Seeing Each Other as Humans: Sportsmanship

Throughout my life, I have loved this time of year. As a zealous NFL fan (Go Steelers!), I love watching the playoffs as our country prepares for the Super Bowl– the best day of the year for football, commercials, and an amazing concert. (Side note: Did you know that this year’s Super Bowl halftime show will feature Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay? What a dream team!)

However, last weekend’s playoff game between my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Cincinnati Bengals was disgraceful. It was a stain on the NFL as a whole. From both teams, a lack of sportsmanship was apparent. During the second half of the game, though, the Bengals and their fans really took the cake.

Photo from FTW! NFL, retrieved from

I felt sick as I watched Bengals fans cheer and throw beer at the Steelers’ quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, as he was carted off the field after being injured. The knot in my stomach only worsened as the fans threw water bottles on the field in an attempt to injure more players. Finally, I was ready to turn off the TV when a Bengals player, Burfict, made a dirty hit to the Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown (who had not made contact with the ball at all), twisting his head and knocking him near-unconscious. Burfict’s teammate Jones was so unhappy with the call of “unsportsmanlike conduct” that Burfict had earned that he got into it with a coach from the Steelers and inadvertently made aggressive contact with a referee. After the game, Jones made a statement that Antonio Brown was acting, that he “flopped” on purpose. That was such a ridiculous claim that I am mortified for my fellow Americans and deeply disappointed in the ugly head that the NFL reared last night, between both fans and players. (To be fair, I know I am biased as a Steelers fan. There was a moment earlier in the game when I was disappointed at the Steelers’ insistence on receiving a “fumble” call after delivering a game-ending injury to running back Giovani Bernard that forced him to drop the ball.)

At other sporting events in the past, I have seen players from opposing teams help each other up and apologize for causing injury. I have seen players shake hands and congratulate each other on a “good game.” I have seen players check in on injured players (from their own team OR the opposing team) during half-time to see if they are feeling any better, expressing their well wishes. That sportsmanship was missing in last weekend’s football game, but it is possible. I’ve seen it with my own eyes!

The lack of respect from players and fans alike demonstrated that people were not respecting the humanity in each other. They expressed no regret about serious injuries that could affect others’ careers and, possibly, the rest of their lives. (Anybody seen Concussion?) In fact, not only did they not express sympathy, they actively celebrated the pain of others. The insistence of focusing on competition and forgetting about humanity reminded me that competition can go too far. Though sports, in many ways, can be unifying for communities, they can also tear them apart. We must keep this in mind, especially as many of us serve children and affect their civic and moral development.

You may be thinking, “Okay, Elise, we get it. You were disappointed in football over the weekend, but what does this have to do with inclusion?” After the game was over and I had turned off the TV, I started wondering what in my past helped me see the disgrace of the Steelers-Bengals game when others so clearly could not. I kept coming back to my experience in inclusive programs as a child and teenager. For me, the focus shifted from competition to collaboration, and inclusion instilled in me a deep sense of commitment to my community, and to others in general. Our society needs inclusion. We all need to be able to respect the humanity in others, to appreciate each other’s gifts and to see our commonalities, in order to build stronger communities.

Let us all commit to providing children the opportunities to develop sportsmanship and celebrate each other’s successes in addition to their own. We have seen what we have to lose if we do not.

— Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at

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