Gamesmanship Took a Dive and Rewarded a Flop

soccer flop
Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald on Best Running / CC BY

Look at the landscape of professional and amateur sports today, and one thing born out of humans’ desires to make our lives a bit easier when faced with steep competition? Gamesmanship. The less than fine art of dubious, iffy actions done to create an unfair advantage without actually crossing the line into rule-breaking. Gamesmanship examples include everything from distracting an opponent, purposely getting into other players’ heads, targeting an injury, and flopping.

Immediacy Trumps the Process with Gamesmanship

Trust the process is easy to say and harder to do when faced with the Philly fan base. Let’s face it: humans can be inherently selfish creatures. Fans, athletes, coaches, and management can get impatient quickly with the emotions of sports.

Sometimes, we want to get results with as little effort as possible – and it makes rationalized sense – to ourselves, right now. But when viewed through the slow motion lens of the camera in retrospect – that’s another story.

Enter Basketball Flopping, Soccer Diving and College Tennis

Despite its ridiculous name, flopping has become a fairly serious and controversial part of sports like football and soccer. It basically entails putting on a show, pretending to be injured so that a player on the opposing team will get a penalty. Just search “Neymar diving” for lots of examples. 

From the athlete’s perspective, it’s clear: the benefit of flopping outweighs the risk. Sure, you might earn a bad reputation as a flopper, get a technical foul or a yellow card, or even be fined $5,000. But you also might earn an advantage for your team, potentially winning a game and making a great deal more money. The juice is worth the squeeze.

And when refs and umpires are removed, it would seem that many college tennis players resort to calling points personally advantageous if not egregiously inconsiderate. Gamesmanship in tennis becomes the show, not the actual sport. Just watch the line call from the tweet below…promoted by Michigan Tennis no less.

Gamesmanship Examples are Personally Clear

Does it seem like a risk worth taking? Well, for some athletes, it does. And for those who do it “well,” the gamesmanship meaning is subtle. Find advantages to a borderline play, the chances of getting away with flopping – both in the eyes of the rulebook and the fans – are pretty high. 

But most people involved in the sports world – including fans, coaches, referees, team owners, ruling bodies, and more – are not athletes. So what do they think of flopping? Detractors of flopping will say that it’s not fair, it’s against the spirit of the game, and it undermines sportsmanship.

Nonetheless, still, others will argue that gamesmanship of any kind is acceptable. According to them, the sky-high sums of money that are on the line in professional sports inevitably lead to (borderline or just straight up) cheating.

Proponents point out that other types of gamesmanship, like strategically committing penalties when the refs won’t notice, are celebrated. So why draw the line at flopping in basketball or a god awful Ronaldo statue? After all, fans can argue, sports were never pure anyway.

When Gamesmanship Interferes with the Integrity of Sports

Gamesmanship is for better or worse, apart of sports. From trivial ball tricks to bounties. It’s unlikely to go away – but creating boundaries (or lines in tennis) might curb its irrational application. Personal benefit cant be so clear that it becomes insider trading. And the mitigating response should be swift, but proactive.

As a culture predicated on creating value from a process for communities, while certainly adhering to a ‘win now’ personal ethos. The conflict creates very palpable and distinct emotions in the immediate result. But undermines the long term integrity that we admire for a lifetime value we can trust.

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