By Ken Reed
As sports policy director at a sports reform organization, I usually write about problems and issues in sports — and what we can do to address them. But today, I’m taking a break from that project to celebrate the beauty of sport at its best.
Monday night’s men’s basketball championship game was a terrific example of passion, hard work, sportsmanship, teamwork, resilience, family and true competition.
The game featured a Virginia team that was infamous for making history a year prior by becoming the only #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed in the NCAA tournament. Little-known University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) shocked the Cavaliers in the first round.
But that stunning loss is also memorable because of the classy way Virginia coach Tony Bennett handled the crushing loss.
“First, hats off to Coach (Riley) Odom and his staff and UMBC,” said Bennett, in a postgame interview.
“They played a terrific game. They thoroughly outplayed us and they did a heck of a job …
“So, with that, if you play this game and you step into the arena, this stuff can happen. And those who haven’t been in the arena, or in the competition, maybe they don’t understand that. But there’s chances for wonderful things to happen, but when you’re in the arena, stuff like this can happen and all those who compete take that on. And so we’ll accept it.
“You’ll remember this. It will sting. Maybe a 1 seed will get beat again, maybe not. Maybe we’ll be the only No. 1 seed to ever lose. It’s life. It goes on. We’ll have to get past that. For some reason this is what we’ve got to deal with, and my job now will be to say hey, how do we bounce back, our players and all that. But a life lesson is sitting there about defining yourself by maybe not what the world says, but there’s other things that matter and then you get back to it.”
Get back to it they did. They chose to look at the embarrassing loss to UMBC as a “painful gift,” as Bennett put it, and to use it as fuel for this season. Virginia’s amazing resilience since that UMBC loss paid off with an overtime national championship victory, only a year after the most ignominious defeat in NCAA history.
This year’s example of class and sportsmanship came from losing Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, who had this to say after his team was only seconds from a national championship win in regulation before falling short in overtime.
“Let’s talk about Virginia,” said Beard to CBS’ Tracy Wolfson, who had asked Beard what happened to his team in overtime.
“Coach Bennett is just one of the most class guys. You talk about a team of destiny, I just think they are really, really good. The poise, and they just find ways to win. I want to congratulate them, their program. It’s just an honor to compete with them on this biggest stage of Monday night, and I have nothing but respect for their program.”
Beard was then asked how his team was handling the loss.
“We’ll bounce back. I’m just so proud of those guys. We have good future fathers in there. Good future husbands. These guys are legit. There’s a lot of emotions in the locker room right now but I’m just so proud to be these guys’ coach.”
I once interviewed David Light Shields, co-author of the book True Competition: A Guide to Pursuing Excellence in Sport and Society. I asked him what he meant by “true” competition.
“True competition recognizes that healthy sport competition relies on a kind of partnership between opponents,” he explained.
“To do our best, we need opponents trying to do their best, and the mutual challenge that each provides to the other.
“Now, true competitors strive hard to win, they would like to win, but ultimately it’s the striving and an emphasis on the pursuit of excellence and enjoyment which is most important in the contest.
“In contrast, some people conceptualize the contest as a form of battle, a metaphorical war, if you will, in which case the goal is simply to defeat the other contestant and claim whatever rewards there are for victory. That position doesn’t really reflect the value of the opponent and what they are providing to the contest.
“We came to these ideas after many discussions with athletes over the years. We came to see these two clear ways of understanding what the process of competing is all about. We then simply refined those two basic frameworks of contesting into competition and decompetition, one based on a metaphor of partnership and one based on the metaphor of war.”
That’s perfect. True competition is sport at its best. And one year apart, Tony Bennett and Chris Beard gave us examples of what true competitors look like following heartbreaking losses.
That’s something we can all celebrate …and try to model.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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