Player Conduct: Where Is Sportsmanship?

By Bobbie Quinn


Throughout the years, we’ve seen athletes engage in egregious acts of disrespect on the field, court or ice: Just recently, Ndamukong Suh stepping on Aaron Rodgers’ leg and ankle. Todd Bertuzzi’s punch to the back of Steve Moore’s head leading to career-ending complications. Ndamukong Suh kicking Matt Schaub in the groin. The Pistons-Pacers on-court fight that sparked the infamous “Malice at the Palace” brawl.

Time and time again we see breaking news on the sports networks and social media sites, where one athlete has done something outrageous to another. Of course, this is nothing new; pitchers have been giving batters chin music for more than a century. Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich more than 35 years ago, yet it’s still one of the most mentioned acts of athletic violence.

It just seems like today’s athletes are more disrespectful, and that goes beyond hard hits or tough play. The character of today’s athletes has deteriorated, and poor player conduct isn’t a problem that only affects the professional ranks. Athletes disrespecting athletes—violently or otherwise—happens just as much on the collegiate and youth levels as it does in the pros. We just don’t know about it because it’s much less publicized, but there are dirty acts at all levels.

What happened to player conduct? Where has the idea of sportsmanship gone? What happened to the idea of friendly competition; shaking hands after a game and socializing with your opponent?

One reason could be the culture of sports is more cutthroat than ever before and player conduct has suffered for it, as athletes are more concerned with earning a roster spot/scholarship/endorsement deal than playing a team game, for fun. As more and more people participate in athletics, it becomes harder to earn a spot or continue on to the next level. No one wants to come off as weak, and players go to extreme lengths to prove themselves—and that means disregarding the sportsmanship that makes team sports great.

Sportsmanship isn’t completely dead. We all saw the NFL community collectively support Cincinnati Bengal Devon Still this season, as his daughter battled cancer. And after most games you may see NFL and NBA rivals exchange jerseys and hugs, as they catch up with guys they played with and against in AAU or college. There is still the traditional handshake line after a hockey game, but the occurrences of disrespect seem to come much more frequently.

Are these instances called to attention more due to the 24-hour news cycle/social media culture we live in? Possibly. It certainly seems like everyone, whether they’re in the public eye or not, is under intense scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is now documented on social media and discussed online.

That’s why it’s more important now than ever for athletes to display good character traits and play with integrity. Everyone’s under a microscope and something like disrespecting an opponent may give athletes the dreaded “dirty player” label that sticks with them throughout their career. As athletes work to continuously improve their skill set and refine their game, it’s imperative to place an emphasis on sportsmanship and character.

Winning isn’t everything, but playing with respect is. Do you have good sportsmanship?

Bobbie Quinn is the co-founder of Gladiator Custom MouthGuards. is reader supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.


  1. For all the great people that do everything right when it comes to teaching kids to do the right thing with class, dignity, and respect, there is always going to be a certain (fortunately small) percentage of bad characters that will try to drag everyone down into the gutter with them. The best that you can do is continue to be the role model that your kids and players will respect and always remember long after this time in their lives has passed. Keep up the great work, coach!

  2. Earlier this season, our youth hockey team went to a tournament in Pittsburgh and played all Canadian teams and got trounced. I will say, all the teams we played were clean with great coaches and the players were well-mannered, polite and good sportsmen.

    We have just returned home from a grueling tournament in Orlando, Florida. We played all local teams. What a reversal! The players were proud to get penalties. They celebrated when they got one, high-fived their other teammates when they were ALL (sometimes 4 at a time) in the box together. They were giving the thumbs up to their parents as they skated to the penalty box. Smiling parents were taking selfies with their kids in the box. Parents were applauding and kids banging their sticks when they got penalties, and even taunting a downed player who took a stick to the ribs. And to top it all off, one opposing coach (apparently an ex pro) who communicates to his players by whistling exactly like the refs whistle. It’s uncanny how very well timed his whistle is, so that the opposing team will stop or slow down on a breakaway, etc. giving his team an advantage. We all know that these kids are taught to respect the whistle. This is a dirty trick and so unfair to these young athletes. What has happened to fair play and sportsmanship? This tournament even moved the handshake to before the game.

    We’ve gone beyond poor sportsmanship into downright bullying the opponent. Behavior that would never be tolerated at school or any other setting is now being encouraged and celebrated by coaches, parents, and players. It is truly disgraceful.

    • The Florida to Canada comparison is interesting, but around here, you can find similar contrasts from one side of town to the other. It seems like everyone (except for the guilty parties) is in agreement as to who has the worst parents. It’s like the poker metaphor, that if you look around the table and you can’t spot the mark, it’s you. And if you look around the league and you’re not noticing the parents who are jerks, it’s also probably you.

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