Sports teaches several lessons. We are all geared to celebrate victory, but I've always believed that the true measure of athletic greatness is how an athlete or team carries him/themselves during the contest. Winning is best, to be sure: otherwise, why keep score? But if victory is not within reach, at least comport yourself with grace, dignity and effort. Losing can be a noble experience, one from which an athlete can learn so much, about the game, themselves, and life itself.
Today, in Waterloo, my wife and I witnessed what can only be described as an example of how not to comport oneself in defeat. My alma mater, the University of Western Ontario Mustangs, took on the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks in CUFLA lacrosse. It was a glorious afternoon, warm and sunny and the field was ready for two teams who have been great rivals in athletics through the years. In today's contest, Western was already in the playoffs, while Laurier was eliminated from further competition. One would think that, since this was Laurier's last home game, and many parents of the players were in the stands, and since they were playing their great rivals, Laurier would at least bring a good effort and approach to the game.
Sadly, this was not the case. To be fair, Western was, by far, the better team. That is not the issue. The issue here is the way Laurier comported themselves. Several Laurier players arrived at their bench after the opening whistle. There was much laughter and banter among the Laurier players, normally a good thing, but as the game went on, the Laurier players seemed to be laughing at everything that went on, including plays by their own players. One Laurier player, who wore a different coloured helmet from his mates, was referred to as the "Stormtrooper" by his teammates, who used this phrase laughingly.
When Laurier's coach called time outs, and tried to gather his charges into a huddle to discuss what to do next, the players were lax, did not gather in a huddle, and joked with their mates. One player left the playing area, went under the stands and returned minutes later with a can of pop !! This was while the game was on-going. One other player sought out his parents, who were on the track with their family dog: the player left the bench area and played with his dog for several seconds before returning to the bench.
By contrast, Western's players were focused and engaged in the game. They LOOKED like a team, encouraged each other, and listened to their coaches. Their uniforms matched, and they drilled before the game like a team.
It's easy to criticize a losing team. That is not what I'm writing about here. I understand losing: after all, I'm a Leafs, Argos, and Jays fan. What I find most upsetting is the way some teams lose. If a team doesn't care, why show up? Why play the game? Why embarass yourself? And, most importantly, why disrespect your school, your colours, and the game itself?
My good friend Rick, who is a staunch Laurier fan, was not at the game. I'm glad. As a Western fan, I'd take a lot of pleasure in ribbing him for a Laurier defeat. But not today. I'd sympathise with him, for he'd be terribly unhappy with these kids, and I mean "kids" in the truest sense of the word, for representing his school in a manner unbecoming of Wilfrid Laurier University.
One wonders if any lessons were learned today. For me, I learned that there can be grace in victory, but also that there can be boredom and disrespect in athletes who might otherwise claim to love the game.