From a very early age, I was always playing sports. At the age of four was when I first joined t-ball, after that I played travel sports once I turned eight, varsity baseball and football in high school, and have been playing pick-up games and beer league softball since I’ve been done. Along this nearly twenty years of playing sports, I picked up on A LOT of different things along the way. Many of things I picked up on were the ethics of sports, but in order to understand these ethics, you need to understand the differences between sportsmanship and gamesmanship.
Gamesmanship, to be put very simply, follows the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” to a whole new level. When people are considered “Gamers” in sports, it means they are dedicated to win and are willing to do whatever it takes to do so. Whether that’s faking a foul, inflicting pain on an opponent, or even using performance-enhancing drugs; its bending or possibly breaking the rules in order to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent.
Sportsmanship is very different in terms of sports ethics. Sportsmanship requires honest play and trust between competitors. The goal is to still win the competition, but to respect the rules of that competition and all those who partake in it. It’s that honor that you receive when you achieve victory by giving it your best effort. It’s about playing the game with fairness and integrity, and by doing so, earning the respect of other competitors and the rest of the sports world.
So, how can one know the difference between improper gamesmanship tactics and legitimate techniques and strategies that qualify under the sportsmanship model? There are two major factors that usually define the difference between the two: safety and the integrity of the game. With safety, many rules are designed to prevent conduct that creates unnecessary risks of injury. Keeping in mind the recreational/fun foundation to sports, techniques that inflict pain or endanger athletes violate the fundamental premise of athletic competition. Thus, throwing at a batter for any reason, physical intimidation, intentional injuring, tripping and similar tactics often justified as “part of the game” introduce unacceptably dangerous elements into the game. With the integrity of the game, every sport has developed, over the years, with rule refinements and changes. The rules not only establish standards of fair play, they actually define the game. When traditions begin to develop that corrupt the game, such as chop blocking or spear tackling in football, flagrant fouls or hand checking in basketball, the matter is generally addressed by additional rules or instructions to officials to enforce existing rules more vigorously. In the end, ethics is a major part of the wide world of sports, it’s which side you believe is correct that defines you as a player.