Sunday, September 27, 2015

When Sports and Sportsmanship were Innocent

Kidd to Taylor: "Hit me."
With all the talk at present about Tom Brady and the Patriots' possible tendency to cheat, the author takes a poke at sports and those who cheated in the past ... as well as a peak at a childhood that had to rely on an "honor system." 

When I was a child, we played football out on the recess field.

When I was a child, we had rules like the professionals had – rules such as no holding while blocking a rusher, no off-sides when rushing a passer, and having to catch the ball with two feet in-bounds. Yes, if you had one foot in and one foot out of bounds, the catch was incomplete. Just like the pros. The college teams could have one foot in-bounds and still consider it a catch. But we wanted to be more like the pros. The professionals and all their greatness was something to look up to.

When I was a child, we played by the rules, because that’s just what you did to make the games … well, games.

Of course we had no referees, so we had to play on what they called “the honor system.” Such a system had everyone own the rules on the football field and be responsible for playing fair. It was the right thing to do, it felt good, and we believed it’s what the pros would do.

But that may not be true … right?

Right Mike Tomlin? This is the Pittsburgh Steelers coach who – by accident he says – stepped on the field during a play in the third quarter of the Thanksgiving night's game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. The coach lingered on the same sidelines that Raven Jocoby Jones raced along trying to avoid the coach, who later said he was unaware of his placement on the field. What could one expect from a cheater but a lie?

Right Cam Newton? This is the Carolina Panthers quarterback who in a 2013 game flopped to the ground, out of bounds, as he embellished a late hit resulting in a penalty against the Miami Dolphins. The two Dolphins in question did not hit Newton out of bounds, but a flailing and over-dramatic Newton sprawled to the turf before arising with a wide grin on his face.

Isn’t that right every punter in the NFL who has ever hoped to draw a penalty flag after pretending to get hit by an opposing player?

And such dishonorable play can even be found in other pro sports … right?

Right Zach Parise? This is the New Jersey Devil left-winger who was hoping no one noticed that his goal came off a deliberate “hand pass” during the Devils’ game versus the Los Angeles Kings in May 2012, even though it’s clearly illegal to score that way.

Right Dewayne Wise? This is the New York Yankee outfielder who, in a June 2012 game, didn’t dispute an errant call that had him mistakenly catching a foul ball. What was all-the-more disturbing was that Wise chose to pretend he did catch the ball, as he secretly – in front of thousands of onlookers and network television cameras – clutched nothing in his glove, and then jogged off the field.

Right Lance Armstrong? This is the world-class bicyclist who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and who finally admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs – a secret habit of many a dishonorable cheater in modern-day athletics.

Right Jason Kidd? This is the Brooklyn Nets basketball coach who pretended to drop a cup of soda on the floor in order to manipulate extra time in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. TV replays caught Kidd telling Nets guard Tyshawn Taylor to "hit me" with 8.3 seconds left in the game. Taylor immediately walked into Kidd who spilled a beverage, forcing the officials to take time to clean up the court while a Nets assistant coach drew up an offensive play in an impromptu huddle. "The cup slipped out of my hand," Kidd told reporters after the game, but later recanted and admitted to the ploy. When Kidd was told of one colleague who grinned with a remark that it was an “expensive” mistake, Kidd, too, smiled.

Smiled. He smiled. Like Cam Newton smiled. Like Mike Tomlin smiled. What is wrong with these professionals, these disgraceful and dishonorable adults who not only place winning over sportsmanship, but cross the limits on more than a simple sideline?

When I as a child, and we played at recess, we had our rules too … and if someone had only one foot in-bounds and he knew it, he did not pretend to get a catch. That would haunt us kids. That would be an empty win. That would simply feel so bad in our head and our stomach.

When I was a child, we played by the rules. We had to. Not because we would be fined or suspended or lose some possible income, but because that’s what you do when you want to play and play in the right way. That’s what you do when you want to win, and win in the right way.

Maybe for these pros – out on the field, the courts, the rinks and the raceways – they can take a cue from an innocent time in the past, when the most important thing was making sure the game was, well, a game.

James Anthony Ellis is a writer and producer living in Lemon Grove. The author of "The Honor Book," he still plays sports games with the men in his international men’s organization MDI, where they normally have refs. He can be reached at

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