What Is Sportsmanship?
Highlights on some notable “tricks” of sporting history and some equally notable examples of super-sportsmanship
THE reverberations of the Kaye Don-Gar Wood episode have not yet died away, even months after the Detroit Harmsworth trophy motor-boat race fiasco.
No sporting event in recent years attracted more attention to the ethics involved, in the newspapers of the British Isles, Canada and the United States. “Pulling a Gar Wood,” was quickly added to the vernacular of athletic annals and adopted to use on both sides of the ocean.
Comparatively few Canadians recall that less than a decade ago a well-known Canadian motor-boating enthusiast turned the tables neatly on Gar Wood, and in a more ethical and sporting manner. The man who has this trick to his credit—for “trick” he would be the first to admit it to be—is Harry B. Greening, of Hamilton, Ontario. In a speed contest, also held at Detroit, he so prepared his boat that he actually “spotted” the foxy Wood a whole lap, and then shot into the race and trimmed him.
As recently as 1923, sending a motor boat hurtling through the water at a speed of fifty miles an hour was epochal and, incidentally, deemed hazardous. It was in that year that Harry Greening turned up in Detroit with Rainbow III, to compete in the Gold Cup ra ce—the premier motor-boat race in the world aside from the Harmsworth—against Gar Wood, Colonel Vincent, and other American entrants. By ingenious last minute chang es the Canadian-made, -owned and -manned Rainbow romped over the course in the first two heats at a speed nicely over fifty miles an hour and crossed the finishing line three-quarters of a mile ahead of the second boat. Gar Wood’s.
American motor-boat racers, and particularly Gar Wood, began immediately to concoct plans to win the Harmsworth trophy the following year. Gar felt it keenly that a Canadian had outsmarted him. He and Greening have been warm personal friends for many years, but it is no secret that they do not agree with each other when the topic of discussion is “racing ethics.”
Greening decided to try some new wrinkles. Secretly he
began to supervise the construction of Rainbow IV, with which he planned to invade Detroit in 1924. The rules had been changed to allow what is allied “lapstrake” or “clinkerbuilt” construction. This could be used providing the thickness of the planks was not more than one inch. In other words, the craft would look like a rowboat made with planks one inch thick.
Greening and his cronies limited through various dictionaries. encyclopedias and rule books, and were elated to discover that there was no mention made of the direction in which the planks must run; so, in place of putting them on longitudinally, as everyone expected, he put them on crosswise. This automatically made the boat into a hydroplane, although the rules very carefully pointed out that hydroplanes were barred.
So that was the situation when Rainbow IV arrived in Detroit in 1924. What were the officials and contestants going to do about it?
The answer was: “What could they do?”
How’ever, in a hydroplane, air must be admitted under the notches or steps. Did Greening have air under the steps? The answer was an emphatic, no. Then the officials wanted to know what all those pipes were, leading down under the steps and making that portion of the craft look like a fairsized pipe organ. Greening had an answer all ready to this: “They are exhaust pipes."
That was a poser to the committee, because the rules, while saying that air must not be admitted under the hull, had made no mention that exhaust gases were not to be conveyed there, and exhaust gases are not air. Furthermore,
there is a rigid rule that the exhaust gases must either be led through the transom at the boat’s stern or under the hull, so all Greening had to do was to point to that rule. In other words, without breaking a single rule the Hamilton racer had added a tremendous amount of speed to his boat. Technically, he was “within the law.” From a sporting angle, w'as he justified? In considering the answer to this question, Greening’s associates of those days point out that Greening is a bit of a humorist and will go to tremendous efforts to have his little joke. Rainbow IV romped home with the bacon, with miles to spare, leaving Gar Wood a poor second.
Harry Greening did not race again until 1928 when, with Rainbow VII, he won the Lipton Cup, emblematic of the championship oí North America. In this competition he maintained his reputation as a sardonic humorist. He knew that his speed of seventy-four or seventy-five miles per hour and his 1,100 horsepower engine gave him a comfortable margin over his competitors. He then proceeded to put over one of the funniest stunts of the year by leading his competitors around the course with eight passengers in his boat. What made this so funny was that, until then, drivers had worn racing helmets, goggles, life preservers, etc.; so a lot of people in his family barge romping in ahead of the racing machines completely “shot” the morale of the other drivers !
Gar Wood, let it be recalled, also was a contestant in this race.
Different Games, Different Ethics
WHAT is accepted as good sportsmanship in athletic contests? These questions provide many a strenuous fanning bee. Headline athletes are looked up to and quoted if they are considered “good sports.” What is, or is not, good sportsmanship varies, naturally, from decade to decade, sometimes almost from year to year. It certainly varies, in
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What Is Sportsmanship?
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the same way that do manners and customs, from country to country. Schoolboys idolize leading athletes, and fashion their ethics and practices after those of their heroes. An illustration of this occurred within the past few weeks on a popular public school playground in Toronto, one in the “tetter” section of the city.
Two boys of about eleven or twelve were rolling on the turf, engaged in a keen wrestling match. What it lacked in science it tVlade up for in vigor. Apparently some of i the youngsters had teen taken to see recent professional wrestling matches or had heard their fathers talk about them. High-pitched shouts of encouragement rang out:
"Go on. Fat, gouge his eye out!” j “Give it to him Tommee, bite his ear!”
“Why don’t you twist his big toe, you mutt?”
These and other cries were commented upon by a teacher standing a few yards from the fracas. “They know that everything goes in a professional wrestling match, and so they emulate those methods on the playing field,” she said.
Not only do ethics vary from generation to generation and from country to country,
but also from one sport to another. Contrast the behavior of the crowd at a rugby or baseball contest with that at a tennis game or cricket match. Contrast also the conduct which is permissible for the players of one game and taboo for one or more of the others. At football or baseball, organized and unorganized cheering and rooting have become almost a part of the game itself. They certainly are an integral and expected part of the spectacle. Cricket enthusiasts, probably for centuries, have been very nearly mute. Tennis fans have had to receive occasional warnings from umpires, but they, too, are now pretty well trained to applaud or cheer only after the completion of a point.
About a third of a century ago, Toronto, then playing in the old Eastern League, won its first baseball pennant. The method of winning provided plenty of material for sermons in Toronto pulpits the following Sunday. A local rule, in the ancient bandbox field, stated that any fair ball knocked into the crowd thereby automatically counted as a home run. The climax of the game came when a Toronto player knocked out a fair
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lo middling fly ball and the local crowd— for there was standing room only—surged forward several yards so that the opposing team’s fielder could not quite reach it. Toronto had won a pennant. Was that sportsmanship on the part of the crowd? Was it sporting of the Toronto players to accept the flag?
Not so many years ago it was not unthinkable for Canadian rugby fans, even at college games, to shout and yell when the quarterback of the visiting team was calling signals near the bleachers. It was done in a patent attempt to confuse and to prevent the signals being accurately heard by the caller’s teammates. Such attempted methods are not popular today.
“Carrying” An Opponent
rT'ENNIS and cricket provide few natural Iopportunities for displaying a lack of sportsmanship. They have long been regarded as “gentlemen’s” games—whatever that may mean. But problems of behavior arise during almost every important contest.
One of the most contentious points in tennis is this; If the umpire says your opponent’s ball is out when you know it is in, what should you do? In important tournaments there is no arguing with an umpire who knows his job, so how can such an error be rectified? There are many fine players who attempt to even matters by tossing away the next point deliberately. This usually leads to annoyance for the spectators, the opponent, the linesman who was in error, and the umpire. And it doesn’t even up things.
Colonel H. G. Mayes, formerly of Winning, when playing at Wimbledon once called the umpire’s attention to a glaring error in his favor. All the satisfaction he got was a quiet but peremptory, “Play” from the umpire’s elevated chair. Playing at Forest Mills, Tilden won the final point of a set, the second I think, from Borotra on a very dubious decision of a linesman. The umpire ruled “Out,” the crowd “booed” a little, and Tilden tossed the third set, without even a veneer of disguise, to the bounding Basque. Then he took the fourth set easily, making it three out of four. Two or three years ago Tilden and his doubles buddy. Hunter, got into the finals of an important championship event. There was probably never a day when Tilden couldn’t liave polished off Hunter in three straight sets, but on this occasion he “carried” him to five sets. Was this kindliness sportsmanship?
Shortly before the war, a California comet, Maurice McLoughlin, amazed Eastern States tournaments with his bulletlike service. No American player could stand up successfully against the first leading exponent of the American smash service. McLoughlin wept to Wimbledon, and British tennis players and writers questioned whether such a severe sendee was sporting. The rangy, auburn-haired youth showed no inclination to abandon it, however; so those two doughty Antipodean veterans, Norman Brookes and Tony Wilding, watched McLoughlin during the early days of the tournament, studying ways to counter such speed. When one of them met McLoughlin in the finals he showed that he had solved the problem, at least partially and temporarily. He took the service on the rise, and so his opponent was just a fraction of a second too slow in getting to the net to cut oft’the return with a smashing volley. The British have since decided that speed in service or return is not unsporting. Far from it; and the youthful English Davis Cup team last summer trimmed the Ameriam youngsters in the final round, only to succumb to France in the challenge round.
CRICKET provided an interesting point of sportsmanship in England shortly after the Armistice. I believe it was in the first revival after 1918 of the competition between England and Australia for the “ashes.” A batter of the English team struck at a “googly,” apparently missed it
altogether, and it plumped into the hands of the wicketkeeper. The batsman declined to strike at the next ball or even to attempt to block it, and it knocked the bails flying.
“Why on earth did you deliberately let the ball take your wicket?” his puzzled and rather indignant team-mates asked him as he strode into the pavilion.
“Because the previous ball ticked my bat, but so slightly that the umpire was unable to detect it,” he replied.
Golf is another game played supposedly by gentlemen and sportsmen, but probably no game provides more opportunities for unsportsmanlike conduct which may be difficult to detect, or for hotter arguments at the nineteenth hole on points of rules and ethics, not to speak of etiquette. It differs from other games in that there is very little that you can do, or should do, to upset an opponent or materially to impair his game. In addition, there are continually opportunities to “get away with” something if a player wishes to.
Of course, many players are congenitally poor mathematicians. They should carry pocket comptometers. But have you ever observed or heard of the following? A player who takes six strokes in a sand trap and counts four or even one; a player who has lost a ball and drops another, which he “finds” to avoid the stroke penalty; a player who grounds his club in a sand trap; a player who improves his lie; or a player who surreptitiously uses wooden tees when winter rules are in order?
These are glaring instances, and offenders should get short shrift. But there are many examples, often in championship tournament play, where puzzling borderline cases occur. In 1921, Roger Wethered walked ahead to get a look at the flag over a knoll and, returning, stepped on his ball. He counted this a stroke, tied in the finals with a well-known pro, and lost in the play-off. Without complaint and without a moment’s hesitation he permitted that misstep to cost him the open title. Fans who have followed Walter Hagen and the peerless Bobby Jones record occasions when these players have ; counted a stroke just because the ball | slightly “shivered,” even when they were not within inches of completing a shot. The better the players, usually the more meticulous they are to observe every law of the game, and often they lean backward to do it.
A professor of ethics in a Canadian college remarked not long ago to a golf crony:
“I’m not going to tum in this card; it’s so low they’d be sure to cut my handicap. I’ll tum in the next one I get over ninety.”
In Olympic track meets, where international goodwill is supposed to be fostered, is it sporting for three runners from one nation to “box off” the sole entrant of another nation in that event, thus assisting a fourth runner of the first nation to win? Perhaps not, but it has happened. In intercollegiate crew racing, should factitious “hates” be encouraged in order to ballyhoo a regatta and stimulate the competing crews to the last ounce of effort? Perhaps not, but it was done recently. In basketball some players indulge in bodychecking which will get by with an easy-going referee but not with a strict one. Here, there may be opportunity for honest difference of opinion. In a billiard game, is it sporting to permit the opposing player unknowingly to play the wrong ball, and then suddenly “discover” the fact, after he has shot? Of course not. In the fistic arena, should a boxer deliberately foul his opponent in order to prevent losing the bout on a probable knockout? Is it sporting to pretend to be “all in” in order to lure the other boxer into leaving an opening? In squash rackets, should a plavei call a “let” or “hinder” when his opponent bumps him, when he realizes in his own heart that he couldn’t have returned the shot anyway? These, and scores of other points, continually arise in the whole gamut of sports.
The Canadian player and the Canadian fan are pretty good judges of what is and what is not sportsmanship. There are few athletic ignoramuses in Canada, and therej fore few “poor sports.”