During my long running career I saw plenty of meets and races where competition was fierce. For the most part, I witnessed good sportsmanship. But two days stand out in which bad sportsmanship took the day.
Following a conference cross country meet my senior year in college, a runner from another team won the individual title. On accepting the award, he felt moved to give a speech and said some bad things about our team. He was apparently bitter about the fact that we’d won the team title several years in a row. His speech was so offensive our coach was disgusted.
That said, we still invited him to travel and dine with us at the national meet later three weeks later.
The following spring, our track team was engaged in a highly competitive meet to try to win a seventeenth consecutive title. The college challenging us had improved its program in many ways, and that distance runner who made the bad speech the previous fall was one of many good runners that made them a contender for the first time in many years.
Our team’s best distance runners decided to double and even triple up in events to help our team win the conference titled again.
But the low point of the meet came early when one of our 400-meter hurdlers, an All-American no less, was coming down the home stretch in the lead. He’d been forced to train in the pool all spring to get in shape for competition. That meant his first and only race of the season would be the 400-hurdle race at conference where he also hoped to gain a national qualifying time. Approaching the last hurdle, he looked strong but as he landed with his lead leg a loud CRACK resounded across the field and he crumpled to the track in pain. He’d shattered his leg.
The opposing team erupted in cheers. They were yelling mocking insults at our runner sprawled on the track. Fights nearly broke out on the infield. From there, the meet took on a far more dire atmosphere. The anger was palpable and we all ran our hardest to try to defend our title. But in the end, we lost by a couple points.
We found it hard to believe that anyone could think or act like that. But I think back to that day now and then and recognize the same nasty instincts in the likes of people who dominate so much of society today. They believe the only way to “win” is to mock and intimidate. They think it’s fine to breach social etiquette if it serves their purposes. They look to ugly heroes as role models, and model that behavior in social, political, religious and civic situations.
I saw the likes of those people storming the Capitol building two days ago. They are sore losers but they were also sore winners. They call up old wounds to justify their hate and invent new wounds and excuses every time they face their own failure of conscience and cognizance. They carry Confederate flags into the Capitol and wonder why anyone should question their actions. They are losers of the worst kind, the type of people who view good citizenship as an inconvenience to their selfish purposes.
That are not in any way a brand of “good people” as Donald Trump suggested. Not when they behave like they did in the insurrection. They claim to be Christians and Patriots, but act nothing like either of those things.
People are now asking “What are we doing to do with all these people who think like this in America?”
Bully pulpits of many kinds
The only way that makes sense is to stand up the bullies and show them the meaning of their mistakes. I was once followed to my vehicle by the opposing coach of a soccer team that had harangued and cheated its way to a victory. Their fans spent the game screaming angry accusations and criticism at our kids. The referee turned out to be the older brother of their goalie, and the coaches on their side crossed the center line to walk up and down our side of the field. All while accusing us of being the bad sports that day .
Following the game, I hurriedly ushered my family back the car for safety only to turn around and find one of the opposing team’s assistant coaches standing right behind me. He commenced yelling about how I was the cheater and a bad sport. I stood there quietly while he yelled, then gave a glance inside my car at my wife and kids staring out at us both and said, quite sternly, “You know how wrong you are right now.”
Something in him snapped. He stepped back and away from me. Then he looked at my family inside the car and said, “You’re right, I’m sorry.” Then he left.
Over the five four years, I’ve experienced dozens of encounters similar in nature with Trump supporters accosting me through social media and even in person. And like that day when the angry coach stood nearly spitting in my face as he angrily accused me of all sorts of evil that wasn’t true, I haven’t backed down.
Nor should I.
One thing is clear. To clean up the conscience of this nation, we’re going to have to stand face to face with Trump supporters as they shout and rage and accuse rational people of all kinds of conspiratorial things. They feel righteous anger in the moment, and feel justified in having been told they are the on the right side of history.
And like that track team that cheered when our hurdler shattered his leg in six place, we’re going to have to endure some awful taunts and perverse dramatics along the way. There may be seeming victories as voting swings Red and Blue, and triumphal winners may forget their pleas for “healing” and “unity” in the wake of the sedition that just took place. That’s how bullies and liars and bad sports behave. We will have to continue to face them down. Stand strong in the face of vitriolic spittle. Calmly point out wrongful behavior from storming the Capitol to claiming election fraud where there is none.
I remember that day well as I was standing at the fence right in front of where Jerry Peckham broke his leg. It was so painful to watch let alone to hear his leg shatter. Jerry was so good without even practicing he still would have been an All American 400 meter hurdler. I don’t remember the taunting from the other team but there definitely was bad blood as we were still so dominant then.