Good sportsmanship stories carry a lot of emotion with them. Someone usually does something that goes beyond their set of responsibilities. The act involves great sacrifice for the person committing the act and provides great benefit for the person being helped. Good sportsmanship stories make us cry. There’s a great story gaining momentum out of Ohio that will almost certainly make you cry. Arlington (Ohio) High sophomore Arden McMath was nearing the finish line of the 3,200-meter final in the Ohio Division III Track and Field State Championships last Saturday. She found herself 20 meters from the finish when her body couldn’t take another step.
McMath fell to the ground completely exhausted. However, the story didn’t end there. West Liberty-Salem (Ohio) High junior Meghan Vogel would not let her stay down. Vogel picked McMath up and carried her to the finish. Fox and Friends had Vogel and McMath on for an interview earlier this week. Watch the video below (email subscribers click here).
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Host Steve Doocy called what happened between Vogel and McMath a “teachable moment.” He’s right, but did anyone teach anyone else anything? Did we tell a kid or anyone within earshot why this is a great thing…or did we just sit there and cry? You see, these moments become nothing more than a Terms of Endearment, Steel Magnolias, Philadelphia, or insert tear-jerker movie here if no one learns anything. If no one learns and consequently changes the way they treat others on the field, then the only one who was helped last week was McMath. The rest of us are just left on the ground in need of help.
There are several lessons here, but I want to submit three for your approval. First, winners show good sportsmanship. Meghan Vogel is a winner. She won the 1,600-meter race about an hour before running the 3,200-meter event where she encountered McMath. The prevailing wisdom used to be that good sportsmanship is about losing with dignity or being a good loser. As a result, people didn’t want to be recognized for good sportsmanship because that usually means you lost. Meghan Vogel is a state champion. Winners do practice good sportsmanship.
Second, what Vogel did was not the ‘extreme,’ ‘rare,’ and ‘special’ act you’ve seen plastered all over the place. It was great and that’s it. Here’s why. Helping a fallen opponent is commonplace among distance runners. Three distance runners were honored at the National Sportsmanship Awards last year. The very first recipient of the Sports Commission’s Sportsmanship Scholarship was a distance runner. Google ‘distance runners’ and ‘sportsmanship 2011’ and you’ll come across the story of Josh Ripley. Who is Josh Ripley? Well, he’s just a high school junior distance runner who carried an opponent a half-mile to get help after an injury.
Sportsmanship is part of the culture for distance runners. Vogel said if the roles were reversed, she was confident McMath would have helped her. That wasn’t lip-service. It’s what they do and that’s the only way we’re going to change the poor behavior and poor attitudes we see in sports at all levels. There has to be a culture change. The most important thing to any distance runner is finishing the race. They want to place well, but finishing is the real accomplishment. Moreover, they know their sport is so tough mentally and physically that they want everyone else to finish too. How can we instill that attitude in our respective sports?
The final lesson speaks to the title of this post and references a quote made by Vogel herself. She told the Associated Press, “It’s strange to have people telling me that this was such a powerful act of kindness and using words like ‘humanity.’ When I hear words like that, I think of Harriet Tubman and saving people’s lives. I don’t consider myself a hero. I just did what I knew was right and what I was supposed to do.” Tubman was one of the leaders of The Underground Railroad – a 19th-century abolitionist network designed to help slaves escape captivity and flee to free states or Canada. Vogel has the right perspective. Far too often, we place sports on too high of a pedestal.
Sports has an important place in society, but it’s not life or death. We compete in games. They’re not battles or wars. The people we compete against are opponents and not foes or enemies. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless are great acts of humanity. Helping someone finish the last 60 or so feet of a race is just good sportsmanship. Until next time…
Be a Good Sport!