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The Good Sportsmanship Club

I had a moment of deja vu during John McCain’s concession speech last night. Last winter the editor of Growing Up in Santa Cruz asked me to write an article about Mount Madonna School’s girls volleyball team. They were on an amazing winning streak for a small team. (Read the article at
I took my husband and kids for the championship game. The MMS girls were playing against a team from Southern California, and the game was taking place in San Jose. Obviously, our home team supporters way outnumbered the visitors, but the visitors did have a pretty good showing in the stands.
The visiting team started out strong. Each time they made a good play, their supporters in the stands went wild. The MMS supporters applauded, too. One particularly good play got a cheer from the fans on both sides.
Then MMS started to hit their stride, and over and over they outperformed their opponents. But what did the cheering section for the Southern California team do? They booed, hissed, and tried to psych out the MMS players with noises and catcalls.
Now what does this have to do with John McCain losing an election? I have long thought that the “red state/blue state” obsession in our press was wrong. Having grown up in a state that goes red as often as blue, I was pretty sure that all states are some shade of purple. Even California has some of both.
But something else had occurred to me recently, about good sportsmanship, keeping the game positive and clean, and not poisoning the atmosphere so that nothing could be done once the race is over. Mount Madonna’s parents and fans are members of what I’ll call the club of good sportsmanship. They didn’t cheer on the visiting team because they wanted them to win. They cheered them on because they wanted the visitors to feel welcome and appreciated. They cheered because they like to see a good game. They cheered because they didn’t want those girls to go home with boos and hisses in their ears.
When John McCain started his concession speech, the crowd was respectfully silent. But as soon as Obama’s name left his lips, the crowd booed angrily. McCain is a member of the good sportsmanship club (much of the time). He stopped the boos before he went on. Last month, at the point in the campaign when things were getting the ugliest, he made some attempts to plant the seeds of forgiveness. He told his followers to remember the Obama is a decent man. But I suspect many of them didn’t want to hear that.
The members of this bad sportsmanship club are not all Republicans, and they are not all to be found outside of California. They’re everywhere in our society today…perhaps they’ve been around forever. But it seems that in recent times, lots of us in places like Santa Cruz and at schools like Mount Madonna have been trying to figure out a better way to do things. It was impressive how restrained Barack Obama and most of his supporters were. Each time he or Biden said, “I respect John McCain,” it sounded true and sincere.
John McCain was trying to do it both ways. On the one hand, he let his people stop just short of saying the Obama was the anti-Christ and would destroy our country. On the other, he was clearly aware that we would all have to accept Obama as president if he won, and that he in particular would have to work with him.
But if you want to join the club, you can’t have it both ways. This is something that we have to teach our kids every day. If you think you might want a kid to be your friend tomorrow, perhaps you shouldn’t hit him over the head with a stick today. If you want your year in school to be fun, you shouldn’t go around saying bad things that poison the atmosphere in your classroom.
The club of good sportsmanship has been strengthened, I think, by the very recent realization that is taking root in our country that we are part of the world, dependent on others to a greater extent than ever before. We’re dependent on the Chinese not to kill our cats by spiking their food with melamine. We’re dependent on the Iranians not to attack our allies in the Middle East and draw us into a worse war than we’re already in.
That’s why the bad sportsman’s club has got to become a thing of the past. We just can’t joke about bombing Iran if we’re going to have to get along with them. We just can’t tell our supporters that the opponent is evil if there’s a good chance he’ll need their respect and good citizenship when he wins.
I hope I always remember to get my kids to applaud the losers, to speak respectfully of people they think are dead wrong, to be a booster rather than a spoiler. If either one ever runs for president and doesn’t praise his or her opponent, they’re going to get a call from one angry mom.

Posted in Culture, Parenting.

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