Most major sports are filled with arguments about the proper amount of sportsmanship athletes should show on the field of play. In baseball, players are often criticized for staring at their home runs a little too long; basketball teams are told to play "the right way"; wide receivers in football are expected not to show up their quarterbacks, etc. While these standards shift and often seem a little silly, they're nevertheless present. The way people play the game is often as much of a topic of conversation as how well they play it.
This discussion recently hit an unexpected sport: curling. In advance of Friday's gold medal match between Great Britain and Canada (trying for a third-consecutive gold), British coach Soren Gran, a native of Sweden, questioned the attitude of his squad's opponents. From the Toronto Sun:
"The aggressive style we have seen from the Canadians here, that's something I don't like about the sport," Gran said. "I don't think it helps anyone. It doesn't help the player and it doesn't help his teammates."
The Jacobs team, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is known for being animated on the pebble. They celebrate in a very demonstrative way, with fist pumps, high fives and loud exclamations.
They've been known to show their frustrations as well with broom slams and angry utterances. [...]
"I tell my guys to work a different way," he said. "If they miss a shot they've got another 15 to play, you can't be angry with the one you miss.
"If I see the team we are playing against get aggressive and show anger, I think our guys should be happy because we'd have them exactly where we want them to be. I don't think that helps."
When asked Thursday if the Canadians were trying to be "bullies" or intimidate other teams, Jacobs said you'd have to ask the other teams.
To be clear, Gran's argument is that the Canadians are hurting themselves with their attitude, not that they're embarrassing the sport. This would seem to be a somewhat goofy suggestion. The Canadians are the kings of curling, and this team specifically has bested excellent competition both within its country and at the Olympics without holding back their emotions. It's not as if their attitude is holding them back.
Even if Gran isn't explicitly making a point about the right way to curl, it doesn't take a giant leap to see his argument as a statement about the foundation of the sport. Curling is competitive, but it also has a culture defined by socializing and respect for opponents. It's tradition for matches in curling clubs to end with opponents drinking together and having a good time, and conceding a match is a respectable decision in part because it gets the teams closer to a pitcher of beer. In criticizing the Canadian team's approach, Gran may be making a larger point about respect for opponents.
Yet one aspect of respecting opponents is not getting too freaked out about the particular way they decide to approach the sport, and in this sense Gran's suggestion seems pretty uptight. As long as Brad Jacobs and the rest of the Canadian team don't bring this attitude to their interactions with opponents off the ice, it doesn't really matter. They get excited, but they're not taunting anyone. Why create a needless argument when everyone's going to end up drinking the same beer?
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