Athletes in Arms: Why sportsmanship is essential in this election

columnist graphic for Liam Schroeder fall 2020

Good game. GG. Great match. Every athlete has their go-to way of showing appreciation for their opponent after a game. Competitiveness is in the heart of every athlete, but so is sportsmanship. Whether you win by a landslide or lose a deep-seated rivalry game, a trait of every great athlete is respect for their opponent. 

We now find ourselves near the end of a competition that has lasted several months: the 2020 election. However, this doesn’t seem like the average regular season game. The feeling is more reminiscent of Game 7 during any championship series. I have the same anxiety and energy surrounding the election as I would for a game tied in the fourth quarter with two minutes left.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, everyone could confidently say that Cleveland won because of the final score and the fact that Golden State conceded to the rightful champions. Despite the emotions of losing after having a 3-1 lead, Golden State respectfully acknowledged what Cleveland had accomplished.

Now the country finds itself in a tough situation where current President Donald Trump has declared victory before the race is over. Along with casting doubt over the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, Trump is doing everything he can to hold onto his power. 

If a team declared victory before the clock had run out or argued about whether fair points should be counted, I would be upset. Many athletes and teams have a “win at all costs” mentality, which might include arguing with refs or getting a little more physical on the court. We have seen both nominees go into this campaign with a “win at all costs” mindset, but declaring victory before every vote is counted goes directly against the principles of fair competition or democracy. 

Although sportsmanship is something that every athlete should show to their opponent, there may always be an element of trash talk. Being able to get in your opponent’s head provides a significant competitive advantage. I’ve heard everything from sarcastically saying “nice shot” to jabs at a player’s character and everything in between.

As a volleyball team playing at the collegiate level, our coach constantly has to remind us to keep our words on our side of the net. Sometimes players may get so wrapped up in trash talking and passive comments that they end up distracting from the ultimate goal of victory. As a team, we constantly have to be reminded that too much banter noise leads to ineffective volleyball communication on the court.

In a very similar fashion, as seen during the first 2020 presidential debate, meaningless jabs distract from the essential things that need to be discussed. A presidential debate should educate viewers on policy positions, but when one is consumed by noise from interruptions, the goal of the debate loses its impact.

For the past several months, the political parties have attacked each other tirelessly. Once the race is over and campaigning is done, concession is due from the candidate who is defeated. A simple sign of respect from each party would go a long way to unite the country when it needs it most. 

No matter who we are playing, whether it be our own team in practice or UCLA at the end of the season, handshakes and congratulations are always in order. The winning team can celebrate briefly and learn from what worked. The losing team may be disappointed but can come back stronger by learning from what did not work. 

Regardless of what happens, both parties have a lot to learn and improve upon from this one-of-a-kind 2020 election. I can only hope future election campaigns look to what this year entailed and positively build upon it. Verbal sparring will continue, but it cannot detract from crucial conversations.

For now, I am praying not only for my chosen candidate to come out on top but for there to be grace and sportsmanship following the results. Seeing both parties hopefully let down their guard, celebrate each other’s spirited campaigns and respect the democratic process will be a refreshing sight in this chaotic year. 

Looking back at my optimism for honesty and respect in the wake of election results, it is now clear that the country will not have the refreshing feeling that I had once hoped for. With millions of absentee ballots waiting to be counted among several battleground states, Trump prematurely said late in the night, “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”

With claims of fraud and a push to recount ballots, it is abundantly clear that Trump will not be able to lose with grace and integrity as any great competitor should. Instead, he will stick to the age-old tactic of blaming the refs, which in this case is the democratic process. 

Liam Schroeder is a junior writing about sports, social justice and student-athletes. He is also a middle blocker on the USC men’s volleyball team. His column, “Athletes in Arms,” ran every Thursday.