The idea of sportsmanship is ambiguous in nature. It is hard to define the thing that forces us to respect our greatest enemies. Sportsmanship is the thing that instigates a handshake between opposing sides before and after a game. It is what inspires admiration of a good play, regardless of the team that made it. It is the recognition of both sides that they will submit wholeheartedly to the rules of the game and do their very best within those rules to win. But, most of all, it is the thing that reminds us that it really is just a game.
This is a fact that was obviously forgotten last Saturday, December 10, when a basketball game between Xavier University and University of Cincinnati ended with an all-out, no-punches-pulled fist fight. The first major punch heard round ESPN was dealt by Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates, which resulted in the bloodied face of Xavier center Kenny Frease. The teammates of these players on both sides took this blow as a call to arms. In seconds, the sideline benches were clear, and every single player was involved in the brawl.
Both teams, before the fight broke out, had dealt a good amount of trash talk to the other players. Xavier and Cincinnati are old-time rivals, so it is neither required nor expected that the players—or their fans—like each other. In fact, the atmosphere of competition is part of what makes for an exciting game. It is, however, required that athletes have a level of maturity which allows them to do their jobs without resorting to violence.
It is this inability to show maturity which has landed eight players—four on each team—in suspension for multiple games. Officials reportedly reviewed footage of the fight for twenty-four hours in order to ensure fair and equal punishment for each of the individuals involved. The coaches have given press releases about how exceedingly embarrassed they are of their players’ conduct. These young men should certainly be embarrassed as well. By joining a team, athletes submit themselves to the unspoken laws of good sportsmanship. The amount of barbaric violence displayed by Cincinnati and Xavier is an obvious break of these laws. It is a sports crime of the highest degree.
I am a student athlete at duPont Manual High School, which is half of one of the oldest rivalries in High School athletics. I understand both the excitement and the tension of rivalry games. I respect all of the hard work, emotion, and heart that the players put into how they perform. But a rivalry and some trash talk is no excuse to act this far out of conduct. When it comes down to it, it really is just a game. Just a game, that is, until somebody gets hurt.
Eliza Coleman is a 16 year old Junior at duPont Manual High School, studying in the HSU magnet. She is a staff writer for ManualRedeye.com.