By Chris Jackson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 20, 1997

A question of sportmanship


Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA senior defensive tackle Joe Salavéa is held back by head coach Dick Tomey and medical director John Woolf from one of the many confrontations in last season's UA-ASU football game at Arizona Stadium. Salave'a and Tomey both called the incident disgraceful.

In today's trash-talking, ego-laden sports world, where it seems as though only the bad is shown and the good has vanished, the issue of sportsmanship's continued existence has been questioned.

On Nov. 4, the ESPN program "Outside the Lines" presented a special called "Sportsmanship in the '90's: Is Winning the Only Thing?" that dealt with the question.

The show's responses varied from player to player, coach to coach and sport to sport, but the final result was an agreement that poor sportsmanship is getting out of hand.

At Arizona, though, coaches and players from sports ranging from basketball to cross country have said that sportsmanship is alive and well.

"I don't think sportsmanship is gone," UA basketball head coach Lute Olson said.

UA football coach Dick Tomey explained his response to the question.

"The game was intended to be played fairly," he said. "I think you can still compete at the highest level and play aggressively and still play fairly."

Some of those asked did admit that getting the win plays a part, but it is not the ultimate goal.

"Winning has always been a factor," UA softball coach Mike Candrea said. "But being able to show respect for yourself, your teammates and your opponents is what really matters."

Being from different sports can result in the players and coaches to look at things differently as to why sportsmanship is important to them.

Cross country runner Amy Skieresz, the defending national champion, said she believes there may be more civility in her sport because "we don't have a lot of people out here cheering us on, so we have to cheer each other on."

In football, one of the more physical sports, UA defensive lineman Joe Salave'a said that while players are expected to hit hard, they can still play with integrity.

"I believe in the principle of the sport," he said. "There's no reason there shouldn't be respect between players."

Professional sports, be it the NBA, NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball, have all had its share of ups and downs with sportsmanship, and that can affect college athletes.

In the NBA, for every Dennis Rodman there's a Joe Dumars, in the NFL, for every Bryan Cox there's a Barry Sanders, and so on and so forth.

"The biggest problem at our level is they (the players) see so much going on TV with the pros," Olson said. "All the celebrating, all the in-your-face kind of things."

Arizona State football coach Bruce Snyder said that the media makes too much out of the "bad boys" in the pros.

"Take Dennis Rodman," he said. "When you watch the Bulls there's a camera on him at all times."

The media has raised the ire of many with what UA basketball guard Miles Simon explained as "the bad sells more than the good."

UA baseball coach Jerry Stitt said that the media is trying to make money, but the way they go about it isn't always in the best interest of everyone involved.

"They try to incite fan interest through negative reporting," he said. "I think there is definitely a media role played in the decline in sportsmanship."

Candrea felt that athletes need to take a greater responsibility for their actions.

"There is no doubt that those are the examples and role models that young kids look at," he said. "You see a dance in the end zone, and that's not sport. How much nowadays is just show, just entertainment?"

Simon blames fans for contributing to the problem as much as the media.

"Up at Washington State this year or last, someone threw something at Coach Olson's wife," he said. "Fans are the ones who get on you the most. They're as much a problem as the media."

UA basketball guard Jason Terry said that bad sportsmanship on the part of the players comes from a loss of control.

"While I think there's also a lot of good sportsmanship, a lot of cases in the heat of battle people lose control," he said.

When asked about the worst example of sportsmanship they had seen during their time at UA, almost everyone gave the same answer.

"Last year in the UA-ASU football game," Stitt said. "I can't even think of a word that would describe it."

The 56-14 loss was marred by fights both on the field and in the stands. The lopsided score and the actions of ASU students, who tried to tear down the UA goalposts at game's end, contributed to what Salave'a called "the worst game I've ever been a part of."

Both Snyder and Tomey agreed with the assessment.

"It was terrible," Tomey said. "The worst example of sportsmanship I've ever seen. Everyone was guilty, the players, the coaches, the fans, the media."

Snyder blamed the media for inciting the actions of everyone on the field.

"The media will take soundbites and twist them around," he explained. "Things were taken out of context just to hype the game."

Tomey said he also believed the media's role was less than beneficial.

"I think the media were co-conspirators in the ASU game last year," he said. "The players on both sides will have to choose their words more carefully so they don't get blown out of proportion this year."

Snyder said he has the same plan for this year's game.

"We have to not play the game in the media," he said.

Tomey has closed UA practices to the media in the two weeks leading up to the game on Nov. 28 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever been a part of," Tomey said of last year's game.

As bad as that game was, Tomey said that there are "constant examples of good sportsmanship going on."

UA volleyball player Carrie Penfield cited one example from watching football.

"I think it is pretty classy when the football players help (injured) players from the other team off the field," she said.

Tomey called it "a constant show of respect."

UA soccer defender Kate Mattson said it is the responsibility of coaches to make sure their players are good sports.

"Sportsmanship is taught. It depends on the coach and how the coach teaches you to be," she said.

Salave'a had a similar opinion.

"Coaches need to stress integrity and (having players) play their hearts out without losing control," he said.

One of the more recent examples of bad sportsmanship has been trash talking, by which a player seeks to intimidate or disrupt his opponent through verbal commentary that can range from the sublime to the vulgar.

"I don't believe in trash talking," Salave'a said. "I believe in smacking them in the mouth and knocking them on their butt and then helping them back up again."

Terry said he enjoyed trash talking last year.

"I enjoy it," he said. "It's just another tactic to get into your opponent's head. I don't know what I'd do instead if I couldn't (talk trash)."

Tomey criticized basketball as a game with less sportsmanship than football.

"I see more fights and other problems in basketball," he said. "The hitting and physical part is more accepted in football."

Simon disagreed.

"I don't see it," he said. "I shake hands with everybody after the game. There may be a few scuffles here and there, but we all just want to earn each other's respect."

Terry said that after the Wildcats won the national championship last year he saw one of the best examples of sportsmanship during his time at UA.

"After we beat Kentucky, they weren't crying, they weren't cursing at us, they were just congratulating us on our victory," he said.

Candrea said it is up to players and coaches "to keep it between the lines.

"You do your best and let your glove and bat do the talking," he said.

Stitt said "if you don't respect the game it'll beat you up."

One of the worst results of bad sportsmanship is the effect it has on some of the people in the stands and at home, Olson said.

"We have to understand that young kids are watching," he said. "They're going to try and emulate what they see on TV, whether it's good or bad."

Snyder said that athletes on both the pro and college levels have to accept some responsibility for their actions.

"The role models young people have coming up today are the celebrities in sports," he said. "There's a trickle-down effect from what these celebrities do."

While they cannot speak for pro sports, the UA coaches and athletes said that college sports are responding to the problem.

Salave'a said he believes that there is less sportsmanship now than there was 20 years ago, and "that has caused the NCAA to crack down on these players."

Stitt said a recent example of a "crack down" came last year.

"Our conference came down on the Six-Pac last year because of one school," he said, though he would not name the school other than to say it was not Arizona.

Olson said that the NCAA has been very active in improving certain aspects of the game.

"It's way down on the college level," he said. "I hope they don't let up on giving out penalties.

"The emphasis by the NCAA and officials that this is something they're not going to allow will help restore sportsmanship to the level it should be at."

Wildcat reporters Tressa Girodo and Kristen Davis contributed to this story.



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