Sportsmanship is conduct becoming to a person participating in a sport. Good sportsmanship includes respect for one’s opponent, playing by the rules, and accepting a judge’s final verdict on a win or loss. Those without good sportsmanship make competitions unpleasant for all. Unsportsmanlike behavior is rude, argumentative, and challenges any decision that does not rule in its favor. Lack of sportsmanship can also include cheating and passive-aggressive actions such as name-calling, tantrum-throwing, gossip, or slander. In short, good sportsmanship is simply Christian behavior applied to competitions.
A Christian should view sportsmanship as an extension of his or her daily walk with Christ. True Christianity does not stay behind church doors after services on Sunday. True Christianity affects who we are, and Christlike behavior should follow us everywhere we go. Whether we are cut off in traffic, short-changed at the checkout, or visited by Mormon missionaries, true Christianity defines our responses to life’s challenges. On the playing field, sportsmanship should be the norm for followers of Christ. We do not stop being ambassadors for Christ when we play sports or watch from the stands.
Sportsmanship allows for friendly banter, traditional rivalries, and even challenging the official’s call in a respectful way. Opposing football teams offering friendly threats, tackling one another, and cheering when the other team fumbles is not a lack of sportsmanship. But intentionally violating unspoken rules of courtesy, rebuffing the other team’s genuine extension of goodwill, or causing undue difficulties for the referees or the opposing team is unsportsmanlike behavior, and Christians should never be a part of it.
In all things, even competitions, Christians are to represent Jesus well (1 Corinthians 10:31). Competition, whether in business or on the playing field, reveals what’s really in the heart. Jesus said, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:18–19). Unsportsmanlike behavior also reveals what is in the heart.
When we lose self-control and slip into unsportsmanlike behavior, we don’t have to settle for self-condemnation (Romans 8:1). We can let our fleshly desires act as a spotlight to show us our misplaced values. Temptation and failure can actually work for our good if we use it to showcase an area of weakness that God wants to change. Beneath the surface of our lack of sportsmanship may lurk pride, greed, self-seeking, or dishonesty. When we see the unsportsmanlike behavior as revealing our sin, we can agree with God, repent of it, and thank Him for showing us an area that is hindering our walk with Jesus (1 John 1:9; Psalm 51:2–3).