Playing is better than watching, but also, as you have more sweat equity, a greater test of your manly behavior. For professional athletes who play games for a living, the standards of fair play are fairly well defined, if still often violated. For the rest of us, whose glory days on the field may have come in high school or college, it’s more of a challenge to play like a man while behaving like gentleman. First of all, a gentleman goes full out; one should never confuse mannerly behavior with a lack of intensity. (Assuming of course, that one is playing equals and adults; when playing with the kids or co-ed touch football, a man’s level of intensity should be no greater than that of the average participant.)
However, the intensity should be directed inwards; making the greatest effort is the way to work your body and cleanse your mind. A friendly competition with opponents should stay friendly. When participating in a mass event like a marathon, it’s good to look at your fellow competitors as co-participants in a joint drama; the we’re-all-in-this-together camaraderie can go a long way towards lessening the inevitable pain. Avoiding injury, both for yourself and for fellow competitors, is paramount. In a major, formal competition, like a marathon, the organizers provide means of dealing with injuries. In an informal setting, such as a pick up basketball game, the game should stop if anyone appears to be injured, even in a minor way, and not restarted until the injured person is determined to be okay, or has a chance to leave the field of play. Any fatalities should halt play immediately, unless it’s the grudge match against your brother-in-law, in which case it all depends on who died.
Don’t argue over calls. Your local touch football field is not the NFL, where replay officials review debatable on-field rulings. No children will die if the foul isn’t called. If the people you are playing with seem to be unreasonable in the way they self-officiate, avoid them in the future. The only time you may make a major issue of rules violations is if it appears to endanger the health of participants.
Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. If you won, its okay to credit luck or happenstance. If you lost, its not; you must acknowledge the superior skill or abilities of your opponents, regardless of whether you think they really have superior skill or ability.
Victory celebrations can be long and extreme, as long as everyone is laughing. But if you’re a pro, and recently signed a $45 million contract, keep the celebrations low key. If anyone starts to realize how idiotic pro sports have become, you’ll want to be keeping a low profile.
Losers buy postgame beers; we don’t want to create any perverse incentive systems here.