Unsportsmanlike Conduct: what’s too far?

by Ivan Bobanovic | Last updated

Unsportsmanlike conduct is globally accepted as inappropriate. It doesn’t matter what sport you play or what the rules are that constitute the sport – you know it when you see it. When a player punches another player, it’s unsportsmanlike and dangerous. When a player celebrates a goal by taking their shirt off, although debatable, players everywhere know it’s unsportsmanlike, showboating and for it you will be penalized (given a yellow card in soccer). The different degrees of unsportsmanlike can be argued about over and over; however one fact remains: it’s wrong.

There is a very fine line between competitively battling and becoming a hazard on the field. The question becomes how to remain competitive without crossing that line and going too far.

From the time we started playing soccer as young kids all the way until now, we all know of players who play too hard. These players are known to play hard in every situation no matter what. As much as this trait is admirable, it is equally destructive. The reason it is termed destructive is because these players often become reckless and have no bounds. If this player is you, listen up and pay close attention.

This recklessness is best illustrated by an embarrassing event that occurred in woman’s collegiate soccer this passed summer (year 2009). News networks, sports casts and internet video’s alike populated their screens with the video of a female athlete by the name of Elizabeth Lambert who single handily showed how playing too hard becomes dangerous and often stupid. Watch here as the athlete demonstrates raw brutality:

To be blunt, she was being a bully.  Soccer is a very physical sport and those who play it know of the battles that occur on the field — or off camera. There are verbal exchanges that often escalate into tugs, pushes, knocks and even hard tackles.  Being a spectator, you wouldn’t know it – you would think the players are just being competitive and playing hard.   Nonetheless, players and coaches understand that this occurs; they are not naive about the physicality and grit of the sport.  This showcase of bullying however surpasses what many coaches and players accept as on-field battles…this is simply vicious.

Watch here as the hosts of PTI (Pardon the Interruption) Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon provide their interpretation of the matter.   All joking from the two hosts aside, I think Mike Wilbon has it bang-on:

After every storm comes calm. Following an event like Ms. Lambert’s, or after the storm on the field has passed, players are left to deal with the consequences of their actions. Often you’ll hear these types of players say they are sorry because their “emotions got the better of [them]”. In fact, Ms. Lambert issued a public apology with those exact words included in the apology. This is not a blog to bash Ms. Lambert, this is a blog to help players understand that you can be competitive and play hard without crossing the line.

So how do you control yourself? With respect. Respect the game you are playing and respect the players around you. One of the key elements of respect is that you do not necessarily have to like a person or like what they are doing, but you still respect them. Lets step outside of the sporting world for a second and use a teacher or a professor as an example. When you take a class and the teacher/professor says something you don’t agree with, you don’t get up and throw a fit. You may argue and suggest why he/she might be wrong, but you respect them and their opinion. Whether you agree or not is another matter. Back to the sporting world, when you are playing against someone who is playing hard or pushing all your wrong buttons, continue to battle and continue to compete but do not cross the line. If you wouldn’t stand up in class and throw a fit, why should you throw a fit on the field?

That having been said, never be afraid to stand up for yourself and for your teammates. Never be afraid to stand up for what is right. Don’t be stupid and throw cheap shot punches and pull people down by their hair, but don’t be afraid to defend what is right.

How do you feel about unsportsmanlike conduct? How far is too far? Share your thoughts and share your stories.

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