Throughout the sports world, many players have not only accomplished incredible acts of athleticism, but also unbelievable acts of sportsmanship. Whether it was a soccer player helping the opposite team’s defender up from a fall or carrying an injured player around the bases so a home run will count, showing good sportsmanship proves that a game is not just about winning or losing, it’s about having a good time and treating your opponents with respect. Even though acts of sportsmanship can seem uncommon these days, there were still some incredible examples in 2014. I’ve picked five that inspired me.
The first, and in my opinion the best, happened in April at a college softball game between Eckerd College and Florida Southern College. It was the first game of a double header with two outs and runners on first and second in the 7th inning. Senior pitcher for Florida Chelsea Oglevie was only one strike away from ending the game and getting the win in the final appearance of her career when Kara Oberer stepped up to the plate. Rather, she limped towards the batter’s box. Despite a bad knee, Oberer told her coach she could bat, knowing a base hit would put the game in Eckerd’s favor. On her second swing, Oberer crushed the ball over the left field fence — a three-run homer that gave Eckerd a 4-2 lead. As she was running the bases, however, her knee locked up and she could not take another step. Florida’s second baseman Leah Pemberton ran to help, and Chelsea Oglevie joined. The two carried their stunned foe around the bases. Can you imagine a similar act in the MLB?
The second example of sportsmanship, took place in the Sochi Winter Olympics in the snowboard halfpipe event. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark did not look too happy while she was practicing for the competition. And with good reason. The halfpipe was in terrible shape. The artificial snow was melting and it had developed several bumps and slush spots from previous competitions. After practice, when Clark went to the top to begin the competition, Torah Bright — 2010 Olympic gold medalist, possibly Clark’s biggest competitor of the night — saw that she’d been crying. Bright hugged and sympathized with her. In the first run, both Bright and Clark fell. Luckily, the competition was based on the total score for both runs. After talking again before the second run, Bright didn’t fall once. Clark was the last person in the whole contest. At this point, she’d had six falls in a row, including practice. But on this run, Clark didn’t fall once, bumping Bright down to third place and moving into second. Even though Clark jumped ahead of her on the leaderboard, Bright was the first to congratulate Clark after her run. In the final, Clark got the silver medal and Bright got the bronze. This reminded me of a quote: “Good players inspire themselves, great players inspire others.”
The third example of sportsmanship also took place in the Sochi Olympics, this time in skiing. Russian Anton Gafarov was hobbling along the track, far behind the rest of the skiers. One of his skis was broken. He had tried to continue with the damaged equipment. Canadian ski coach Justin Wadsworth was the only one who had an extra ski. Wadsworth didn’t want Gafarov to finish slowly, hobbling across the line. He wanted him to finish with pride. The Canadian skiers were already out of the race, giving Wadsworth two choices: Leave Gafarov to hobble across the line on one ski, or give him the spare one. Wadsworth gave him the extra ski, allowing Gafarov to get second place in the quarter-finals. Gafarov did not make the six-man final, but he did come in sixth in the semi-finals thanks to Wadswort, who helped Gafarov complete his Olympic dream.
The fourth example took place in the 2014 World Cup 2014 quarterfinal match between Brazil and Colombia. The game had just ended. Brazil had won, 2-1. Brazil was celebrating on the sidelines, cheering and having a good time. Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez had just had his World Cup dream torn apart despite scoring a record breaking six goals in the competition. Brazilian defender David Luiz walked over to him, pointed at him, and urged the crowd to acknowledge him. He then declared his appreciation for a game well played and recognized him for his stellar World Cup performance. It made both the crowd and Rodriguez happy.
As a Red Sox fan, my last example is, surprisingly, Derek Jeter’s last major league game. Rather than choosing to end his career at Yankee Stadium with an almost magical single in the bottom of the ninth inning that won the game for his team, the Captain played his last game at Fenway Park. Jeter said he owed it to the fans in Boston — and to the teams’ rivalry — to make an appearance. And, after he recorded his last 3,465th (and final) hit, he went to every Red Sox player to say goodbye. The Red Sox matched his act of sportsmanship by bringing out Red Sox Hall of Famers and other Boston sports stars to bid him farewell: Carl Yastremski, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Bobby Orr, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and many, many, more.
As an athlete, I know it’s easy to get caught up in the competitiveness of a game or an event. But I also know that sportsmanship is just as important as winning and losing.
Always remember to shake hands with your opposing team –whether you’ve won or lost and tell them it was a “good game.” And don’t forget to shake hands with the umpire or referee and thank them, too.
Help someone up when they fall down, even if they aren’t hurt.
Play hard, but play fair.
Don’t cheat or do anything you know is against the rules.
And always be nice. It’s the right thing to do and it always pays off.
Photos: Eckerd College (Oglevie), Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images (Bright and Clark), Matthias Schrader/AP Photo (Gafarov), Robert Cianflone/Getty Images (Rodriguez and Luiz), Michael Irvins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images (Jeter)