The Common Good

The Sad State of Sportsmanship

Sojomail - February 11, 2004

Quote of the Week More WMD doublespeak
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: How to lose points in youth sports
P.O.V. Mars madness
Action Alert Good news from Colombia
Warning: Satire Armageddon tired of Left Behind
Celebrating Black History Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?
On the Wire Iraq roundup: Stories you may have missed
Culture Watch Sundance celebrates super-sized saga
Web Sitings Universal zoom | Vote smarter | The joy of socks
Boomerang Super Bowl "coverage" comments

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"I based my decision on the best intelligence possible."

- President George W. Bush, defending his decision to invade Iraq. Source: The Washington Post

"They never said there was an imminent threat."

- CIA Director George Tenet, in a speech defending his agency's pre-war intelligence on Iraq. Source: The Washington Post

How to lose points in youth sports
by David Batstone

David BatstoneLast weekend my daughter's seventh-grade basketball team played in the championship game for our county in California. Our team lost by a sizeable margin; from the opening tip-off there was really never a doubt about the final outcome. The other team was bigger and more athletic.

If there was a rule that deducted points for poor sportsmanship, we might have won. The other team's behavior was shocking. Sadly, my daughter is accustomed to trash talking by her opponents. But when a collision happens, and she puts her hand out to help an opponent up, only to be dramatically snubbed, that bothers her. Or once the game is over, and one of the other team's star players grabs the trophy (even before it's awarded by league officials) and walks it over to our team, laughing and taunting as she shakes it in their faces, I'm grateful that my daughter still finds that behavior disturbing as well.

To the credit of my daughter's coach, he tried to keep his counterpart accountable for what took place on and off the court. After the game, he congratulated the other coach for a fine athletic effort, but told him that he should be ashamed of their lack of sportsmanship. The coach bristled, and told him that if he had a problem to take it up with the school athletic director. After all, he's just the coach; his job is to teach the girls to play ball.

I wish this was an isolated incident. I have four children, all of whom are active in multiple sports, and I could rattle off the top of my head 10 incidents (all recent) of egregiously poor sportsmanship. Here's another one: After my soccer team of 10-year-old boys beat a team from Palo Alto, they lined up to shake their opponents hands. Several of the boys from the other team spit in their hands just before meeting up with my boys, leaving a trail of slime behind.

My boys were quite upset, and let me know right away why. I walked over to the other coach - who by that time was delivering a post-team talk to his boys - and told him that we together needed to address a serious issue. When I informed him what happened, he gruffly reprimanded me - without even asking his boys if the charge was true - for "falsely accusing" his team. "My boys would never do something like that. You can get out of here right now so that we can go on with our team meeting." I shrugged my shoulders and walked away.

But this incident took an unexpected twist. As I called my boys together for our own post-game chat, an obviously disturbed parent from the other team approached me. He confessed that he saw his boys pass along their saliva, and was deeply ashamed for his boys, their coach, and his community. He was on the board of the soccer club, and he had just told his coach that if he allows for that kind of behavior to happen again, he would be banned for life from coaching in the club. The father's response was a touching display of integrity and honor, and I was glad my boys could see it. The coach, of course, never came over to apologize to me or our team.

I've had more experiences in this area of sports misbehavior than I'd ever care to see, so let me share a few take-aways for parents and coaches:

*Keep reminding yourself that youth sports is a vital training ground for life skills, and only secondarily for athletic proficiency.

*A coach is fully responsible for the behavior of his/her team. If the coach does not uphold a standard, the kids will manufacture their own.

*If a coach fails to hold the kids on the team accountable for their behavior, a parent must intervene. The kids should see that not all adults find their misbehavior acceptable.

*A coach must stand up for decency and fairness if the other team, or its coach, engages in poor sportsmanship or just plain cheats. A couple of years ago, my son's team lost a championship game in Little League because the other team brought in "ringers" who were too old for the league. My son's coach found out after the game and decided to "just let it go." My son still carries that memory. It wasn't losing (he's lost plenty of games) that troubled him; it's the fact that unfairness was in play, and he was too young (and powerless) to do anything about it. A coach should model the importance of confronting unfairness, and the proper way to do it.

*Here's the ultimate measurement of coaching success: How many of the kids on the team - not just the one or two star performers - would say in honesty that they are having fun and want to keep playing the sport after the season is over? If that percentage dips under 80%, you're losing as a coach, no matter how many games your team wins.

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P.O.V. ^top
Mars madness
by David S. Rupke

When I was a kid, I really wanted to go into space. Maybe to help establish the first human colony at Alpha Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. I've since outgrown this dream, but I imagine it could one day be a reality. Given humanity's propensity to do crazy things - like shoot a person in a big metal tube into space - someday you or your grandchildren, or their grandchildren, will be sending e-mail to someone on a spaceship traveling to Betelgeuse.

A couple of weeks ago, President Bush announced his plans to establish a base on the moon and send a person to Mars. Past presidents have blown hot air on this issue: You may recall that Bush Sr. proposed something similar and nothing happened. The current announcement was suspiciously (i.e., politically) timed with the recent success of the Mars rovers and the launch of a Chinese astronaut. However, NASA is actually rebudgeting this time in accord with the president's plan. In response, many argue that our money would be much better spent on the immediate concerns of earth-bound people, rather than on sending someone to Mars. Why bother with space at all?

Read more at:


Good news from Colombia

Ricardo Esquivia
Your letters continue to make a difference! Since we first reported that Ricardo Esquivia, a leader and peace worker in the Colombian Mennonite Church and a friend of Sojourners, was being threatened with arrest on false charges by the Colombian government, the international response has had amazing effects. Recent contact between Ricardo's advocates and Ambassador Michael Kozak from the State Department Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has affirmed the impact of this campaign. Janna Bowman, who has worked with Esquivia at Justapaz: Christian Center for Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action, said of her meeting with Kozak: "I have no illusions - I am not a powerful person. He cares about us because we represent a multitude of mobilized U.S. citizens. That is powerful."

When Esquivia, Bowman, their Justapaz colleague Pablo Stucky, a Colombian congressman, and the president of the Colombian Council of Churches met with Luis Carlos Restrepo, the Colombian High Commissioner of Peace, he publicly stated his faith in Esquivia and his work as an invaluable Colombian peace advocate: "Never have we seen anything like all are moving the world!" According to Bowman, efforts to prevent Esquivia's arrest are making progress and there is hope that the political costs of detaining Esquivia at this time would be too high. "It is because a scattered community joined and acted to support a member in need," says Bowman. "I would like all those who have persisted, who have 'not grown weary in doing good,' to know how their participation in this movement of the Spirit is being rewarded."

But our work is not finished. If you have not already done so, please send a message in support of Esquivia at the link below. Please pray for the work of those following up on our efforts as they seek meetings with other key government officials. And please continue to pray for Esquivia as his work in conflicted areas will continue to put him at personal risk, and for justice for the thousands of Colombians who have been detained, tortured, and killed in Colombia's armed conflict - by paramilitary, guerrilla, and government forces - who lack his networks of support.

Take action at:

Learn more about Esquivia's case and read Sojourners articles in which he's quoted or featured at:


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Armageddon tired of Left Behind

Tree Givers
The Left Behind series has demonstrated that premillennialst dispensationalism lends itself better to popular fiction than serious theology, and it has made authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins two of the most influential (and wealthy) men in Christian publishing. The satirical Door Magazine recently "interviewed" Jenkins, excerpted here:

THE DOOR MAGAZINE: Many of your readers were surprised and disappointed upon finishing the final book of the Left Behind series to find the story was, still, not over. What was the reason behind the newest spin-off series Armageddon?

JERRY B. JENKINS: Tim and I just felt one final book could not do justice to the judgment that awaits unbelievers. We received thousands of letters from readers who wanted to see more of God's wrath on sinners. So when we neared the end of the story, we decided to milk it, I mean stretch it, into three books. That way we could really focus in on the judgment. You know, burning flesh, birds pecking out eyeballs, parents eating their children - stuff like that.

Read more at:

Read Sojourners' serious unpacking of the theology and politics behind Left Behind at:


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.

Ain't I a Woman?
by Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883)

Preaching the Word
That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me a best place. . .
And ain't I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me. . .
And ain't I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man -
when I could get to it -
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?
I have born 13 children
and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother's grief
none but Jesus heard me. . .
and ain't I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman.
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
right side up again.

Read more about Sojourner Truth at:

Learn more about this speech, including the controversy over Sojourner Truth's actual words at:

Iraq roundup: Stories you may have missed

U.S. lawmakers sound alarm on women's rights in Iraq

Abuse of Iraqi prisoners common, Marine says

Former weapons inspector confronts the 'theocracy of evil'

Halliburton getting fat at government trough

Sundance celebrates super-sized saga

Sundance Film Festival documentary award-winner Super Size Me: A Film of Epic Proportions follows the life of 30-year-old Morgan Spurlock during a month-long self-inflicted binge on McDonalds. For 30 days Spurlock, director, producer, and human guinea pig, had to eat everything on the menu at least once and if he was asked to "super size" it he was obligated to do so. All the while Spurlock was visiting three doctors (a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, and a general practitioner) to monitor his health. At the end of 30 days he had packed on almost 30 pounds, his cholesterol skyrocketed from 165 to 230, and his liver had become so damaged it became "toxic." Super Size Me: A Film of Epic Proportions is being shown in limited cities across the U.S. Learn more at:

Universal zoom

Get some perspective by zooming from a view of the Milky Way galaxy to the components of an atom:

Vote smarter

For non-partisan information on the candidates, including biographical information, voting records, and issues positions, visit:

The joy of socks

Forty fine paintings expressing the full emotional range of sock puppets at:

Super Bowl "coverage" comments

Rev. Michael Danner writes from Metamora, Illinois:

I greatly appreciate Jim's comments on the commercials and "entertainment" that encapsulated a great football game ["Super Bowl Sleaze," 2/4/2004]. I agree with Jim that people of conscience should let those at Viacom know they were outraged with the display. A point that came clear to me, however, when reading Jim's comments was a more important one: Jim, as a father, was actively involved in protecting his children from the barrage of filth that surrounded the football game. I watched the game with my son, and we turned off the TV and played a game during halftime. At the same time, I am having a little trouble with what seems to be selective and perhaps misplaced outrage. I hear very few people expressing outrage over the simulated sexual assault. It is a crime to tear someone's clothes off.

...Jim, you provided a good model for the rest of us parents. Pay attention to what your kids watch and how it impacts them, and for heaven's sake - protect your children from things that will do them harm!


Dave Larson writes from Shanghai, China:

I wholeheartedly agree with Jim Wallis' assessment of CBS/Viacom's content choices in the Super Bowl halftime show and the commercials it allowed. I am especially offended because CBS preferred to air this dreck while refusing to air's commercial "Child's Pay," ( because it apparently runs contrary to their political bias. (CBS claims political neutrality but they will accept money to run commercials from the White House Office of Drug Policy during the Super Bowl, but not an ad that points out that future generations will pay for the Bush White House's massive deficit.) If you plan to write to the decision-makers at CBS/Viacom, I would also encourage you to write a letter of praise to CNN for running "Child's Pay" during the halftime show.


Sarah Sentilles writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts:

Give me a break. People don't join the Religious Right because of offensive television commercials. People keep asking me, "What do you think about Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's stunt during the Super Bowl?" And I keep answering, "I don't."

The media won. They keep us angry about something that, in the end, really does not matter. I guess it's much easier to be upset about a woman's breast than about the fact that we have a president who lied to start a war, or that Cheney goes duck hunting with a judge on the Supreme Court before whom he is soon scheduled to appear, or that Super Bowl Sunday is the night with the highest reported incidences of domestic violence than any other night in the year. (I am sure that offensive commercial with the woman shown yelling at her referee husband - one you failed to mention, Jim - did not help this statistic.)

You're right. We should contact CBS. But not because they run offensive ads, but because they refuse to show ads by PETA and on our public airwaves.


Joe Nangle, OFM, writes from Washington, D.C.:

Regarding "Super Bowl Sleaze" and Jim Wallis' useful suggestions about calling those responsible, may I add something: Boycott the whole Super Bowl package. I feel good that a couple of years ago I decided to skip this event as just about the worst expression of everything I dislike about America. If you want you can read about how great - or more often, boring - the game was in the Monday sports pages. But submitting oneself to four hours of pretty awful commercials and halftime shows, interspersed with 22 behemoths trying to do each other physical harm, strikes me as bad for the soul.


Denise Bennett writes from Richmond, Virginia:

Everytime I hear about the sleaze, violence, and general level of banality found on television these days, I am further convinced that my husband and I made the right decision 13 years ago when we gave up TV for Lent by throwing the set in the trashcan. Like Jim Wallis, I too like a good game, but not enough to have a TV in the house. Not having a television might be the most interesting counter-cultural thing you'll ever do. And I can almost guarantee that it will turn your kids into readers!


Bea Scott writes from Cincinnati, Ohio:

Thank you, Jim Wallis, for your commentary on the halftime sleaze at the Super Bowl. I agree completely. What is even more upsetting is the fact that the NFL turned down Bono's offer to sing (reportedly for free) a song called "An American Prayer" about the fight against AIDS in Africa. Apparently that would have been too offensive to the market that CBS was trying to grab: 18-34-year-old males. The whole incident is yet another example of the dark side of U.S. "culture," where the bottom line is, of course, the bottom line and the almighty dollar rules.


Joseph Allen Kozuh, Ph.D., writes from Austin, Texas:

As a conservative Christian, it warmed my heart to read "Super Bowl Sleaze" by Jim Wallis! Jim's editorial gave me hope that we Christians can somehow bridge the titanic gulf that has arisen between liberal Christians and conservative Christians.


Yoram Getzler writes from Moshav Aminadav, Israel:

Thank you for sharing the letter/comments/feelings/experiences of Israeli soldiers who serve under very difficult physical, moral, and ethical conditions. I think that these letters tell a little of the complex physical and emotional reality our army faces. Of course these are only a small, select sampling of the experience our children experience...and perhaps not objective.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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