Monday, November 19, 2007

Sportsmanship Vs. Gamesmanship: What Is Right?

Unless you are avoiding sports news, you have heard of the New England Patriots' 10-0 run this season and their outscoring their opponents by record margins. Many pundits and fans have accused Bill Belichick, head coach of the Patriots, of running up the score and embarassing their opponents. 

Wait a second: embarassing their opponents? These teams are professional athletes: essentially paid performers, no different from actors. Embarassment is not the problem. The problem is gamesmanship as is compares to sportsmanship.

Review the definitions of those ideas. Gamesmanship means doing whatever you can to win, while staying within the rules. Sportsmanship means having good conduct during games, having respect for your opponents, and being gracious in victory and defeat. Those last two are the big issues with the Patriots.

Do the Patriots have respect for their opponents? Sure, they pay lots of lip service to respect. Listening to Belichick before the Buffalo game (which the Pats won, 56-10), you might've suspected the Bills were an elite AFC East team. Instead they were 5-4, and their star running back was ruled out for the game. 

Did the Pats respect the Bills during the game? You can look at this two ways. After the game was all but sealed up, the Pats did send in the second string. But they also didn't change the playbook; they played the same way they did all game, showing the Buffalo defense some respect. But that goes both ways; up 35-7 (four TDs), the Pats had 4th and 1 on the Buffalo 3 yard line. Up by 28, the respectful thing to do is to kick a field goal. But Tom Brady threw to Ben Watson for the touchdown. 

OK, fine, you're playing hard. Later that quarter the Pats had 4th and 1 on the Buffalo 10 yard line with about a minute left in the quarter and leading 49-10 (, and again Belichick eschews the field goal and has Brady pass to Randy Moss for a first down, leading to a touchdown two plays later. That is purely disrespectful; taking an unnecessary risk when you're already up by an nigh-insurmountable lead. That, my friends, is the reason everyone has a problem with the Patriots.

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