Sunday, June 22, 2014

'That's racing' should return to sport's vocabulary

Whatever happened to the phrase, "that's racing"?

I know you're not supposed to start stories with a question, but I couldn't help it. I'm asking this question more and more on a rhetorical level when it comes to IndyCar racing lately. Any time there's a questionable pass during a race, or two cars collide and hit the wall, right away the focus on the television broadcast and social media turns to possible penalties. Will race control send him in for a drive-through penalty in the pits? Or just let it go?

It seems to be more frequent than it was in the past, like in the good old days 20 years ago. What about the finish to the 1989 Indianapolis 500? When Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. were racing so close fighting for the lead that they touched wheels, sending Lil Al into the wall and Emmo into victory lane. That was racing.

Taking chances is the name of the game
Race drivers are out on the track fighting for positions, for championship points, for the win. In order to get a step ahead, they often have to take chances or risks to put themselves in a better position. Sometimes, those chances don't work out so well and they find themselves with a busted-up car that's tangled with another.

But that was racing. It was that way on the track, with no penalties to speak of, and you could tell that was the attitude of drivers, too. Media interviews with drivers after they crashed out of a race could be filled with emotion, sure; drivers don't like to watch the rest of the race from the paddock. However, they understood that was an unfortunate consequence sometimes. It's racing.

Not my fault. Give him a penalty for it.
Today, it doesn't seem like you can go one race without a driver or team owner giving a heated interview where they place blame on another driver for his or her alleged stupid move on the track, or getting upset with race control for not doing anything about it. Finger pointing has taken the place or saying "that's racing" or taking responsibility for your own actions.

Not every case is like this, of course, but it is a lot more common than it used to be. Part of it lies in the rules. As sports evolve, there's always more improvement and learning taking place. It's a good thing, because you wouldn't want it to stay exactly the same. Just look at how much faster the cars go these days compared to even a few decades ago. Then there's the constant safety improvements as well.

Everything in moderation
With all of this, more rules have come into play and as a result, so have more penalties. I'm not saying this should be done away with. Not at all. But I think there might be too much emphasis on these aspects of the sport. Sometimes, it really is just racing.

Instead, we have drivers getting drive-through penalties, (when I would actually like to see those be stop-and-hold penalties in the pits), fines being assessed and probation terms given out. Rules are fine, but we shouldn't get too caught up in them either. One other thing: Consistency. No matter what rules or penalties are out there, make sure there's as much consistency as possible to be fair to everyone.

Just don't forget the heart of the sport. That's racing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sportsmanship gestures are traditions that shouldn't be broken

I'm finding that sports people have varied opinions on one simple thing: The handshake.

Sportsmanship is a longstanding tradition of varied degrees in sports. Kids in organized athletic events are taught from a young age to go through the handshake line afterward, win or lose. As they get older, some will not only shake hands but also stand on the field, court or sheet of ice while the winning team is elated to accept gold medals and the second-place team is usually brokenhearted.

Professional-level kudos
At the professional level, there's no organized line for football players, but they walk on the field and chat with opponents afterward. Baseball players on the winning side have high-five routines on the field, while the losers head straight for the showers. Then there's the NHL, where teams go through the handshake line at center ice after the completion of each playoff series.

And we can't forget professional tennis players after a Grand Slam final. Not only does the losing player have to stay out on the court while the winner celebrates, which usually involves running halfway up the stands to find his or her team of supporters. But the losing player also has to endure the award ceremony and usually get interviewed right on the spot for the whole stadium and television audience to hear.

That has to be a tough task, too. You'll see a lot of players sitting on the sideline with their towel completely covering their face. The tears go unseen but not unknown.

It's tradition, I suppose, to have the sportsmanship and respect for those on the other side and show that through simple gestures like handshakes, a pat on the shoulder or even hugs. Not really being a competitive athlete, I support these rituals. I think it shows and teaches respect, and it speaks toward being able to handle wins and losses in a professional manner.

High school athletes face their tears
I know some people that would like to see traditions change, especially at the high school level. The point is that these kids have left everything out there for that final event of a state championship, and the losers should be able to head to the locker room before any ceremonies take place. The winners are ecstatic while the losers are left stunned, saddened and often with tear-stained faces. But both teams remain out there for the award ceremony where trophies and medals are given out, and usually where more sets of individual handshakes happen.

I understand the point of view, but I also don't have a problem with the way it's done now. The second-place team still has a great accomplishment to celebrate, even if it doesn't seem like it at the time. Those individuals should be recognized for that. The winning team watches them get their awards, so it's only fair that they stay and see the winners do the same.

Yes, I'm sure some would like nothing more than to hide under a towel or just run into the locker room. It has to be tough knowing you lost the championship, and then there are the emotions for the seniors playing in possibly their last game ever.

Still, I like the tradition. It shows respect, lets athletes know that they have a lot to be proud of and also teaches them that life won't always be easy, but you'll need to face the hard things, too.