Have you noticed that the amount of time turned over to political campaigning, particularly for the U.S. Presidency has continually increased each election cycle? It seems that before the voting is complete, mentions are already made for the next election.
Political contests and haranguing are imagined in much the same manner as sports. At least sports has the decency to limit public discourse to seasons. I like to encounter baseball during baseball season; football and hockey during their seasons; keep track of basketball during basketball season. The competition and discussion take up just about the right amount of time to keep us from burning out. The exception, in my opinion, is University of Nebraska football. Cornhusker football and “Go Big Red” take up far too much time in my State and, in that way, are too similar to politics.
American style politics have been compared to organized sports. This is a great insult to organized sports and to our democratic republic. In sports, we are taught about the concept of good sportsmanship. We learn this in school during recess and physical education.
When I played in Little League in Lincoln, Nebraska as a youngster, good sportsmanship was stressed as a primary virtue. When playing ball or watching the game, we were taught to treat one another with respect. If our team won, we were not to gloat. If we lost, we were to lose gracefully. During the contest, we were required to follow the rules to a “T” and never cheat.
We shook hands with our opposing teams before and after each game. We were encouraged to give our best effort by our coaches and fellow teammates by saying something like, “nice try”. We didn’t criticize a teammate if he was putting forth his best effort. We treated the umpires with respect–what they judged was as good as law.
Even if the opposing team was a fierce, traditional rival, we were admonished to treat the players respectfully and to never bully or tease them. The main points were to cultivate self-control and respect for other people.
We were young boys and susceptible to all the impulses and whims kids are vulnerable to. Sometimes we would bend or break a rule. We would be called out on it immediately by an umpire, and later by a coach. Our team was lucky to have a good coach. He was fair and even-handed in his approach to discipline. Because coach Ted treated us all more or less equally, we naturally respected and admired him.
As a team, winning is the goal and most urgent part of each game. However, we were reminded that good sportsmanship is equally as important. A game is naturally intense, emotional, and sometimes personal. It is easy for anyone to cross over the line into incivility and unfit behavior.
If it wasn’t for self-discipline and good sportsmanship, games could devolve into chaos. There was only one bench clearing incident during my time in Little League. We were away at the field of one of the Omaha teams. They weren’t even one of our rivals. However, there was a long-standing hatred between one of the Omaha pitchers and one of our shortstops. The Omaha guy threw a wild pitch when the shortstop was at bat. The pitched ball thudded into the at bat shortstop’s thigh causing the boy to fall to the ground.
The collective rage of both teams swiftly erupted into a crazy, reflexive mass of yelling and screaming. The shortstop and the pitcher had to be physically restrained at the start of a fistfight. When the conflict finally simmered down, the reprimands were swift and stern. Although the opposing team’s pitcher initiated the situation, our team had reacted poorly. We had to forfeit the game. That game was memorable because it was the worst game our team had ever played. On the other hand, most of us grudgingly learned our lessons.
When good sportsmanship is successfully instilled in a young person, the ethical behavior goes beyond the ball diamond, grid iron, the ice rink, and basketball court. It overflows into real, everyday living. People who learn and understand basic, good sportsmanship get along better with others and tend to have more satisfying careers and happier lives.
“Politics have no relation to morals.”–Niccolo Machiavelli
During the past few election cycles, a few “bad players” have decided to disregard good sportsmanship in favor of ruthless, dishonest, unethical politicking. They are in the political game for their own advancement regardless of the consequences to the nation and the world. How are we to respect politicians and the means of attaining office if they engage in the process practicing poor sportsmanship?
Due to the lack of good sportsmanship among a few individuals, the public becomes cynical and apathetic about the democratic process. People who are desperate to attain and retain power do not act in the best interests of their constituents. When it’s all about the candidate or office-holder, the political game devolves into a narcissistic worship-fest. The rest of us become codependent. When dishonesty and slander are a campaign’s primary tools, any victory at the polls is hollow. The nation, as a whole, suffers the penalties.
This year, the political game has devolved into a bench clearing brawl. It is overshadowing the critical business of the nation and its international good standing. Perhaps it is time to treat politics more like sports. That is, to limit the length of the campaign season and to practice good sportsmanship.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes essayist, critic, scholar, and writer, H. L. Mencken. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”