Sportsmanship: An Antiquated Concept?

By Stoll, Sharon Kay; Beller, Jennifer M. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 1993 | Go to article overview

Sportsmanship: An Antiquated Concept?


Stoll, Sharon Kay, Beller, Jennifer M., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


When confronted with questionable behavior from students, most educators would use the opportunity to talk about getting along with others, being good sports, and so forth. If we believe in the value of the affective domain and the importance of appropriate and acceptable behavior, we should teach it. However, what should we do if we see questionable behavior outside our classrooms within the school or community?

The Scenario(*)

You are the physical educator at XYZ High School. In your classes you run a fair, fun, educable, and tight ship. You believe in the essence of sportsmanship and often teach about it.

On Friday night, you attend your school's basketball game. The teams, both the home school and the visitors, practice what you consider to be good sportsmanship. You are looking forward to a good contest. The home cheerleaders take the floor to cheer during the opening team introductions. Both sets of cheerleaders have large signs that they display during the opposing team's introductions. The signs read, "Go Home," "Kiss My Grits," "Who Cares?," "Score and Die," and so forth. The spectators love it--they cheer for and applaud each sign. You are sitting a few feet from the athletic director and the school principal; you notice that they are cheering, too. The band joins in; when each opposing player is introduced, the band makes bleeping sounds.

Throughout the game, the teams are evenly matched and the coaches still have their respective teams under control. The band is sitting immediately behind the opposing team's basket. During foul shots, band members hold up signs with large black dots that they continually move around to distract the opposing players. The band also continues the sound effects and adds quips such as, "You stink; go home."

Your team eventually wins the game by a narrow margin. You believe that your team, as well as the opposing team, played fairly. Leaving the gymnasium, you wonder about the cheerleaders' and band's behavior. You ask a few fellow teachers, who tell you that "everyone else does the same thing," and "it's all in fun"; the behavior has nothing to do with sportsmanship because the teams were not involved. Later, when you discuss the scenario with your students, their response mirrors that of the teachers. They, too, believe that the cheerleaders' and band's actions were all in fun, and that a question of sportsmanship did not exist.

Is Sportsmanship Easily Defined and Understood?

Does the argument, "Everyone else does it," suffice? Is sportsmanship a prudish concept? Is sportsmanship antiquated? To answer these questions, we must examine the term and its usage. The American word "sportsmanship" is familiar to most people inside and outside sport; however, a universal definition is not as obvious. To accurately understand the nature and characteristics of sportsmanship and morality requires both definitive, as well as contextual, explanations. How one person defines sportsmanship, another may define as something else, and what we say we believe may not be what we practice.

Through conceptual analysis, the essential characteristics of sportsmanship can be analyzed as to its relationship to the whole. Essentially, contextual analysis holds that the concept of sportsmanship is greater than a mere definition. Dictionary definitions are limited and ignore the term "lived experience." Developing and repeatedly using. a term is one thing, yet to have a term develop into a concept is markedly different (Vanderzwaag, 1972). In other words, "dictionary definitions should be tested through comparison with usages of the concepts" in a particular setting or society (Vanderzwaag, 1972, p. 16). Consequently, the use of the term "sportsmanship" as an indicator of moral behavior or reasoning requires both an understanding of the contextual and definitive meanings.

In Practice, Is Sportsmanship What We Think It Is?

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