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Is Practicing Good Sportsmanship a Dying Art?


(Editor’s Note.  This story is based in part on a story that originally ran in the Columbus Post-Dispatch.  Poor behavior by both athletes and fans at sporting events is an increasing problem.  The emphasis on winning is seen by many as distorting proper values in society as a whole).

A western Ohio high school runner who helped a struggling competitor finish their race is being praised for her sportsmanship and trying to cope with the attention it has sparked.

Meghan Vogel appreciates the accolades but said Tuesday that she is a bit overwhelmed by the praise that has been pouring in since Saturday’s track meet in Columbus.

The 17-year-old West Liberty-Salem High School junior was in last place in the 3,200-meter run as she caught up to Arlington High School sophomore Arden McMath, whose body was giving out. Instead of zipping past McMath to avoid the last-place finish, Vogel put McMath’s arm around her shoulders, half-dragging and half-carrying her about 30 meters to the finish line.

The incident occurred about 30 yards from the finish line of the race.  Vogel essentially pushed McMath over the finish line so that she could finish before Vogel, who finished last in the race.

It’s an honor and very humbling,” Vogel said in a telephone interview from her West Liberty home. “I just thought I was doing the right thing, and I think others would have done the same.”

Many people would not necessarily agree that Vogel did the right thing.  McMath was very complimentary of the act of her competitor, telling the Associated Press in a phone interview. “I really don’t think just everyone would have done that,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe what she did — especially pushing me in front of her — and I’m so grateful.”

Both girls are a little hazy about the details.  McMath was treated after the race for dehydration and Vogel was also taken the first aid area.  It should be noted that, while Vogel finished 16th out of 16 runners in the 3200-meter race, she had won the 1600-meter race earlier that same day.

Vogel’s mother, Ann Vogel, is West Liberty-Salem’s track and field coach. Technically both runners should have been disqualified, but the official decided not to make that call, she said. Neither runner scored any points, so team standings weren’t affected. McMath finished 14th, and Vogel finished 15th.

Ann Vogel said she’s very proud of her daughter, and the response has been amazing.

“People were coming up to us in tears and hugging both of us after the race,” Ann Vogel said.

She went on to say she was surprised by some negative comments on the Internet and talk radio criticizing her daughter for a lack of competitiveness.

“I can’t believe people would twist an act of kindness like that,” she said.

Should we be surprised at the fact that some people have been critical of this random act of kindness and sportsmanship?  USA Today ran a story in its June 6 edition reporting on the increase among professional players in major pro leagues in the U.S. using the press and social media to complain about officiating.  Jonathan Papellon, relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, ripped the home plate umpire after the umpire failed to call a strike that would have struck out batter Carl Crawford, who in the next pitch hit a triple that resulted in a Red Sox loss.  Papellon never mentioned the fact that he grooved a fast ball over the plate on the pitch Crawford hit.  He said the umpire “sucked” and should be sent back to the minor leagues.

This author refereed soccer for over 20 years at every level from youth recreational leagues to college.  This involved around 1200 matches as the head referee and some 2000 matches as an assistant referee.  There is no doubt that some calls, maybe 2-3% were missed.  Perfection is an impossible goal to attain.

How many players play perfect games?  Players routinely commit physical and mental mistakes during games.  Players typically say that they are held accountable for their errors and officials are not.  When was the last time a player was cut from a pro team simply for making one mistake on a play?  Does anyone believe that players make fewer mistakes than game officials?

Berating officials is a learned behavior in our society.  Parents frequently go crazy at their kids’ ball games, yelling at officials (and more and more physically attacking them) in local youth games.  This author has had to call the police on one occasion to get a high school coach to back away and on a few occasions has been prevented from leaving the field by angry parents.

We live in a society that has turned winning games into a litmus test of character.  If things don’t go well we look for scapegoats other than ourselves and frequently focus on the officials.  Exercising good sportsmanship is often seen as a sign of weakness.  Even though in almost every sporting even there is a winner and a loser, we cannot accept the reality that all of us will lose on occasion at something.

We have lost sight of the fact that what is important in life is not the destination; but the journey itself.  This myopia has carried over into sports.  Perhaps we will be forced to analyze our own behavior when we find no one willing to take the abuse that goes with being an official.  Our priorities have gotten completely twisted and all of us are worse off because of it.

Ethics in sports and contemporary issues in sports are two subject areas taught as core courses at the United States Sports Academy.  For more information on Academy programs go to http://ussa.edu


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