At every sporting event at the University of Dallas, the sports information crew provides the audience with a stack of fliers — sometimes on a clipboard, sometimes simply weighted down with some handy rocks. The double-sided sheets contain rosters for both teams participating in the day’s contest, as well as the season schedule for the Crusaders, and finally a little blurb about the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) “Fan Sportsmanship Program.”
“What does the University of Dallas mean by fan sportsmanship?” it asks in bold type.
Beneath the question is a checklist containing three items:
“Cheer for your team, not against the visitors.”
“Don’t get personal in your comments about players, coaches or officials.”
“No profanity, vulgarity, racist or sexist comments.”
They are three simple requests that most people would consider reasonable standards for good sportsmanship on the part of sports fans.
The latter two behaviors especially are generally frowned upon, and comments of that nature — at least at the University of Dallas — are usually muttered quietly to oneself rather than shouted out for all to hear.
In light of that, I’d like to focus on the first one.
This past weekend, I attended the softball team’s doubleheader against Jarvis Christian College. In the stands, I encountered two starkly different examples of fan sportsmanship.
A couple rows in front of me sat a group of students, all cheering loudly for their friends on the field.
One of the students in the group was particularly vocal, repeatedly shouting things like, “You know the ball’s supposed to go the other way,” when the opposing team’s batter hit a foul ball.
This fan did cheer loudly and supportively for the UD players on the field, however, so I kept chastising myself for being irked that this fan behaved in a rude manner toward the other team.
After all, hadn’t I said some fairly choice things to referees in my time? Hadn’t I laughed out loud just last week when an opposing men’s basketball player missed a free throw?
What right did I have to condemn less-than-sportsmanlike behavior in my fellow students and fans?
As my internal debate continued, I heard another booming voice behind me, ringing loudly in my ears.
Another UD fan, this one a little boy still small enough that his l’s and r’s sounded like w’s, was there to cheer for his sister as she played.
“Go Lauren,” the enthusiastic little child shrieked continuously throughout the course of the second game. “Go Lauren!”
He repeated the cheer indiscriminately, shouting for Lauren even when the Crusaders were on offense and Lauren — who was the pitcher for game two — was sitting in the dugout.
“Go Lauren,” he screamed particularly loudly, even when the Crusaders had stumbled on defense and let their lead slip from 3-0 to 3-2.
My first instinct was to be embarrassed for the boy, who clearly did not realize that what had just happened was not really something he should be cheering for. Almost immediately, however, I was more embarrassed for myself.
That little boy was the perfect example, not only of cheering for your team and not against the visitors, but of the remedy to what had irritated me so much about the fans in front of me.
The remedy to bad sportsmanship is a change of focus.
The boy behind me was totally focused on his sister and on encouraging her to do her best, and in being so focused, there was no room for negativity, even in more negative moments throughout the game.
There was only a childlike joy in sport and in human relationships.
Those Christians among us may be reminded of Christ saying to His disciples in Matthew 18:3:
“Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Well perhaps salvation does not hinge upon our behavior at softball games, but at the very least, unless we turn and become like enthusiastic and good-natured little children, we will not be considered good sportsmen by the SCAC, or anybody else in the stands.