What's A Sportsman Anyway? Commentator Frank Deford says awards for sportsmanship seem archaic. These days, he says, we're more likely to talk about unsportsmanlike conduct.
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What's A Sportsman Anyway?

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What's A Sportsman Anyway?

What's A Sportsman Anyway?

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, as the movie industry deals with a 21st century menace, commentator Frank Deford is thinking of an old-fashioned sports concept.

FRANK DEFORD: Sports Illustrated named its Sportsman of the Year the other day, Madison Baumgartner of the San Francisco Giants, which reminded me once again that you only hear the word sportsman anymore about the time when Sports Illustrated names its Sportsman of the Year. The term seems so archaic that it would be as if Time magazine annually chose a Gentleman of the Year.

Actually, there used to be three types of sportsmen. One was simply a rich guy who dabbled financially in sport, usually yacht-racing or horse breeding. In fact, the second Sportsman of the Year to be chosen by Sports Illustrated, in 1955, was a man named William Woodward Jr. who simply owned a nice stable of horseflesh. Unfortunately, Mr. Woodward was shot dead by his wife, who claimed she thought he was a burglar, and the magazine was obliged to rush to choose a Brooklyn Dodger pitcher for the honor instead. Mrs. Woodward was, herself, not considered for Sportswoman of the Year even though the grand jury failed to indict her.

The second type of sportsmen were those who fished or shot animals. There was even a TV show called "The American Sportsman." I never understood why bagging dumb beasts made you a sportsman while playing second base or left tackle just made you an athlete. But maybe it has something to do with the Second Amendment. However, the ultimate type of sportsman was that athlete who not only played his best, but who put playing fair above playing to win.

You can probably date the decline of the ideal of sportsmanship to the rise of money in sport, which is to say that, yes, sportsmanship has its price, too. I don't know if people much think about the subject anymore. We used to hear folks say, he's a good sport, when somebody endured well after suffering some setback. But I think that's probably mostly gone out. There was also a common expression - if you can't play a sport, be one. But sorry, old sport, I haven't heard that since before we started torturing people.

Well, of all sports, the one that famously has long had a sportsmanship trophy is ice hockey, which is otherwise primarily known for goons and fighting. It says something that the award is called the Lady Byng Trophy, which is the only major honor in men's sport named for a woman.

Otherwise, the only time we regularly encounter sportsmanship nowadays is in the negative, especially in football where there is a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which of course would have us wishfully presume that the rest of the football only features sportsmanlike conduct - uh-huh.

INSKEEP: You know, he sounds a little cranky sometimes but when you meet him, you discover Frank Deford is a really good sport. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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