Like most people I know, over the last week I’ve been watching the Olympics. My kids love the games, especially my son. When he gets up in the morning he wants to watch the games. He likes “sword fighting” (fencing), he likes “water fighting” (water polo), he likes just about all of it. I can’t wait to watch the track and field with him next week.
When I was growing up, I played all kinds of sports. I was even really good in some. As I got older, more competitive, and more confident I started not only trying to win, but also I tried to intimidate. I talked trash, I bumped people, I played hard, and mostly it was legal. Regardless of the intensity of the game, and there were some pretty intense games, I tried to win or lose graciously, that didn’t always happen, but it was what my parents and coaches tried to get me to do. I will also say, I wasn’t the only one talking; I also had to deal with the consequences of my talking some times. In baseball, that meant getting beaned a few times, harder tags, higher slides, etc. In basketball, that meant harder fouls, harder screens, more trash talk, especially if I messed up. Let be clear, I was not a very good sport, I was a borderline dirty player, and I shook hands at the end of the game, sometimes that was tense, but it happened, win or lose, most of the time because my coaches made me.
Let me also be clear, I was not an “elite” athlete. I won some awards, I got some recognition, I played at a Division II school, I was part of championship teams, but I was not on the level that any of the Olympians are, even the ones that are just happy to be there.
I really enjoy competition, I really enjoy tense competition, and I even enjoy a little bravado and swagger. I am, however, having some issues with the way we are celebrating our athletes, especially in the pool. The US swimmers are dominating the pool this year, we’ve got the finger wag and the #PhelpsFace both of which are fine on the service, but we seem to be more excited about and celebratory of their out of the pool exploits than their accomplishments in the pool. It also got me to wondering, if another athlete was doing that to our athletes we would be up in arms about how arrogant and disrespectful they are. I understand that a lot of the game, any game, is mental and in the Olympics first and last are decided by less than a second athletes are trying to gain any advantage they can.
What I’d like to see is after winning our athletes offer a congratulatory handshake to the other competitors. Lilly King seemed to do that at the medal ceremony when she embraced Yulia Efimova, the Russian swimmer who was the target of the finger wag. I want our athletes and my children to always take the high road, always be gracious in victory and defeat. Even if they feel like they got cheated, even if the umpire was mean to them, even if they didn’t play well, even if it breaks their heart, I want them to congratulate their opponent, I want them to shake their hand and say “Good game”.
I’m always impressed by our more gladiatorial sports, boxing, mix martial arts, karate, and judo these sports require that you to actually battle an opponent. In non-Olympic boxing and MMA there is all kinds of bravado, trash talking, and aggression before the fight. The fights are violent, brutal, and can end in serious injury. In almost all instances, at the end of the match, the combatants shake hands and hug and congratulate each other.
I want my kids and our athletes to exemplify sportsmanship. They can have bravado, talk trash, be confident, but in the end I want them to be gracious, even if, and especially if their opponents aren’t.
At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite” I hope to share with you some of my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.
Favorite: I love watching the Olympics and hearing the stories of, not only our athletes but those from other countries.
Not Favorite: This political season and the discourse around it.