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Column: Good sportsmanship goes further than game


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MARION — As the seconds wound down in the highly anticipated Indiana regional high school basketball clash between Carmel and Kokomo on Saturday, the Carmel students started a chant.

Each team had lost only twice before the game started. Both were ranked in the Top 10 in the state.

Both squads fought hard, but Carmel pulled away late and mounted a double-digit lead.

That’s when the Carmel students in the stands began their chant.

“SEASON’S OVER! SEASON’S OVER! SEASON’S OVER!’ they shouted at the dejected Kokomo players.

One Kokomo player, junior Taylor Persons — who moments earlier had helped a Carmel player to his feet after both had crashed to the floor chasing after a loose ball — pursed his lips and shook his head. The other Kokomo players, their shoulder slumped, walked back to their bench.

And still the chant continued.

“SEASON’S OVER! SEASON’S OVER! SEASON’S OVER!”

The notion that, somewhere along the way, it became socially acceptable to taunt a beaten opponent is one of the developments in recent years that I dislike the most.

What previous generations would have considered bad form — really bad form — we now just consider the norm.

Let’s set aside the fact that the taunts came from the sons and daughters of one of Indiana’s plusher suburbs and were directed toward the students of a working class community that has struggled to find and maintain its footing in a post-industrial world. (In the years ahead, though, if these same sons and daughters, grown to comfortable middle age, are tempted to complain over cognac and cigars about class resentment and wonder where it comes from, they might remember these moments.)

The fact is, though, that the chant would have been every bit as deplorable if the Kokomo students had done it — as they very well might have if they had won.

Poor sportsmanship is poor sportsmanship, regardless of who does it.

It’s tempting, of course, just to dismiss this as an isolated incident — to write it off as one more example of kids being kids.

But the reality is that this sort of behavior is much more pervasive than we care to admit. And it’s much more corrosive to the way our communities and country function than we’d like to think.

Just days before this simple Indiana high school basketball game took place, the political class in America was all atwitter because the president of the United States had invited Republican members of Congress to lunch and dinner at the White House so they could discuss their differences over tax and fiscal policy and maybe, just maybe, find a solution.

In other words, somehow it was big news that our nation’s leaders — adults of supposed maturity and accomplishment — decided to observe both common sense and common courtesy to try to serve the common good.

And, sadly, it is big news.

We have become so accustomed to tawdry behavior, to toxic outbursts disguised as political rhetoric or radio talk show antics, to plain poor sportsmanship and bad manners being considered as everyday occurrences, that we don’t realize how much it costs us.

My grandfather was a career Southern Indiana school teacher and principal. He told me once:

“Respect is a great investment. A little of it goes a long way.”

Courtesy and respect are more than social niceties. Together, they are the oil that helps to make the machinery of a complex and diverse society run smoothly.

We are bound to have disagreements and conflicts — and we should have them. Arriving at wise and just decisions often is a fractious process.

But showing some respect for people with whom we differ or against whom we compete makes it easier for us to come back together after the argument or the contest is over.

When the Carmel-Kokomo game ended, the players and coaches lined up to shake hands. When Carmel coach Scott Heady came up to Persons, the coach stopped, put his hand on the Kokomo player’s shoulder and complimented him on his play and leadership.

It was a classy gesture, a sportsmanlike moment.

It’s a pity that the students in the stands — and too many other people in American life — didn’t follow that example.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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