The world of sports and sporting is something I’ve never really felt a part of, even though a decent part of my childhood was spent on various sports teams (soccer, volleyball and softball). I liked being athletic and active, but the word “athlete” always seemed to describe other people who held teamwork through physical strength in much higher regard. Just let me run around and throw things in peace.
(I also may have avoided becoming too entrenched in team athleticism because I am the worst competitor when it comes to board games and the like. My fiance refuses to play air hockey with me anymore because I am a BITCH about both winning and losing. Don’t I just sound darling?)
Anyway, the etiquette of sport was very real when interest in sport=good breeding. In Marion Harland’s Complete Etiquette (1914), she writes that participating in sports is the way for humans to express our primal natures in everyday civilized life, which is why it may be so easy for normally well-mannered people to flip the fuck out if they miss a tennis return. It is because of this that etiquette must be enforced, and really, the rules she lays out are not that complicated: play fair, don’t lose your temper, and remember that the “other fellow has as much right to a good time as you have.” She also writes “no sport in which people of breeding can participate demands loud talking, ill bred language or actions, or the abridgment of any of the small sweet courtesies of life.” And you want to be well bred, right? Like a dog? Yes.
Of course, there are many rules that seem hopelessly outdated. If a man and a woman are playing golf together, the man is not supposed to let himself get too far ahead of her and leave her alone on the field. When “automobiling,” always stop at a disabled car and see if you can be of assistance (on those days when you just drive around for fun because gas costs a nickel). Also, “Do not boast of the phenomenal runs you have made. You are not a record holder. And when you become one, the newspapers will gladly exploit the fact without any viva voce testimony from you.” God I love how catty etiquette experts can be.
Many of the other tips have to do with how to handle a female opponent if you’re a man, so let’s all appreciate that the current etiquette is most likely “just play the dang sport.”
The other part of sports etiquette has to do with sports and business, since many a business deal has been brokered on the tennis court, ringside at a boxing match, or on the golf…field? Business Skills for Dummies (they have good tips!) says that no matter the sport, be honest about your skill level: “Rank beginners and fakes aren’t appreciated. It’s better to decline than to embarrass yourself in a sport you don’t know how to play at least passably well.” However, they miss something here. Think about it: a high level executive makes all his business deals (you know, business deals. I don’t know business speak.) while playing tennis. You cannot play tennis, and say so when you’re invited by him to the court. It is far more likely that you will just not be invited to any more tennis meetings than this executive changing up his routine to accommodate you.
The problem with combining business with sports is that it automatically sets up a system where some people can’t participate. Just because someone doesn’t know how to play golf doesn’t mean they won’t be a good business partner, and limiting your business deals to a club of people with your same interests means you’re missing out on a lot. Like, remember in Mad Men when they all kept doing business at a strip club and Peggy couldn’t really go, but she decided to “man up” and go anyway and it was super weird but it was her only option if she wanted to get ahead? Don’t make someone be a Peggy, just have your meetings in a damn conference room.
But ok, back to sports. In general, I’m for a lot more etiquette in sports, and essentially remembering that it is only a game. This goes for pickup basketball games with friends, or Richie Incognito. Your skill level at a particular sport is not indicative of your character, and your joy should never come at the expense of someone else’s sorrow. That’s not to say you should never compete, just be mindful that after you’ve won or lost, you still have to return to everyday life.
Oh yeah and let women play the same way as men.