Is sportsmanship dead?

Robin standing on snow

Ahhh, February, the month of love. Sad thing is, it’s also the month sports enthusiasts say goodbye to football season and say hurry up and bring on the NCAA basketball tournament since spring is nowhere in sight. Sports fans who watched the Super Bowl are still buzzing over the ending, more specifically, the attitude of the winners and losers of the game.

For those who are football fans, we have watched Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers rise up to NFL glory with nearly a perfect season, and then roll through the play-offs in domineering fashion. Despite being favored to win the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers were stymied by a domineering Denver Bronco defense and a washed up, already should have retired quarterback named Peyton Manning. While avid football and even basketball fans do relish the age old adage that defense wins championships, Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, did not hide his dismay and disgust at their championship game upset. In fact, he walked out of the post-game press conference, only to comment on it days later that, “Yes, I am a sore loser, but so is anyone else who is competitive.”

As an athletic trainer with hundreds if not thousands of athletic events under my belt, I can assure you that this behavior and comment would be completely expected of a ten year old, maybe a fifteen or sixteen year old athlete still a little wet behind the ears in handling a disappointing loss. However, as a grown man, well experienced in high school, college, and professional level sports, surely this is not the first loss, and by now, Cam Newton should be mature enough to demonstrate at least publicly how to handle a big loss with humility and decorum.

Is sportsmanship dead? Has it been replaced by millennials with blown up egos from their wins, coddled after losses, with excuses made for their bad attitudes and behavior? The whole point of playing sports is learning how to win and lose with grace, humility, and resilience. This is what we learn in life, and playing sports is just a microcosm of the highs and lows of life itself. If we cannot teach our children and athletes how to demonstrate self-control over their emotions and behaviors in both the best and worst of times, are we not raising a next generation of spoiled, self-centered, ruffians, if not criminals, who excuse their bad behavior on their inability to handle an unexpected life event? Scary thought indeed.

During this month of love, let us remind ourselves, our kids, and our grandkids that both wins and losses in everyday life are an opportunity to grow and show love and grace to others no matter our circumstances. I have faith that Cam Newton is just an anomaly, not representative of the majority of our professional and amateur athletes who are old enough to know better. For the rest of us with influence on the next generation, let’s encourage models of humility and sportsmanship as our heroes for our younger athletes to aspire to be like with open dialogue about what is acceptable and not acceptable in response to winning and losing in the game of life.

Yours truly,

Jill Murphy
Owner/Physical Therapist
MotionWorks Physical Therapy