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Doug Wolter: Don't taunt, flaunt, spike or spin

The Minnesota State High School League, in its ongoing effort to build character among its athletes, promotes a “Be a Good Sport” manual on its Team Up For Sportsmanship web site. Much of the information reminds us of the attitude we should always live by, but most of us don’t.

Here’s my favorite:

“Turnovers, fouls and missed goals are the reasons teams lose ball games. The calls made by a referee don’t lose ball games.”

This fall, before we players and fans yell at the officials and refs for making a controversial call in the final seconds of a 16-14 high school football game that results in a pick-six interception that makes the score 20-16, we should repeat that phrase.

That is, unless you’d rather count to 10.

Let’s be fair. The MSHSL is right. Before we pick on the refs, we should consider our stupid penalty in the second quarter that directly resulted in a punt, or the safety who bit on the fake when he shouldn’t have and caused a touchdown.

Before we blame others, we should always take a look at ourselves. At least, that’s what my mother told me.

They spend a lot of time talking about sportsmanship in the National Football League, too, except for the life of me I’m not sure why. The NFL is no example of sportsmanship and probably never will be, and for that you can blame a lot of things.

No. 1 on my list: television.

You young whipper-snappers out there have never lived in an era, 30 or 40 years ago, when real sportsmanship was displayed on the field. Those were the days before TV took over (yeah, I’m talking about YOU, ESPN!) Some of you, however, may remember the great NFL running back Barry Sanders, and how he was lionized by all the hypocritical TV commentators for choosing NOT to dance in the end zone after he’d scored a touchdown.

These same TV commentators spend much air time applauding the dancers, the show-boats and the egomaniacs who dance, spike, and draw attention to themselves at every opportunity. The dancing, now, is just part of the entertainment.

I remember several times, over the years, when fans tried to draw attention to themselves, too. Usually they’d run out onto the field like little ballerinas, and in virtually every case the TV networks chose not to turn the camera on them. Showing that running out onto the field isn’t going to get you your 15 minutes of fame was designed to discourage all future look-at-me endeavors.

I wish the networks would do that for the dancers, show-boats and egomaniacs of the NFL, too. It will never happen, of course.

So then, why do so many people think of the NFL as the “No Fun League?” Perhaps it’s because the NFL seems forever locked in the Jekyll and Hyde mentality that encourages goofballs on one hand and discourages them on the other.

Every year, there’s some new twist on sportsmanship. This year, it’s the practice of spinning the football. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy has reiterated (on Twitter, of course) that flags will be thrown if footballs are spun in an unflattering way. Yes, it’s OK in most cases. Just don’t do it if its meant to get your opponent’s attention.

We wouldn’t want to be taunting now, would we?

I think what this means is that the NFL is still in favor of celebrating, and not just in the end zone. If your team is trailing 45-7 late in the fourth quarter and you sack the quarterback, do The Twist, The Mashed Potato, The Locomotion — anything you want.

But be warned. The refs will be watching you closely, looking to see if you make the wrong kind of eye contact with the wrong person. There are rules about dancing, you see.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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