"Sportsmanship." What does the term bring to mind for you? Little-league lessons about shaking the other guy's hand, of being gracious both in defeat and in victory? Or maybe a coach's lecture about how to comport yourself off the field in accordance with the image you project on the field?
Sure. Could be anything in that vein, I suppose. But consider what happened recently at the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship at Heritage Bluffs Golf Club - a match to determine who would go to the NAIA men's golf National Championship.
Grant Whybark, a sophomore at the University of St. Francis, had locked up a spot in nationals with his team, which won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship, but was in a playoff against Olivet Nazarene's Seth Doran for individual honors.
As championships go, both the winning team and winning individual are asked to move on to nationals, so if Whybark won the playoff against Doran, he'd be honoring both spots and Doran wouldn't be asked to move on.
What happened next is the type of stuff movies are made about. Whybark stood over his tee shot on the first playoff hole, looked down the fairway and back at his ball, and hit it 40 yards right of the fairway, out of bounds by a mile. He made double bogey, Doran made par, and Olivet Nazarene had a man in nationals.
"We all know Seth very well," Whybark said after,
and he not only is a very good player, but a great person as well. He’s a senior and had never been to nationals. Somehow, it just wasn’t in my heart to try to knock him out.
I think some people were surprised, but my team knew what I was doing and were supportive of me. I felt Seth deserved to go [to nationals] just as much as I did.
It was one of those things where I couldn’t feel good taking something from him like this. My goal from the start was to get [to nationals] with my team. I had already done that.
It's nothing new to sports to hear of someone giving way like this, although there are perhaps more examples (bloody, gritty examples) of poor sportsmanship available than of good sportsmanship.
Even so, consider:
- The young softballer who has to touch each base to collect her home run, but who suddenly can't walk.
- Expectations placed not just on the players, but on those who participate by cheering them on.
- Parents who don't yell at their kids at minor sporting events.
- The marathoner who foresakes her Olympic medal to stop and pick up a colleague that's fallen.
Or, on the flip side, the everpresent mottoes "Winning isn't everything -- it's the only thing" and "If you're not cheating, you're not trying" -- the idea that there is no joy in sport to be derived from a largeness of spirit; that only what's on the scoreboard matters after the final buzzer sounds.
Whybark is a practitioner of the "virtue ethic," which runs counter to these ideas. Here's The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics on the topic.
"Virtue" is the translation of the Greek arete', which simply means any kind of excellence. Thus a knife's arete' would be its sharpness, that of a horse its speed, and that of an athlete his or her skill. As these examples suggest, virtue was also thought to enhance or betsow power either by building on potential or by creating habits. Thus, as a moral category the virtues are dispositions that form passions and/or create habits. As Aristotle suggested, virtues are a "kind of second nature" that dispose us not only to do the right thing rightly but also to gain pleasure from what we do....
Aquinas ... [suggested] that the "natural" or "acquired" virtues needed to be formed by the supernatural or theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Hence his famous formula: "Charity is the form of all the virtues."
A woman who cuts my hair at a popular sports-themed haircut joint watched me as I scrutinized Tiger Woods at the Masters recently. "I wouldn't have forgiven him if I'd been married to him," she said as she snipped, "but he did make golf a sport."
By "sport," she must have been speaking about finances and magazines and advertising dollars and marketing equipment and The Golf Channel. It wasn't the "gentleman's game" I know. That job apparently falls to folks like Whybark.