Repairing Sportsmanship after the Oregon-Boise State Incident


By Paul M. Banks

You’ve seen it somewhere by now- the ugly incident with University of Oregon and Boise State players, a deplorable scene for kicking off the eagerly awaited college football season. It was all caught on tape and it’s now being re-lived on countless websites through the art of viral video thousands of times.

The Awards and Recognition Association (ARA), founder of the National Sportsmanship Award, expressed concern over this black eye to college football’s image today. The ARA urges the public and the media not to share such negative displays and instead focus on the more common incidents of positive sportsmanship rarely make the news. The incident of negative sportsmanship — physical and verbal — reflects a trend that was identified in the ARA’s Annual State of Sportsmanship survey, fielded by TNS Worldwide earlier this year.

Unfortunately, for the fourth year in a row, the vast majority of Americans believe that sportsmanship is worse now than when they were growing up. More than 85 percent of Americans think sportsmanship is worse now than in previous years.lavelledwardsstadium

“What happened with the Oregon and Boise players was lamentable, but it is not by any means representative of the vast majority of athletes who participate in organized sports,” says former Brigham Young University Head Football Coach LaVell Edwards, who chairs the selection committee for the ARA Sportsmanship Award. “As a coach, I saw up close the character of the players on my teams and those of our opponents. Believe me, the good far outnumbered the bad. There are plenty of positive role models. The ARA Sportsmanship Award gives us an opportunity to shed a bright light on exemplary incidents and athletes.”

Last year, I spoke with both Edwards and Northwestern University’s Eric Peterman, when the former NU wide receiver accepted the ARA‘s 2008 National Sportsmanship Award.

On Saturday, I asked his former Head Coach about leadership, and who’s stepped up to fill that void (after Peterman’s departure) in his program. “Last year as a program, we volunteered 356 times for 80 different organizations. And yeah it was difficult to lose Eric, but he didn’t do all those. In our developmental process, giving back is critical. There are those who are a lot less fortunate than we are, and those who have made choices that have put themselves in those positions, and hopefully we can lift them up, in any way shape or form. Our young men are priviledged to be playing this game at Northwestern University, so hopefully we can take that 356 individual times and 80 different organizations that we went out and gave back, and hopefully double that this year,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitz was also asked his thoughts on Oregon suspending that player and the incident in general. He was very passionate about it and towards the end, displayed a fair amount of serious anger. Not anything close to Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and his infamous “I’M A MAN. I’M 40!!!,” but this is an issue Fitz feels very strongly about, as does the ARA.


Here’s what Fitz had to say:

I believe, based on the initiative that Grant Taft and the American Football Coaches Association set out for this weekend, to have a ceremonial sportsmanship handshake before the game, shows the initiative we’re trying to have as a coaching body. Obviously that young man (at Oregon) made a poor choice, and he’s going to pay dearly. I look at it from what I’ve seen; I think there’s a crowd control problem in college football. There was a lot of emotion in that game. And to have people come on the field I think is dangerous for players and support staff.

I’d like to see that fixed in college football, so that our players can get off the field in a safe manner and the coaches can as well after ball games. There is no need for [the punch] in our game, there was no need for the initiation of the contact either that enacted the swing. We talked as a staff before the game and used that as a teaching moment. That’s how your life can change, your life can change like that (Fitz snapped his fingers) I also heard there were some coaches that decided not to do the ceremonial handshake today, and to me that’s extremely disappointing for our profession.pat_fitzgerald

And if we can’t recruit the right kind of young men to act properly and carry on the great tradition of football that is about acting the right way on and off the field than I question the young men that we’re recruiting, and I question the leadership of our coaching body. We’re entrusted to be the stewards of the game as coaches. I applaud Grant Taft and Chip Kelly for the statement that he’s making, because it’s unacceptable and it does not belong in our game.”

Tips for fostering positive sportsmanship, created by ARA’s panel of collegiate coaches, are available at