November 10, 2021 (Garden City, NY)- Is It Unsportsmanlike Like to Win Big? When does an athlete, or a coach, or team have to apologize for winning? If they cheat, for sure! If they gloat, and they treat the losing team disrespectfully, then yes. How about when they simply win big- fair and square, with dignity, but they win really, really big? In Taekwondo Life Magazine’s estimation the answer is that you never have to apologize for doing your best and winning in a fair manner. However, a recent series of cases and laws may make winning big a “quasi-criminal act.” While this might sound outrageous-it is true.
In 2017 Nassau County, NY passed a law saying that in high school football any team winning by more than 42 points is subject to sanctions, and that this team will be deemed per se “unsportsmanlike“, not from their behavior, but from the point gap alone. Further exploration of this law makes it clear; the winning team, and coach, regardless of how they conducted themselves, or their play, will be sanctioned if they exceed the 42 point gap in order to save the losing team from embarrassment. Perhaps the goal is noble, but is the solution just?
A little research revealed that in 2019 a Plainedge NY High School football coach was suspended for one game for his teams 61-13 defeat of their yet undefeated rivals. Nassau County, in reflection, did not waiver on its position. They punished the winning coach and team. They deemed it unnecessary to win by such a large disparity.
Last month a respected Garden City NY High School football coach received a “one-time” warning over his 49-6 defeat of his team’s opponent. Again, further research revealed that there was nothing about anyone’s behavior that warranted this warning-simply the win.
As I was preparing this story, and prepared to condemn NY for its policy, a California story revealed that this mindset has now spread to the west coast. Inglewood High School, Ca issued an apology for their High School football team’s 106-0 defeat of a rival school. They are launching a full investigation. I would imagine the investigation will reveal that their team was good, and the opposition was not-but it may be too early to jump to that conclusion.
Taekwondo is a sport and martial art that honors respect; however, we teach our kids to give 150% and to stay focused on their goals. In Taekwondo sparring we don’t teach our Olympic athletes to win by the lowest score possible in order to allow the loser to save face. True, in Taekwondo there is a point gap rule; however, it is distinct in two key ways:
- In combat sports this type of point gap rule is for the health and safety of an athlete. Each point is earned with a shocking blow to the loser and, at a certain point, we put our athletes at risk by not having such a rule;
- The point gap rule in Taekwondo stops the match. In these High School football regulations the game continues, but the coach and team must find a way to NOT score. This failure to stop the game puts teams and coaches in an untenable position. Does the losing team really feel less embarrassed knowing the winning team has pulled its starters, is running out the clock, or simply taking a knee? In the California game the winning team scored 42 points in the first quarter-what happens in the remaining 3? Well if the winning coach tries to end the game his team forfeits? Does that make sense?
I do understand a rule of this nature for small kids, or “little tigers”. Why? Because in developmental years the inclination to become discouraged, and leave the practice of a sport, or martial art, is much greater. The feelings of embarrassment could be devastating and could lead to a permanent exodus from the sport. In these formative years the damage to the psyche of small children outweighs the benefit of a large win. High School is a different stage of human development. Our High School athletes are young men and women. They often drive themselves to their games. They vote. Many are vying for athletic scholarships. These scholarships have great monetary value and great implications on their future. By forcing these students to sandbag their statistics to save the losing team from embarrassment the regulation may significantly disadvantage these players against athletes in parts of the country where the athletes are allowed, and encouraged to play to their fullest potential.
Furthermore, how disingenuous and libelous to label a Coach and team has engaging in Unsportsmanlike conduct simply by virtue of a win. If a branded coach were looking for a subsequent job anywhere in the country and his record revealed that he was suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct would he have the same chances as his competitors as earning that job? What comes to mind when you hear the term “Unsportsmanlike“?
In Taekwondo we use Taekwondo as a training tool for life. We train people to do their best, to be their best, and to proceed with humility, respect, and perseverance. Why? Because we are preparing them for the challenges of life. Does this rule, for high school students, really help them? Or are we pandering to a small segment of society that wants everyone to get a participation trophy in all scenarios?
If the concern of these regulations is the inability of losing students to deal with the embarrassment of losing, wouldn’t it make more sense to provide support services for the losing students than to create the fiction that they didn’t really lose so BIG?
-by Marc Zirogiannis, Editor in Chief
To hear our weekly podcast* discussion, “Is It Unsportsmanlike Like to Win Big?”: