Sportsmanship off the athletic field

When you’re done competing in high school or college, what does sportsmanship look like?

Webster’s defines sportsmanship as conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.

It was exemplified for decades on the Senate floor by John McCain. The Republican Arizona senator described his personality as “very competitive.” In high school, he was a wrestler and at the United States Naval Academy, he was a boxer. Fellow midshipmen described his boxing style as “not the most skilled, but he was the most feared…he never gave up.”

In his final year at the Academy, he managed the Brigade Championship. Boxing at the U.S. Naval Academy dates to the end of the Civil War, and to this day, every plebe takes a mandatory boxing class. This is an annual and unique tradition happens each February, Midshipmen compete against each other in three-round fights across 10 male and three female weight classes. The winners qualify for subsequent regional tournaments, but more importantly, they come away with bragging rights. Though this event doesn’t receive the same widespread attention as the annual Army-Navy football game, it is a major campus event, attracting hundreds; including the entire Becker family (my dad is class of ’74).

1958, McCain on the Left.

McCain was also a hardcore sports fan. He regularly attended Arizona sporting events. He even sponsored the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which Congress passed.

He had some character flaw; in particular he was known to have a bit of a temper. However, in the face of defeat he would consistently demonstrate an exceptional sportsmanship. McCain ran for the presidency, for the first time, in 2000 he demonstrated tremendous graciousness. When he lost, he said “I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land. I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way.”

John McCain was once an athlete; but he was an enthusiastic lifelong sports fan. I’m a firm believe that sports has a tremendous impact on players and spectators; the life and legacy of people like John McCain continue to affirm that belief.


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