases and teammates are not allowed to physically assist their runners, the homer was about to be revoked. However, to everyone's amazement, two members of the opposing team (shortstop Liz Wallace and first baseman Mallory Holtman of Central Washington University) picked Tucholsky up and carried her around the bases—a move that directly cost Central Washington the game and knocked them out of the playoffs.
Sports fans across the nation praised the action as being sportsmanly. The sports media all gurgled with appreciation.
ESPN said it was the “ultimate act of sportsmanship.” Who could blame them? In an era of egotistical athletes, cheating head coaches and dog-torturing superstars, it's understandable for this extraordinary act of selflessness to be viewed as true sportsmanship.
Except for one small problem—there was nothing particularly sportsmanlike about it.
According to Reference.com, sportsmanship is defined as “a component of morality in sport composed of… fair play, persistence, and courage.”
OK, so right off the bat we can see these attributes do not quite apply to our girls: “Fair play” isn't relevant because there was nothing unfair about the ruling to revoke her homer. All players must round the bases after hitting one. Nor does “persistence” seem applicable since “persistence,” in this case, probably means persistence to win, such as not giving up when behind, or playing through an injury. And “courage” does not compute because there was nothing particularly courageous about what they did.
None of these qualities seem to confirm or reject the media's designation of Holtman and Wallace as “ultimate” sportsmen.
However, it is the very first sentence of the definition that proves my point.
“In a basic sense,” says Reference.com, “sportsmanship is conforming to the rules of sport.”
A sporting event is a world within a world. When you're playing a game or a match, you exist within an alternate micro-universe that has a series of arbitrary rules and etiquettes created specifically for the purpose of determining what it takes to compete within it. Thus, when an athlete excels within the confines of the rules and etiquettes of a sport, he is a good sportsman. Everything else is horseshit.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Some things are more important than sport, which is absolutely true. In fact, most things are more important than sport.
Things like family, friends, commitment and dedication are certainly more important. So is loyalty—like, say, loyalty to your teammates, the ones who stood by your side all season long, who toiled and sacrificed to get to this point in the playoffs only to have a couple of Florence Nightingale wannabes throw away their dreams for some klutzy Anny-fanny who plays for Western Oregon!
Holtman and Wallace made a commitment to their team when they joined. Wouldn't the sportsmanly thing to do be to honor that commitment? Because you can bet your bingo bucks that some, if not most, of the girls of Central Washington weren't entirely down with the decision to concede the playoffs.
And what about the cancer kids? Every team has one of those, right? Those little kids stricken with some terrible condition who are relying on their favorite sports team for motivation to keep fighting? What kind of message did they receive? For all Holtman and Wallace knew, their cancer kid was sitting on her hospital bed, watching the game in her CWU jersey, baseball cap and face paint, hoping beyond hope for an inspirational victory—only to see them hand over the game on a platter.
Not exactly promoting the fighting spirit, are they?
In an interview after the game, shortstop Liz said, “We didn't know that [Tucholsky] was a senior or that this was her first home run. That makes the story more touching. We just wanted to help her.”
Are you kidding me? You just wanted to help her? If I were the pitcher on that team, walking off the field in miserable defeat, and overheard my shortstop saying that to reporters, I would've clubbed that bitch with a couple of pounds of Louisville aluminum. “Help her?! What about helping me out?! You're my shortstop—you're supposed to have my back, not stab it!”
And the fact that Tucholsky was a senior and this was her last chance to hit a homer before graduating is irrelevant. What if everyone started behaving this way within the confines of the alternate micro-universe of sport? What if Major League pitchers intentionally lobbed meatballs to hitters who are in slumps? What if defenders intentionally permitted touchdowns to help struggling quarterbacks? What if, suddenly, Chutes and Ladders players decided to bypass the ladders, taking only chutes? The whole concept of competition and sport would implode, leaving behind only Hacky Sack as a way for humanity to exercise its warrior muscles.
Could you live in a world where the only sport to play was Hacky Sack!
Look, in these annoyingly PC times, when everyone is expected to be nice to each other, and talking smack is akin to treason, and public-school officials teach that there are no losers or winners—can't there be this one place where it's OK to win and to want to win? Can't we just have one alternate micro-universe in which the desire to crush your opponent is acceptable, where it's OK to despise someone just because she's wearing a different-colored jersey, and where it's permissible to call somebody a “belly-itcher” without the ACLU dropping the hammer of Thor upon your head?
Look, it's not like I don't care that the poor girl got hurt. If I were playing that day, I'd have dropped my glove and helped her in a heartbeat. I don't care what the situation is, if you are hurt and need assistance, I will help. I will carry you off the field. I will carry you to the emergency room. I will carry you to the goddamn moon if that's the only place where knee surgeons live. I will carry you anywhere you need to go except around those motherfucking bases.
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