I love sports. I spent 26 years playing and coaching soccer before transitioning to the world of endurance athletics and triathlon. Sports teaches all kinds of life lessons for the Good Guy – teamwork, perseverance, respect for others and authority, how to win and lose graciously.
There’s an ugly side to the game and it seems to be in almost every sport. It’s the soccer player that fakes an injury. It’s the basketball players that flops. It’s the coach working the officials. It’s the hockey player throwing down his gloves. It’s the pitcher that throws at a batter intentionally. It’s the trash talk.
Reggie White was a lineman for the Green Bay Packers and a really good one. His work ethic on the field made his opponents plan specifically for his presence in a game. He was also an ordained minister. When he sacked a quarterback, he didn’t shout out to the crowd, beat his chest, and stomp. He got up, then helped his opponent back on his feet.
Reggie understood respect in a different way than others. He knew that he was playing a game. It was a game with other people that were no better or worse than he was. That kind of thinking demands that you treat your opponents the same way that you would your friends playing a neighborhood game of touch football.
Tony Dungy was another outstanding example from the NFL. His beliefs and coaching style required that he treat his players and opponents respectfully and it commanded respect in return without demanding it. He didn’t yell and scream. He didn’t work the officials. He spoke truth; gently whenever possible and firmly when necessary. He was fair, holding his superstars to the same standard as anyone else on the team or on his staff.
Gamesmanship isn’t just part of the game like so many players, coaches, analysts, and fans would have you believe. It’s saying that “I don’t think I can beat you within the rules, so I’m going to resort to cheating in a way that is generally tolerated.” It’s a lack of respect to your opponent and it’s a lack of respect for the game. It’s an unwillingness to accept your limitations and work to find a way to play your best in the situation you’re placed.
It’s a mentality that goes deeper than that though. Players that make gamesmanship a part of their play are allowing the sport to define who they are. They’re pulling their significance from it. Over time, life becomes good or bad based on win-loss columns and stat sheets. Everything else begins to lose meaning. Your ego starts to become bigger than the game as you begin to believe that you define it. Look at Lance Armstrong, Pete Rose, Michael Vick, and others. It’s a dangerous journey to climb to the level of sports hero if your perspective isn’t right. When you fall, it’s disastrous.
The Good Guy doesn’t have to resort to or respond to gamesmanship. He plays hard, persevering through the lows and is gracious in the highs. He respects his opponent as if they played for his team. He can appreciate a good play against him and encourages any player on the field when he sees them down, even if they’re on the other team. At the end of the game, he offers a firm hand shake, looks his opponent in eyes, and means it when he says “good game”. The Good Guy redefines gamesmanship as the ultimate respect for his opponent. He knows that it’s just a game and doesn’t lose that perspective when he steps on the field.
The gamesmanship you display is always a choice. Do you want to be known as the guy that could trash talk his way into his opponent’s head? Or would you rather walk off the field knowing that, win or lose, you have the respect of every person playing or watching because of the respect you have for others?
Is your life going to be all about the game because it’s what you allow to define you? Or does the game become secondary to affirming the dignity and humanity of those that are fortunate enough to play it with you?