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Occasional ramblings by an anesthesiologist/mother (and sometimes her husband).

Friday, June 30, 2006

Sportsmanship in Real Sports

I just finished reading this great article by Geoffrey Norman about World Cup Soccer. It echoed a few comments I made earlier about the lack of civility in soccer fans worldwide.

I, like most Americans, find soccer incredibly boring. There are many who lament that this sport is not popular in America, as it is in the rest of the world. There are also many who complain that we call it "soccer" and not "football" as most of the rest of the world does.

One of the best explanations I ever heard about the popularity of soccer worldwide is its simplicity. All you need is a basic round ball and some open space. No special equipment is needed. In football, you need a specialized ball. In basketball, you need a basket. In baseball, you need bats and, preferably, gloves. In hockey, or crew... lots of stuff.

The result is that even the poorest people worldwide can often play it. Here in the United States, however, the specialized equipment is more prevalent. Even the poorest areas of the city have basketball courts freely available.

I'm not generally one to condemn an entire sport for the actions of some fans. One could argue whether soccer inspires violence, or simply acts as a focal point for the violent. Either way, however, I cannot help think of soccer as a boring sport with violent fans.

The article said one thing which struck very close to my heart. Norman referred specifically to Scott Norwood, with regards to the better sportsmanship of American football fans. This is a point upon which I would like to expound. We all were mad at him for a short while after that fateful Super Bowl. Nicknames like "Scud Norwood" or "Scott Norwide" were prevalent. It didn't take long, however, for people to realize that a lot of people made mistakes in that game, and that it was not fair to place all the blame on him.

True vindication came a few years ago. ES1 & I attended an event at the University of Buffalo. It was called "Kelly vs. Marino: The Final Showdown." It was a flag football game with autograph signings in which Kelly led a group of Bills stars against Marino and a group of NFL stars. For several hours prior to the event, players signed autographs. The longest line was for Jim Kelly. A very close second, however, was the line for Scott Norwood. He was very well received. Buffalo, the city that put a giant monument to William McKinley in front of City Hall, once again said "sorry about that." We took pictures.

As many problems as exist in professional sports, the basic spirit of sportsmanship is still alive and well in America. Over here, soccer is a kids game. (Even then, however,the parents can get violent.) Let the rest of the world get caught up their deadly riots over 0-0 ties. When people get rowdy at a Bills game, the mob of yellow-jacketed security officers drag them out. Dolphins fans and Bills fans can stand over the same grill, ribbing over their ribs, and very seldom do real fights break out.

Basketball, quite frankly, also bores the heck out of me. At least in that sport, however, violence is frowned upon.

Fights can break out in baseball too. When they do, however, it's big news. And, it is frowned upon.

Fights are getting far less frequent in hockey.

Crew, the sport in which I participated, is even better. Since there is no physical contact between the shells, the only person you're beating up on is yourself. There is great camaraderie between opponents. Which brings me to favorite quote about the sport: Athletes row. Everyone else just plays games.

If other places want to get psyched up about soccer, they are welcome to. As long as they're not smashing my city with their riots, or tying up my tv stations when I could be watching a real sport. That's the great part about a free society - choices. You can choose to enjoy soccer and think of it as the greatest sport of the universe. You can choose to try to evangelize it. Just don't be surprised, however, when you're trying to explain to me the virtues and excitement of soccer, if I nod off several times during your speech.

Update, 9:25 PM. ES1 reminded me where the line about soccer's popularity came from. Link added.

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