-- By Bob Scalise, The John D. Nichols ’53 Family Director of Athletics
Intercollegiate athletics provides a unique opportunity to educate—lessons that can be learned by all participants: student-athletes, coaches and spectators. One of the most valuable results is the development of character through the adherence to the highest standards of integrity, ethics and sportsmanship.
Throughout the history of intercollegiate athletics, we have seen the best of what competition can inspire. Participants in these contests learned the value of teamwork and demonstrated respect for their opponents. They strove to play by both the spirit and letter of the rules, and they experienced personal development while learning to collaborate with others.
In an ideal world, student-athletes and coaches who compete on the field of play are continuously refining their craft, while making those around them better. They must put the good of the group ahead of their own personal goals, and they share a mutual respect with their opponents, earned through shared experiences. Athletics provides the opportunity to give and receive feedback, while taking risks and challenging perceived boundaries. Individuals learn to accept victory with humility while acknowledging defeat with grace.
In today’s compete-to-win society, however, watching sports can sometimes give a different impression. Too often, we see coaches and student-athletes exhibiting behavior that is unbecoming of the institutions that they represent. There is neither a demonstrated respect for one’s opponent nor for the ideals of the game. Instead, we sometimes see egotism, bravado and self-centered antics. There are times when the extent of unsportsmanlike behavior makes it seem as though we’ve lost our way.
Spectators are also contest participants who must be responsible for their actions. It makes me proud to see our fans (and fans from other schools) enthusiastically cheer their team. When their conduct, however, leads to fan behavior that attacks individuals from opposing teams with derogatory comments because of who they are, it is disturbing. There is no place for this regrettable behavior in an athletic or educational setting. Student-athletes are at a formative stage in their development, and these comments are hurtful and potentially harmful. This is to say nothing of ill-advised fans who react negatively to their own teams and coaches.
As educators, we have a responsibility to help our fans support and root for their teams in ways that are supportive and encouraging, rather than promoting hostility and contempt. The leaders of athletics at each university and at conference offices need to work together to create an environment that is inclusive for all student-athletes, coaches and fans.
Intercollegiate athletics provides the opportunity for success in many different ways—through wisdom gained, as much as through victories on the field. True success, however, comes only when one competes and wins the right way—honoring the game and showing mutual respect for all participants.