Certainly, when we play on a team or cheer for a team, we want our side to win. Yet, in the midst of that desire and any team’s (or fan’s) competitiveness, acts of sportsmanship can draw both sides together. Sportsmanship demonstrates the bonds that players and fans have that extend beyond the final score. In this episode, I relate to famous incidents of sportsmanship.
The first one won and ESPY Award several years ago. It’s the story of a women’s college softball game where one of the players hit the ball over the fence, but tore a ligament rounding first base. Unless she touched all the bases, the run would not count. She was in too much pain to continue around the bases and it is against the rules for teammates to help another round the bases. Then, one of the opponents asked if she could help the batter. No rule against that, so the opposing team helped her around the bases, something of course was directly against their own interests. But their interests were bigger than the score and their act of sportsmanship not only was celebrated with the ESPY, I have witnessed it bringing tears to the eyes of professional football players.
The second story is about sportsmanship vis-à-vis an umpire. Now, who treats an umpire or referee well? They’re the ones people yell at and complain about. No one had a better reason to complain than Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga, who was one out away from pitching just the 21st perfect game in major league baseball history. And he did, getting the final out. Except that the umpire missed the call, ruining the perfect game. Galarraga wasn’t happy, of course, but neither did he explode as sometimes happens in a game. He just got the next guy out. But then the interesting part happened. The umpire realized his mistake. He apologized tearfully. Galarraga forgave him. “Nobody’s perfect.” The two of them even later wrote a book together. Did Galarraga believe that he should remain quiet about getting credit for pitching a perfect game? No. But neither did he demonize the person who cost him it. In fact, some people refer to it as the “Extra Perfect Game.”
In my experience, I’ve never witnessed someone – regardless of their social or political beliefs – to not be moved by these two examples of sportsmanship. They exemplify a value that draws us together.