A friend recently asked me what I like about sports.
My answer: everything. Appreciating teamwork, viewing an athlete’s desire to succeed, watching a group of athletes meld into a well-conditioned machine operating as a single unit.
It’s the atmosphere, the storyline behind the underdog, the dramatic conclusion to a tense fight for a title.
Sportsmanship is the hallmark of competition. Owning that valuable commodity, making sure it is instilled in the hearts of athletes, coaches and fans, is what makes sports exciting.
Saturday’s collegiate volleyball championship provided most of what makes sports grand. Teamwork was on display. You could sense each student athlete’s hopes for success.
Even when a pancake didn’t result in a save or when a serve pounded into the tape, instead of clearing the net, teammates offered encouragement, fighting for each point.
The atmosphere at the Target Center created a strong backdrop for a story about two historic teams.
Who would’ve guessed the dramatic conclusion would feature a challenge on an out-of-bounds service error, that flipped momentum just enough to give Stanford their eighth championship?
The only element missing, well, from one side of the bench: sportsmanship.
Looks like what happens in the locker room doesn’t stay in the locker room.
An NCAA photographer snapped and shared on social media, photos of Stanford players entering the locker room, trophy in hand.
On the left side, a marker board displayed what presumably was pre-game pump-up material, featuring Stanford’s mascot, the tree, pointing a gun and the middle finger toward Herbie Husker, engulfed in flames, with what could be construed as blood, filling the ‘N.’
The block letter headline, above the drawing stated, “to Hell the Huskers” and hashtag phrases surrounding the drawing included #dontgetoffthebus, #mouthguards and one with multiple expletives.
Within minutes of being posted on Twitter, NCAA’s social media team deleted the post.
Too late though, as many Husker fans had already caught a glimpse of - and saved - the photograph.
By Sunday morning, Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir released a statement saying the image was unacceptable, that Stanford reached out to University of Nebraska officials and apologized to the volleyball team and school.
Sorry, Bernard, it’s not enough. Coach Kevin Hambly and players need to apologize.
Motivating athletes is one thing.
Depicting a gun used in that manner - a physical act of violence - is not motivation or a sign of sportsmanship.
The situation begs several questions. Did a player draw the rendition of Herbie with a gun aimed at his head? What kind of coach permits this?
Answer: An undisciplined coach. A coach who isn’t named John Cook.
Character is what you do when no one else is watching.
If Hambly saw the drawing and failed to erase it, it says a lot about the character of Hambly, Stanford players and the school they represent.
It also says a lot about the NCAA, especially since they removed the original post.
Out of sight doesn’t mean it’s out of mind.
It’s unfortunate that one of the greatest matches in volleyball history, a night where Stanford earned its unprecedented eighth national title, will be marred by a classless display of immaturity.