The Line Between Sportsmanship and Patronization

On Monday, January 3rd, Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls Connecticut high school, played a basketball game against conference rival Lyman Hall. The game was a staggering blowout. SHA defeated Lyman Hall in astounding fashion with a final score of 92-4. While the score itself doesn’t necessarily warrant a news story, the SHA administration’s next move was highly controversial. They decided to suspend their own coach, Jason Kirck, for defeating so overwhelmingly Lyman Hall in the way SHA did. That’s right. Because the coach refused to give up points intentionally or stop scoring points, the school administration perceived that as an act of “unsportsmanlike” ruthlessness.

On The Patrick Madrid Show, Patrick discussed this story and expressed his opinion that the school was wrong for suspending the coach and how it could or should have been handled differently. He also fielded calls from listeners, some who agreed and others who disagreed that SHA shouldn’t have tried to run up the score.

Patrick pointed out that instead of celebrating a decisive victory and maybe discussing what should be done in future blowouts, Sacred Heart Academy is punishing Coach Kirck for doing what he was hired to do: win games. “And quite frankly, one of the things that I find irksome about this story is [that] it will take something that is valid and true about having mercy on [an opposing team] and being generous and all those things, and they twist it into something that it’s really not intended to be,” said Patrick. “The main purpose of playing competitive sports is to win.”

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Sacred Heart Academy issued a statement, saying, “Sacred Heart Academy values the lessons taught and cultivated through athletic participation including ethical and responsible behavior, leadership and strength of character and respect for one’s opponents. Last night’s Girls’ Basketball game vs Lyman Hall High School does not align with our values or philosophies.” They continued by saying that they are having internal conversations about continuing to encourage “personal, physical, and intellectual growth.” The irony of this statement was not lost on Patrick, who noted that the players seem clearly physically and intellectually strong, considering their significant victory and that there were no reports of any taunting or poor sportsmanship.

Patrick said that while the school is presenting this idea that they wanted their girls to show “mercy” on their opponents, he can sense this underlying subtext about the mentality of “everyone gets a trophy”, where it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. You still reap the same benefits as everybody else. In that case, getting a trophy or award for winning ceases to mean anything. At the varsity level, a losing team that plays poorly doesn’t have some unspoken right to mercy rules, free points, or easier opponents. In fact, the allowance of such handicaps crosses the line from mercy into patronization. It diminishes the integrity of the sport.

If you’re better at the game, let your play do the talking. At the core of sportsmanship is the participation of the game in a fair and competitive manner. If you take away those concepts by punishing winning and telling your team to ease up on a losing opponent, this emphasis on “sportsmanship” is nothing more than a fallacious platform that yields no benefits and is actually counterintuitive.

Cyrus proposed that instead of punishing the SHA coach, they should be looking at different factors in the game. “I think they should be looking at the other coach. Why didn’t he change his game plan? And if the school is really that much better, 92-4, maybe the school that had 4 points is in the wrong bracket; they’re in the wrong league. They’re playing students that are way too good. Or this team that scored 92 points, maybe they need to be bumped up to play the bigger schools. That’s all.”

Dennis from Massachusetts called in to express his disagreement with Patrick’s evaluation. Dennis said he has coached basketball for many years and while he has coached in recreational leagues, he also coached for Catholic schools and he argued that the foremost goal of a coach in that situation is to be a model Christian, not win games. He also pointed out that the details of the game are still unknown. “Did he put his second-stringers in? Did he try to slow the game down?” He said that you should never try to embarrass the other team. (It was later reported that Coach Kirck stopped pressuring Lyman Hall after the first half and completely pulled his starters for the fourth quarter.)

Patrick responded by asking Dennis at what point do you declare something embarrassing versus not embarrassing? Do you draw the line at a score of 82-4? Do you draw it at 72-4? How about 62-4? 52-4? The sliding scale for what’s deemed embarrassing is arbitrary. While by all accounts Sacred Heart Academy blew out Lyman Hall, there’s no written rule about where a blowout becomes “too much of a blowout”. At varsity level basketball, you are expected to compete, play hard, and win games, not make sure that everybody’s having a good time. “How much more compassionate is it to say to the other team, ‘You know what? We’re destroying you so badly … What are we going to throw the game?’ That would be unethical. ‘Are we going to sort of just not play hard?’ That would be unethical,” argued Patrick.

Several other listeners called in to express their thoughts on this argument.

Listen to the full segment(s) and the rest of the callers below:

TPMS – January 07, 2022 – Hour 2

TPMS – January 07, 2022 – Hour 3

Tune in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays 8am – 11am CT

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.