In Denver on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens just had to keep their rushing streak alive. In doing so they angered the Denver Broncos and brought the debate over sportsmanship in sports to the forefront.
Let us take a quick trip back to yesterday evening as the game wound down in Denver. The Ravens were on a streak of 42 consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing. That streak appeared to be over as the Broncos turned the ball over with the Ravens at only 97 yards rushing. The Ravens took possession of the ball up 23-7 with just three seconds left in the game.
At this point the normal thing to do is take a knee and end the game. The Ravens had other plans however, as coach Jim Harbaugh decided to go for the record. He called a run play which gained five yards and meant the Ravens rushed for 102 yards, tying the NFL record for consecutive games (43) with at least 100 yards rushing.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was not happy with that decision. “I think it was kinda bulls–t, but I expect it from them,” Fangio said in his Monday press conference. Fangio continued to throw darts at the Ravens when he said “player safety is secondary there”.
Anytime plays like this happen in the NFL, or any sport for that matter, the topic about sportsmanship is brought up. Sportsmanship is one of those things that fits into the category of unwritten rules, and encyclopedias could be written with all the unwritten rules of sports.
Because the rules of unsportsmanship are unwritten, it leaves them up to being viewed by subjective standards. A prime example of this is that Ravens rush record play. Nobody outside of the Ravens cares about their consecutive games with 100 yards streak. Nobody could name the team that holds that record outside of Ken Jennings or Howie Schwab. But it means a lot to the Ravens, this is the team that brags about it’s preseason winning streak afterall.
So in Baltimore it was a big deal to get that record, while the rest of the league views it as meaningless. Especially when you are doing it on the road in a game where you have destroyed the home team. To the fans in the stands, and most of the sports world, the Ravens put players at risk for a meaningless play. But now take that same play and put it in Baltimore. Now you have a home crowd where the record means a lot and are screaming for the team to go for the record. Does Fangio or NFL fans in general have the same reaction when they see 70,000 fans screaming in excitement with the record tying stat flashing on the score board? I do not think so.
We see players every week celebrating a two-yard catch like a game winning score. Every incomplete pass a defensive back is celebrating whether he had anything to do with the play or not. Whole teams run 50 yards to get pictures on the big screens in the end zone. Are these examples of sportsmanship? Your answer to that question likely depends on which side of the celebration you are on and your age. Fangio is from the old school world of sports while Harbaugh has adapted to the modern style.
The generation of Barry Sanders and Jerry RIce handing the ball to the ref is dead. The generation of the turnover chain and choreographed team celebrations are the new norm. While this may lead the older generation to believe that sportsmanship is dead, I do not agree with this. Sportsmanship is not dead, it has simply evolved.
The evolution of sportsmanship has been lead by social media. 30 years ago you did not see people questioning the unwritten rules because there was no where to see it. All we had were our small group of friends that we talked with and debated things like this. Maybe you were the crazy friend with the wild idea, or a crazy group that did not match the general rule. Well, now with social media you can find millions who agree with you. Now those rules we thought were so black and white become a lot more gray. We can all find the gray area that fits our personal bias and many people that fit into the same gray area.
That grey area is where the current views of sportsmanship land. There are still unwritten rules, but those rules have become a lot more fluid. I personally love the evolution of these rules. Of course it makes game days more entertaining, but it also leads to great debates on social media. It also makes for an endless supply of article topics like this one and who doesn’t love job security like that!