On sportsmanship

Don’t you hate it when someone raises a valid point that, try as you might, you can’t forget or ignore? For me, that happened several years ago with a book I read. The author’s assertion was that there are segments of our lives in which, consciously or subconsciously, we have determined that the way of Jesus simply won’t work. Doing things His way seems either impractical or inefficient, so we set aside the principles and practices of faith while we’re in that particular arena.

Take politics, for instance, where conventional wisdom says you have to “play dirty” to win, because the other side will if you don’t. In that vein, looking inward and identifying my own internal inconsistencies led to some painful re-evaluations. In what areas am I essentially saying, “Sorry, Jesus, you don’t belong here”? While I’d like to claim that I’ve got it all sorted out, there are still eleventy-seven parts of my life in which I look nothing like Jesus. But that’s no reason to stop trying, right?

As if I don’t have enough inconsistencies of my own to manage, I also try to make sure that our school collectively looks and acts like Jesus. Part of that is the same public relations calculation that every organization considers: Does the public have generally good encounters with our school and a favorable opinion of it? But for CRA, a school that hangs its hat on being not just a private educational institution but also an avowedly Christian one, there’s a greater concern. Larger than the PR worries common to every company is this: How are we representing the faith our school collectively professes?

Sadly, there have been multiple sporting events on campus this year at which the opposing team’s fans were overheard making postgame comments along the lines of, “I thought this was a Christian school, but I guess not.” In each instance, they were talking about the actions of some of our fans.

Now, I’ve heard that often enough over decades of CRA affiliation to recognize that there are times it carries incendiary intent. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a cheap shot said in anger. When the action on the court creates conflict in the stands, that sort of thing is going to happen, and you never know what anyone’s motivation may be. As a result, I generally take such feedback with a grain of salt.

And yet more and more, I worry that we’ve come to view a gymnasium as one of those places where we’d like Jesus to make himself scarce. So while we’re there, we feel we have the right to insult and demean others for a couple of hours. That may be the cultural norm for sporting events, but is it the right thing to do?

I played basketball (or at least, I tried – the actual work product probably wasn’t identifiable as a sport). I’m a basketball dad. I’ve been the fan yelling at the referees because I thought my insults were clever, and the fan yelling at them because I thought they were terrible at their jobs and deserved public shaming/waterboarding, and the fan yelling at them because their obvious biases represented a clear and present danger to my team and/or child.

The bottom line is, referees do three things: they make good calls, they make bad calls, and they go home to their families. At any given time, every whistle is going to split the crowd 50/50 between good call or bad. But we can all relate to the third item on the list. Whether a referee has a great night or a lousy one, at its end he or she still just wants a cheeseburger and safe travels home. Surely we can all relate, and afford him/her the luxury of human understanding when the calls don’t break our way.

I truly don’t want to spend each game policing fan behavior. (Coach Freer and I have secretly decided to make Mr. Hagood handle that!) But there are multiple reasons why sportsmanship and mature fan behavior are critically important for CRA. Yes, we want to promote a positive image for the school. But much more importantly, we – players, coaches, and fans alike – carry the witness of our faith into every contest, and that is infinitely more significant than the outcome of any game.

So I call on each of us as fans to police ourselves. Let’s be unrivaled in our noisy support of our kids and teams, but let’s stop short of insulting or demeaning players, coaches or fans on the other side. Just as we don’t realistically expect our team to play a perfect ballgame, let’s also give the officials wide enough berth to make a mistake or two before we verbally assail the quality of their visual or mental acuity.

It is the right thing to do. And around here – hopefully, especially around here – the right thing always matters.

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For more information, please contact:

Amber Oxley
Crowley’s Ridge Academy
606 Academy Dr.
Paragould, AR 72450

aoxley@crafalcons.org
(870) 280-2557

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Crowley’s Ridge Academy

606 Academy Dr

Paragould, AR  72450

870.236.6900