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Unsportsmanlike conduct a reflection of society?

OPINION by Melinda Gassaway, guest column | September 12, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

Can this woman again share her thoughts on the world of sports?

Of course, I say to myself, knowing full well there will be some eye-rolls and sarcastic remarks from the guys who have read my other offerings on the same subject, along with those who still do not know me very well and even from the fellows with whom I often discuss -- and debate -- various athletic endeavors.

Perhaps a little background is warranted here. My dad was a state golfing champion at age 22, I played a bit of tennis back in the day, I edited sports copy for the Old Gold Book, the Hot Springs High School yearbook, and in my latter years at The Sentinel-Record -- thanks to the generosity of former sports editor Bob Wisener -- I even wrote a number of columns on women's basketball.

That said, allow me to proceed.

Like so many of us, I look to sporting events as a welcome diversion from the disturbing news about COVID-19, devastating natural disasters, and the ongoing and often rancorous political debates.

Despite my enthusiasm for college hoops, college football, college softball, men's and women's professional tennis, and LPGA and PGA tour events, I am admittedly dismayed by what I see as the increasingly unsportsmanlike conduct of many of the individuals who compete in these pastimes and many of the spectators on hand to watch them.

Last year, there were several instances of so-called fans throwing water bottles and other objects at NBA stars who were apparently out of favor at the time with the paid attendees. More often than should be the case, Major League teams would rather brawl than play baseball and name-calling has become all too frequent by onlookers at major golf tournaments.

Football has always been a tough sport, but now too many of its participants -- collegiate and pros -- go beyond legal takedowns and serious injuries can occur. Fines and suspensions and banishments from the stands do very little to curb the nastiness.

In all fairness to those who put themselves out there week in and week out, being in the national sports spotlight is difficult, to say the least. The pressure to not just succeed but to always prevail is endless. Boosters and supporters are never satisfied -- and they are never shy about making known their displeasure when a favorite team doesn't score enough points or loses altogether. (And, yes, I know a lot of this behavior is related to sports wagering, which at times puts the onus on the star performers.)

And then there is all the trash-talking that has permeated most sports venues. And I am including those fields, courts, and courses where women athletes are found. In fact, it has been personally disappointing to watch these talented women kick, push, and curse their opponents.

What's even worse is the anonymous social media attacks on athletes who do their best to come out ahead. During the 2021 U.S. Open in Queens, N.Y., America tennis player, Sloane Stephens, who lost in the third round to Angelique Kerber, received a barrage of racist and hate-filled messages.

In the recently completed United States vs. Europe Solheim Cup in Ohio, American Nelly Korda, Olympic gold medalist and the No. 1 women's player, became the object of derisive comments after her putt was overhanging the 13th hole and an opposing golfer preemptively picked up the ball and handed it to her. A rules official pointed out that the rival player did so before the allotted 10 seconds given to see if the ball would fall in the cup. The Americans were given an eagle and went 1 up on their counterparts. Korda had nothing to do with the official's intervention but was obviously given grief for it.

Perhaps it's naive to think that sports should be sans so much of the upheaval that resides in other facets of our lives. Having touched on the aforementioned subject before, I know that people are people and the games they play will seldom, if ever, be without some controversy or downside. Nonetheless, it would be nice to hear more cheers than jeers.

A girl can always hope, can't she?

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