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Show Me Your Sportsmanship: I’ll Show You Your Culture

January 5, AD2017

female player, ball, sports
Having grown up in the United States, I thought it was common knowledge that playing sports is a school of morality, character training, and indispensable to a child’s upbringing. Now that I live in Portugal and am raising my children here, I see that is not the case in other places around the world; such as Portugal for example. The main sport here is soccer, not every child plays it and it is rare to find a girl that plays. So, not all children play competitive sports growing up and not all parents value them.

The philosophy of the game

I once read an article that explained how the philosophy of baseball reflects the philosophy of America and the philosophy of soccer reflects the philosophy of Europe. For example; the fact that baseball doesn’t have a time limit, and that you can turn your luck around even in the last inning, mirrors the American spirit of the underdog winning, the self-made man, and equal opportunities.Soccer, on the other hand, has a looming time limit. The more you are down on your luck, the harder it is to win as time progresses. It’s more fatalistic.

I have also heard the interesting contrast between the money that is needed to play American football and the lack of equipment for soccer. A football player needs a helmet, shoulder pads and all his gear, and millions are invested in the equipment necessary for football. Soccer, however, is played on the streets of poor neighborhoods in Portugal, in Brazil and in other parts of the world with just a ball. You can even play barefoot. How a culture “plays” reflects how a culture thinks, feels, and functions.

The education of values

How many movies have been dedicated to the lessons learned through practicing, playing, coaching or even watching sports? The lessons of fair play, discipline, teamwork, sharing, persevering, winning and losing are timeless. What an invaluable tool sports can be in the upbringing of a child. Other than the ethical lessons that can be learned and applied later in all parts of life, there are social skills, comradery, and physical skills that are a lifelong gift to the child.

The value placed on sports and the integrity with which they are played, is possibly related to the sense of ethics in business, economics, or even academia, in the rest of society. It always scandalizes me to see how plagiarism is treated in Portugal versus in the United States. In the States you can get kicked out of a university for plagiarism, whereas in Portugal it is common to get caught for plagiarism at any school level and nothing really happens. Same goes for cheating on tests.

Sports can teach us the value of honesty, integrity and playing by the rules even if you lose. We are rightly shocked to find out about athletes using doping or other methods of cheating in sports.

Athletes as examples

Seeing that Portugal does not place the same value on sports as America, I was pleasantly surprised by our national team’s sportsmanship in the European Championship of 2016. Portugal and France played against each other in the finale on July 10th, the day my son was born. Everyone was really excited in Portugal. It has been a while since they’ve been to the finale and they had never won the European championship.

France, on the other hand, had won several times before and thought it would be an easy win. They showed terrible sportsmanship in the weeks leading up to the game with the negative press they did on the Portuguese team. They were expecting to win easily and showed it. They prepared everything for the French win. The Eiffel Tower was prepared to shine the French flag and they didn’t even have lights for the Portuguese colors. Then they played a bit “dirty” in the actual game. They hurt Portugal’s main player, Cristiano Ronaldo, at the beginning of the game in a very ugly way. He was unable to play the rest of the game and sat on the sidelines, crying. Every Portuguese person’s morale was down at that point. Even Barack Obama tweeted after the game saying, “Love him or hate him, u can’t deny his talent. No sportsman deserves this, esp in a final.”

The Portuguese team, however, won the game and won it fair and square. They didn’t play any dirty tricks and treated France as an equal adversary. Cristiano Ronaldo supported his team from the sidelines and said some encouraging words to the player who scored the winning goal right before he scored it. The Portuguese coach, Fernando Santos, has been quoted many times on his openly Catholic faith. He was inspired by the Gospel reading on July 8th from Matthew 10:16 and told his players to be “shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”

Cristiano Ronaldo has a shady family life, but he showed great sportsmanship in that soccer game. It really uplifted Portuguese morale and I think also the culture. Placing value on sports and the love of the game can be a good way to affirm the education of values and fight corruption in our relativistic world.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

Filed in: Education, Sports • Tags: , , ,

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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  • footballsux

    What sports did Jesus play?

    • Jim Kenaston

      Jesus was interested in redeeming fallen humanity and the created order. While this includes all facets of human endeavor, His victory was over the consequences of human sin (which I understand as the second death). He inaugurated His kingdom on earth, which he left to His followers to advance through faith in Him, modeling their lives/morals after His. Our modern customs would have been of little importance to Him, save for humanity being created in the image of God as creative beings who are responsible for their choices. Sports, the Arts, blogging, etc… all of this is far from His central purpose, though none of it lands outside of the realm of His redeeming grace.

  • Jim Kenaston

    Certain sports may well reflect national characteristics, though an overarching theme in the U.S. seems to be need to create oneself (or one’s sense of importance or belonging) through some form of sporting achievement. We in turn (collectively/vicariously) find great pride in the achievements of individual athletes or teams when they excel (or shame when they fail us, either athletically or morally). It’s an interesting study. It may also be worth looking at the psychology behind various kinds of sports as well, for instance, the differences between face to face win-lose competitions (wrestling, boxing, tennis, etc.) and participation in team sports, or races where you can come in third and feel good about having improved on your best time. Whichever sport one’s psychology is best suited to, in the least the effort can be a constructive way of channeling an abundance of youthful energy. Perhaps at worst we elevate the ideal of the sports hero to a level that precludes other aspects of development and preparation for life. It seems a tool that can be used wisely and carefully in a child’s social, physical and intellectual development, though we do well not to focus on it exclusively.

  • james

    And you didn’t even mention the rampart, deadly riots that break out in hate driven contempt for player and fans alike. And Europe is not your basic war monger union as is the US which for the most part uses vulgarity as its weapon of choice in sports.

  • Älter und weiser

    Sorry to say, I just don’t see it that way. I’m in my 6th decade and have raised two boys. Frankly, I saw too much emphasis on sports and glorification of sports skills. Sportsmanship was fine, but winning was finer and unlike real life, you can’t just switch teams (like switching jobs) when you don’t get the field time that you should. Team sports are an interesting social environment, but it was just as likely that you find well developed little sociopaths as saints.