Service of Good Sportsmanship vs. Winning School Sports

November 20th, 2014

Categories: Good Samaritan, Good Sportsmanship, Sports, Winning

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The intransigence of Minnesota state officials about an incident involving the “no help” rule in a recent cross country race inspired the conversation on Rick Wolff’s “Sports Edge,” his sports parenting program on WFAN radio one recent Sunday morning. Two girls who stopped to assist another runner were disqualified and were not credited with finishing the race.

Wolff explained the reason behind the rule: Should a Good Samaritan move an injured cross country fallenrunner, more damage than good might result. At the same time he thought that being disqualified is a big price to pay for doing the right thing. In a typical cross country course there are plenty of tripping hazards–tree roots and such. Each case should be taken up on an ad hoc basis.

Before Wolff asked his audience what they thought he shared a few other examples in which, unlike in Minnesota, the officials bent the rule.

  • In Memphis, runner Seth Goldstein noticed that a fallen competitor’s lips were turning blue and his eyes were slipping up into his head. Though runners ahead of him kept going, Goldstein stopped. Goldstein knew CPR from his lifeguard job and saved the other man’s life. He was pronounced a hero. Tennessee officials recognized the run.
  • In Ohio crowds encouraged officials to change their decision to disqualify after cheering two girls who had stopped to help a competitor. 

cross country 2And Wolff’s callers?

  • Some felt that the difference between the Tennessee, Ohio and Minnesota incidents was crucial: There was an adult by the side of the runner in Minnesota who told the girls to keep going and they chose not to. The callers felt that because an adult was alerted and on top of the accident, there was no need for the girls to stop.
  • Others said that our litigious society was at the bottom of the rule in the first place. If a do-gooder caused a fellow runner to require knee replacement surgery, for example, because he/she helped up the competitor prematurely, lawsuits might ensue.
  • Another said that he didn’t consider helping a fallen fellow competitor was good sportsmanship but rather, good “humanship,” and should be encouraged. Yet another said he would hire the Minnesota girls who helped over the winner of a race any time as he appreciated their attitude.

Should student athletes be encouraged to consider the greater good over winning? Would that make them misfits in today’s society? Should sports officials stick by the rules no matter what as the Minnesota officials did?  

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10 Responses to “Service of Good Sportsmanship vs. Winning School Sports”

  1. P. Hazen Said:

    I have no truck with the “Winning is the only thing.” school of sports worship, but if I understand the rule in contention, it’s there to save lives. It should be enforced.

    I’d make exceptions (as was done) only if, one, the stopping runner was medically qualified to render aid, or two, he or she stopped to find medical aid or to provide moral support and comfort as appropriate.

  2. Paula Said:

    As a runner (and I ran cross country in high school), I have a hard time understanding this rule if it is indeed about the potential for more harm than good. These kids are running; they’re not behind the wheel of a vehicle or on a bike where a pile-up can occur rapidly. I’d like to see the runner who’s going at such a clip that he/she can’t stop at the sight of a fellow runner assisting someone.

    If it’s about “winning at all costs,” I think that’s a sad commentary on values. I think being a good, caring and thoughtful person far outweighs getting a trophy.

    An important aspect to participating in sports is challenging and improving oneself. What better way to do this than to help someone in need, especially at the expense of your own goal time.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    P. Hazen,

    It appears that you agree that each case should be taken into consideration by officials.

    I think that there is a distinction between worrying about a law suit, which is probably why the rule exists, and worrying about the fallen runner, who, I think, is literally left in the dust of this rule. The rule and its exceptions should be made clearer.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I fear that we’re in a winning at all costs society. Something that might stop this approach would be a strong culture in children’s sports across the country where a contestant who helps a competitor is also up for a trophy and good sportsmanship is again held high.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    The officials should be summarily dismissed. If they are unable to understand the reasons for stopping and helping someone in huge, possibly life threatening distress, they are either out of their minds, incredibly stupid or both. This has nothing to do with sportsmanship. It has to do with what is right, and – oh by the way – saving a life.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The officials might be given a second chance or someone might buy them insurance that protects them from lawsuits as board members get. The fear of lawsuit might be making them dig in their heels as much as hard-headedness.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    A law suit may be the least of their worries. They are blatantly endorsing wreckless endangerment. Someone is bound to pick up on this, sooner or later.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    One someone will be the parent of an injured child who is left on the ground in the woods, unseen by coaches or officials and who suffers long term trauma in the time it takes the runners to reach the finish line and report the accident.

    Another person troubled by the ruling is Rick Wolff, host of the radio program on which I learned about the situation to begin with.

  9. JBS Said:

    I’m a Minnesota resident. There was an uproar here, too, about the kids who helped a competitor … it is over now, but we all thought it was horrible. I agree with you that the kids who stopped to help a fallen competitor shouldn’t have been disqualified (although by stopping, they couldn’t have won a cross country race anyway, so it didn’t really matter). They must have known that, but I hope their coach was more gracious.

    Now we are onto Adrian Peterson who certainly is ashamed of hitting his kid with a switch (a tree branch) and lost his job as a running back with the Vikings for eight games. He has apologized to the kid, but says that is how he was punished as a child. I think they are punishing him too much. No one else would get a huge fine, community service and miss eight games. Enough is enough, and since his career is limited (the experts say he has 2-3 more good years), I think the commissioner is into overkill now.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I don’t know the details of cross country racing, but I think that whether or not you win it is important to have run in major state tournaments–which these were–as to have qualified is an honor. So if the run doesn’t count in a runner’s record, that’s a bad thing and a significant punishment.

    I know about but haven’t focused on Adrian Peterson. Celebrity punishments seem to go all over the map. Hitting a child is not a good way to get a message across and for someone big to attack someone small gives me the shivers. Perhaps the publicity of the punishment will create awareness of the issue and help a child or two avoid being switched.

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