by Greg Greenhalgh, Ph.D.
It’s Super Bowl Week! How could I possibly write my Faculty Forum this week and not focus on The Big Game’? Over the past couple of weeks the football landscape has been taken over by the ominous ‘Deflategate’ and the Patriots unique offensive scheme, which led Coach Harbaugh to accuse the Patriots of deception. Is it cheating or is it gamesmanship? Is there a difference? For a moment, lets just assume that the Patriots are only guilty of excessive gamesmanship. Interestingly, gamesmanship is defined as: the practice of winning a game or contest by doing things that seem unfair but that are not actually against the rules; or, the clever use of skills or tricks to succeed or do something. Gamesmanship is not in violation of the rules of the game, just in violation of the spirit of the game.
Is there anything wrong with using gamesmanship to gain an edge? Does it make a difference when we are viewing this from the lens of an NFL playoff game where there is so much at stake and often the difference between winning and losing is razor thin? Is this any different than taking an intentional foul at the end of a close basketball game, or taking a dive in soccer or hockey to try and draw a penalty when you opponent didn’t really do anything wrong? Some of these things are so socially acceptable as being “part of the game” that we don’t even question them. The fact we have the term a ‘good penalty’ is evidence of the prevalence of this activity in sport.
At what point in the athlete development process do we make a decision (subconsciously, I hope) that it is socially acceptable to cheat, err I mean engage in gamesmanship? Is there a certain age or a certain level of competitiveness when it becomes acceptable?
In preparation of Joe Ehrmann’s visit to the CSL on February 16th and 17th I have watched his TED Talk video and read some of what he has written. He stresses how powerful coaches are in the formation of athletes off the field. This isn’t a revelation. We have heard this before. All of us involved in sport know that good coaching is incredibly important, possibly more important for athlete’s development off the field than on the field. Whether it’s the way Joe frames his thoughts or the powerful manner in which he delivers them, you get the point.
Sport is incredibly powerful. The power of sport has been on full display for me over the past two days. Dr. LeCrom, Dr. Dwyer, and I have been interviewing candidates for Project PUSH. This initiative, created by Dr. LeCrom and funded by the U.S. State Department, is creating an exchange between coaches and sport administrators in South Africa and the United States. The purpose of the project is to use sport as a vehicle to address a variety of social issues in South Africa, such HIV/AIDS education, gender based-violence, drug use, education dropout, and gang activity.
My point is: with all of the great things sport can accomplish here in the U.S. and abroad, the current hot topic is Deflateagate. The hours of media attention this controversy has received are staggering, and not just via sports media outlets like ESPN. Just ask Dr. Dwyer’s Sociology class. This topic has been covered by traditional news outlets due to the sociological implications of these actions. This controversy is truly a microcosm of the many short cuts we see in corporate America, education, and even personal relationships. Just think of the impact if just a fraction of this media coverage was spent on demonstrating all of the positives sport can do.
So, how do we change the landscape? How do we filter out the negative and embrace the positive? I have a couple of ideas.
- Be your own media filter.
In our on-demand society, we are able to filter the media we consume. I am not suggesting that you put on your earmuffs and ignore all the negatives in the world and only absorb the positives. However, it is very easy for us to be selective in how we get our news, especially our sport news. If you are like many in the sport industry there are a few avenues in which you get most of your industry information. Social media is likely responsible for a lot of the content you consumer. I suggest you follow Twitter feeds that not only provide you with interesting content, but also those who promote the positive power of sport such as Sport for development, sport and sustainability, Coach for America.
- Become a distributor of positive sport content.
We are arguably the most virtually social and least actually social society in history. This does provide an opportunity to be your own personal content source. Not only will this help us focus on the brighter side of sport, it will also likely brighten your day. We are what we consume.
I am not foolish enough to believe that these personal changes are going to inspire ESPN and CNN to stop focusing on the negative actions of athletes and organizations. However, this may help elevate the conversation about the positive impact of sport and enlighten more about projects like Project PUSH and the works Joe Ehrmann, which highlight the best attributes of sport.
Dr. Greg Greenhalgh is the director of student services and outreach for the Center for Sport Leadership.
You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter at @Greg_Greenhalgh