ESPN, the NCAA and your hometown youth soccer league share at least one commonality: their love and emphasis of sportsmanship. ESPN will marvel at and analyze something as simple as a post-game handshake while the NCAA and youth sports leagues derive their passion and intensity from the ideals of respectful competition and fair play. Each focuses mainly on the sportsmanship being demonstrated on the field, between the whistles and after the game. Rarely, however, is any attention given to the value of sportsmanship outside the boundaries of competition. This season alone, there have been two separate physical altercations between competitors and spectators in Div. I men’s basketball. I would venture to say that those players were not on the court looking for someone in the stands to confront. How many times have you observed a parent berating a referee at his or her child’s game? Most youth leagues have referees that simply want to stay involved in a game they love. Cities have rioted following significant losses for their teams, and, absurdly enough, cities have rioted after major victories as well. If excellent sportsmanship is expected of all competitors in athletics, why is the standard any lower for those spectating?
Fans, parents, coaches, administrators, owners, general managers, commissioners: Everyone invested enough to attend a competition has a role in maintaining and upholding the values of sportsmanship we so desperately want to see exhibited by the competitors. Within college athletics, that list is generally narrowed down to the fans, sometimes consisting of only parents and the institutions’ coaches and athletic and academic administrators. Here at the College, I believe the responsibility for promoting sportsmanship is even further constrained and falls squarely upon the fans and spectators rather than the professionals who comprise the athletic department. As a student-athlete, my experience on the football team, on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and in observation of other teams has impressed upon me the utmost adherence to and promotion of sportsmanship by our coaches and administrators. While these professionals certainly have a role in setting the standards of sportsmanship at athletic contests, I feel strongly that their influence should not be necessary beyond the confines of their players competing within the game. We, as students at Williams, one of the best institutions of higher education in the country, should be responsible for maintaining control of our actions and words as fans at an event. We should hold ourselves to a high standard, and a coach or the athletic director should not need to make clear for us that we have crossed a line. If that means telling your friends to simmer down a bit, so be it. They will most likely thank you later for helping prevent them from being a clown and acting like a fool in front of a crowd of their peers and professors.
As I hope nearly everyone in the Williams community would agree, the fans and supporters of our athletic teams are some of the best in the country. Even so, there are moments when our support and enthusiasm lapses into simply obnoxious and foolish behavior. I myself am a culprit, and I therefore understand how difficult the decision is on whether a comment, chant or gesture is appropriate or not. The passion and intensity of the competition serves to blur the line of acceptable conduct, and a hoard of fellow students roaring on all sides can instill courage in anyone. The answer to when you might be crossing that line, like many things, is that if you are questioning the appropriateness of what you’re doing, you are probably going too far. From that perspective, maintaining and promoting sportsmanship as a fan is fairly straightforward; positive conduct will never be questioned by you or anyone else and ultimately retains the competition’s focus on the athletes competing. From experience as an athlete, I feel embarrassed when the whole crowd is forced to endure a fan intent on letting everyone know how poorly my opponent is playing. At that point, the attention is drawn away from the actual game the fans came to watch. To have sportsmanship, we must be willing to exercise self-control and respect for the game in order to best accomplish our goal as fans attending the contest: to support our team. Consequently, sportsmanship at an athletic contest is not just limited to the competitors and is a value as important in the stands as it in the field of play. Stay classy, Williamstown.
Ryan Barry ’15 is a biology and English double major from Longmeadow, Mass. He lives in Tyler.