I am big on sportsmanship. You may not believe that after reading this post, but it’s true.
Sports could use a lot more sportsmanship and class in the game. Winning is important, but there’s too much focus on “winning at all costs” in our country – whether in sport or in the professional setting or in fame and fortune.
In the case of some of the Kentucky Wildcats not shaking hands after losing to the Wisconsin Badgers in last night’s Final Four match, let’s give both teams a little time to absorb what just happened before we fall out of our comfy sectionals.
I want more sportsmanship, but that doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with how the Wildcats must have felt after the game. As someone that’s played basketball since I was a teenager, can be competitive at times, and was once 21 years old, let’s cut Willie Cauley-Stein and his team a freaking break for having emotions.
He just lost in the most-anticipated college game of the season that ended what would have been an historic run. He literally just finished competing against a tough Wisconsin team where both sides wanted to destroy the other for 40 minutes. A game that wasn’t decided until the last minute.
And you want these kids to reconcile ALL THAT in less than 30 seconds?
Not to mention that this was a season that was all wins until yesterday’s defeat. A game that likely is the end of many of their collegiate careers (3-4 Wildcats are likely to jump to the NBA). A game that ended a dream season under the eye of intense national scrutiny over the last two months.
I’m not saying what he did was right, but I’m not saying what he did was wrong too. I will say that I understand why he did what he did. As you should, too if you’ve spent more than two minutes thinking about the circumstances.
Whether you’re pulling for Wisconsin or Kentucky, it’s easy to sit at home and quarterback from home without the actual game pressure, intensity and emotion of having sweated out a game as two of the heaviest of heavyweights duked it out on national TV.
“I would have done that.”
“He should have done this!”
“What was he thinking?!”
You can act all holier-than-thou from your living room with a widescreen view of the entire play; potato chips spraying out of your mouth as you angrily judge a bunch of not-fully-formed college students.
It’s soooo easy to be disgusted from home away from a packed stadium with all the noise, the students, the fans, the alumnae, and the media all watching and adding their own emotions to every movement the game makes.
It’s easy to say “Well, I would have shook their hands.”
Not so fast. Have you ever played college basketball? Save for Morris Peterson and a couple others, most athletes understand the sting of an high-stakes loss. It’s not easy to go from 100% intensity to shaking their hands and saying “Nice game, sorry about trying to tear your head off 12 seconds ago…”
So no you wouldn’t have because number one you’re not good enough to have reached that level. On top of not being good enough, I’ve seen you at the YMCA and the recreation center — you can barely contain yourself against men your own age.
Most of us placed in that exact situation as our 19-year old selves would have wanted to storm off the court. And I would have defended you then too.
To be clear, Willie Cauley-Stein’s exit wasn’t about respect, nor was it because he had no class, it’s largely because of the huge disappointment and frustration that he just lost out on a perfect season (and not playing well personally); a loss that not only put a blemish on their record, but ended their season.
And not only are you wrong about how you would have behaved if you had participated in a Final Four game as a 21 year old, but your complaints kind of reek of racism, too.
If Wisconsin had lost and Sam Dekker walked off the courts and didn’t shake hands, it wouldn’t be all roses, but I guarantee that we wouldn’t hear half the noise that we’re hearing on social media about the predominantly African-American Kentucky team.
The irony of all this? The loudest and most vocal armchair fans criticizing the Kentucky Wildcats on social media are least likely to handle “losing” well if they were in the same shoes in the same circumstances.