In 1936, Berlin, the site of the Olympic Games, was bristling with Nazism. Red and black swastikas were flying everywhere and brownshirted storm troopers were goose stepping down the streets as Adolf Hitler postured and harangued while pushing his Nazi ideology. He had hoped that German athletes would validate his theories of Aryan superiority but Jesse Owens, almost singlehandedly, was to prove them wrong.
One would think that, in such an atmosphere, the Berlin crowd would be rabidly against foreign athletes. U.S sports officials certainly thought so and they tried to prepare our athletes for a hostile reception from the crowd. They need not have worried. The American contigent received a warm welcome as they entered the stadium for the march past and applauded American victories as they did any others. For a heartwarming story of what happened when Luz Long raised Jesse Owens hand in victory, click on
That was a long time ago. In the more recent past, we have seen East European judges routinely give lower marks to American skaters,divers and gymnasts. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, boxer Roy Jones was adjudged the loser in a semifinal bout where he had battered and clearly outpointed his Korean opponent ; the deciding vote was cast by a Korean judge. At the Little League World Championships, some years ago, the Taiwanese coach ran onto the field and slapped his star pitcher for having lost the game. And the obnoxious behavior of parents watching their childrens’ games is so common that we have almost become used to it . Clearly we believe that
Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. ( Vince Lombardi)
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal ( of all places) was an eyeopener. In it , reporter Russell Adams described how teams, both in the pros and college, are trying to harness fan power to give their teams an edge. Resarch has shown that fan power not only rattles the opponents and buoys the home team , it also leads to consistent ( if inadvertent) home team bias by the referees. Team management at the Indianapolis Colts and the Dallas Cowboys is trying to tweak stadium design so that crowd noise is funneled towards the field. At the Portland TrailBlazers Arena there are rotating ceiling panels with a soft side for concerts and a hard side that reflects crowd noise during games. At Qwest Field in Seattle, noise from the end zone seats bounces off the overhangs and the roof and is reflected onto the field. No wonder Seahawk opponents have so many false start penalties called against them.
We have traded sportsmanship for gamesmanship. Coach Bill McCartney.
Gamesmanship is not restricted to the pros. At Ohio State , hundreds of courtside seats are now reserved for rowdy students in a move designed to unnerve Buckeye opponents (For sure, I’m rooting against OSU in the ongoing NCAA tournament). Oregon State University recently spent $ 500,000 on football bleachers that will make more noise when stomped on. Some sections in the Comcast Center, where the University of Maryland plays, have uncomfortable seats designed to force fans to their feet. Pep bands are routinely seated behind the vistors bench to make it harder for coaches to talk to their teams during time-outs.Happily, some conferences are cracking down on this last. I can’t help thinking though “If this is the way that University authorities are behaving , what message are they sending our children ?”
I started on this rant because of the behavior of Indian and Pakistani cricket fans at the recent World Cup. These fans expect nothing less than victory every time their teams step on the field. When their team wins, the players are treated like gods but when they lose, watch out! Players effigies are burnt,stones are thrown at their homes and their relatives subjected to abuse. After India lost to ‘minnows’ Bangladesh, Indian ‘fans’ at their next match unfurled a banner proclaiming ” Last Warning to Team India.Win or stay in Trinidad Forever”. Pakistan are out of the tourarnament , having lost their two opening matches and the reaction back home has been just as vitriolic though it has been muted somewhat by the tragic and sudden death of coach Bob Woolmer following the loss to Ireland. Wonder what will happen if India lose to SriLanka on Friday and are bounced out of the World Cup….
Let me end this on a high note by recounting a personal incident.
I have always been a rabid Los Angeles Laker fan. My friend, Bill, is a die-hard Boston Celtic rooter. This story goes back to the early eighties when the Magic Johnson-led Lakers were battling Larry Bird’s Celtics.One year, the series went to seven games and the Lakers won the title in a thriller. Monday morning, Bill congratulated me on ‘my’ team’s victory and then asked me if I had taped it. When I said ‘No’, he went to his office and returned with a video cassette which he handed to me.” I don’t think I want to watch it ,” he said ” but I know you will.”
Now that is real sportsmanship…..