Whoever first made the statement, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” must have been made of steel. Because from my personal experience, words have the ability to hurt a whole lot more than anything physical could.
Sportsmanship is defined as “an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.” But from what I’ve witnessed over the past week, from both sides of the fence, fairness, ethics, respect and fellowship all seem to be lacking from sports on many levels. Allow me to share some examples.
I am a Cubs fan. Ok, ok, make your jokes, I’ll wait…but I promise that you won’t come up with anything original that I haven’t heard before. I mean seriously, I am a Cubs fan living in St. Louis, trust me when I say that some of the more personal attacks can actually hurt my feelings. The NLCS has been somewhat painful to watch, my Cubs going down in flames with a grandeur even the most loyal fans could not have anticipated. I’m sitting here writing this because I can’t stand the pain of watching the Mets destroy us any longer. However, last week, when we won the NLDS, it was glorious. But as is always the case with sports, there is a winner and a loser. After the final game of the series the other night, the kids asked if we could go up to Mobile On the Run for 50 cent slushies (there is a deal here that when the Cardinals score 6 runs, the next day you can get fountain drinks, coffee and slushies on the cheap) Anyway, we went up to the store, me in my Cubs shirt, Silas in his Cardinals shirt, and the cashier was teasing me, “Hey, we don’t serve Cubs fans here!” His teasing was light hearted, there is a difference. It’s a game. It’s supposed to be FUN!
As I turned to leave with the kids, he said, “Actually, I hope they win it all.” The man behind me, loudly and angrily said, “I DON’T.” Everyone in the store was taken aback by his hostility. One woman said, “Why?” He got right in my face, with my kids standing there watching, and practically spat the words on me, “Because I HATE Chicago”. With my eyebrows raised, I made the Okay then face and we calmly left the building. When we got in the car, my kids asked why that man was so angry. I assured them it had more to do with his own life than it did with baseball. The kids caught the tears in my eyes when the Cubs won and asked why I was crying. My response, “Because your Grandpa would have loved this.” But they didn’t see the tears I cried later for that man whose name I do not know, he has obviously been wounded and so he wounds.
Skip forward a few days to Saturday when I got to watch my Spartans take on our biggest rival the University of Michigan wolverines. With a couple minutes left in the game, the Spartans were down by 2 with a chance to score. But they failed to convert at 4th down and 19, so the wolverines had the ball again. With only 10 seconds left their kicker, who had scored almost half of their 23 points for the day came out to punt, but the placement was wrong, UM fumbled the ball and the Spartans ran it back for a touchdown to win 23-27 with no time left on the clock. Despite my prediction to Brian that it was indeed possible, even I didn’t really expect it to happen. It was a shocker to anyone watching. As a Spartan, I celebrated. As a human being, I was sad to learn that the young Australian kicker has since received death threats because of it. Sad. Just sad. Where are the priorities?
As a Spartan fan, I am used to winning. (March Madness anyone?) As a Cubs fan, I am used to losing. Sad, but true. As a Jacobs, I have learned to do both graciously, sportsmanship. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While I watched my Spartans win, and my Cubbies lose to the Mets in game 1 on Saturday, the best game I watched that day was my 10 year old’s soccer game. Silas’ game was great too, it ended in a tie. But there was something really special about Ethan’s game. One of his best friends from school was on the other team and they played hard against each other. At the end of the 4-0 game, which team won is actually irrelevant, the boys found each other and Drew, the score forgotten, immediately asked, “Can Ethan come over to our house?” Drew’s dad and I worked out the details and they were off. Sportsmanship at it’s finest.
So why is it that when we grow up it becomes more acceptable, even expected, to talk smack? Especially among fans who aren’t even in the lineup? Especially when the teasing pushes way past light hearted fun and becomes bitter and hurtful. The answer: It’s NOT acceptable. If we really want our kids to remember to practice sportsmanship, we have to continue to practice it ourselves.
Go on and celebrate when your team wins. Absolutely! Cheer to your hearts content, but remember how to cross the field and shake hands with the other team. It’s reasonable to feel sad when your team loses, but hang your head only for a moment and then raise it high again. And remember to congratulate the other team, and then try to learn something from the loss. Learning from our mistakes and our losses is a necessary part of life.
In a press conference earlier today, that young college kicker said, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go again. That’s the beauty of sport.” Yes, there is even beauty in losing. You can try again.
And because of that, I will continue to love my teams. Even my Cubs. Being a Cubs fan is about so much more than baseball to me.
It’s about a legacy, I am a 6th generation Cubs fan. And I am more proud of being a Jacobs than I am almost anything else in my life.
It’s about loyalty, staying true through the good and the bad. Even if it’s mostly bad.
It’s about texts with my brother, my uncle, my cousins when Baez redeems himself by hitting a homerun or Schwarber hits a bomb that will remain on top of the Wrigley Field scoreboard.
It’s about learning to live in the moment and celebrate the victories we’re given, because we are never guaranteed another opportunity.
It’s about learning to accept defeat. And knowing that winning isn’t everything.
It’s about being gracious in any and every situation. (If some other jerk Cubs fan has run his mouth to you, I am not responsible for his behavior, so please don’t hold it against me.)
It’s about sportsmanship. One of my favorite quotes from my dad was this, “Don’t throw the equipment. It’s not the equipment’s fault.” It’s also not your opponents fault.
It’s about memories. So many memories. Some that make me laugh and some that make me cry.
It’s about knowing that my 90 year old Grandma is watching the game too.
It’s about tradition. It’s about family. It’s about hope. It’s about having a connection to a man that I loved dearly and I look forward to seeing again some day.
My dad didn’t get to see a Cubs World Series win in his lifetime. Neither did my Grandpa. And there is a chance I won’t either. If you want to throw your world series wins in my face or pick on my team for losing, I’ll deal with that. But the personal attacks are the ones that bother me. You can call it “teasing” but putting someone down is bullying, plain and simple. I assure you my IQ is just fine and yeah, sometimes I am a “loser”, but aren’t we all on some occasions? I can’t say that some of those things don’t hurt, but I can say they still won’t change who I am. After all is said and done, I’m a Jacobs. And being a Cubs fan is just in my blood. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And I hope that at the end of the day, or the end of the game, or the season, that Ethan gets his example of sportsmanship from me. And I really hope he doesn’t grow out of that. Because just like that young kicker said, “That’s the beauty of sport.”