Outta’ Right Field: Is sportsmanship dead?

By Ransom Cozzillio
September 27, 2011

Sportsmanship is dead, and winning killed it. The centuries of old western traditions of integrity and fair play in competition has finally been replaced by the impetus to win at all costs, at any cost.

Sure, we’ve been hearing grumblings of this forever it seems, generally from an older generation blaring that their sports were better, cleaner, fairer. They represent the “last golden age” where winners played by the rules and shook hands after games.

While we disregard such claims as the products of rose-colored glasses, there is a shred of truth to them. Of course point-shaving and illegal performance enhancement are hardly new phenomena but the older-timers may have a point. While the time idolized provided us with quotes like “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” it will also be remembered as the last time decency came before victory.

For as long as I’ve been competing or watching competition I have been presented with a precarious dichotomy: You want to win, the greats are the ones that WIN. But there is a way to present yourself. There are unwritten rules that shouldn’t be broken for the sake of winning.

Regardless of legality, there are precepts of fairness that are supposed to transcend sport and victory. They are supposed to appeal to the humanity in all of us. You don’t shoot someone in the back. You don’t aim to injure. And you don’t hit a man who isn’t looking.

Sportsmanship is dead, and Floyd Mayweather is holding the smoking gun or, rather, the bloodied boxing glove.

In his most recent title bout, the self proclaimed “best boxer ever” sucker-punched his way to victory, knocking out the unprepared and unaware Victor Ortiz.

After a stoppage early in the fight, with everyone watching save for Ortiz and the referee, Mayweather blindsided Ortiz with a devastating left hook the quickly separated his opponent from this senses. Mayweather won the fight by knockout, retained his title belt and saw nothing wrong with his victory.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with his victory. Nothing he did was against the rules of boxing. Time was technically “in”, his punches were legal and Ortiz should have been aware and protecting himself. But is that really what this should be about?

A man who considers himself and elite example, the pinnacle of his profession punched a defenseless, unwitting man as hard as he could to win money and notoriety. And by all accounts something like this should make him “notorious” in the worst possible way.

Early returns, however, have been far more critical of the referee, who deserves blame for not doing his job and Ortiz, for not being ready at all times, even when the ref isn’t looking. Mayweather performed a completely legal move to win the fight and that should be OK, the media claims.

While his punches were legal and we can debate whether or not Ortiz should have been defending himself during the stoppage, what Mayweather did looked and felt dirty.

It used to be that there was an unwritten code among athletes and among people for things like this. There used to be a code higher than that of winning. Shouldn’t it be that way?

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Ransom Cozzillio

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