Courtside Civility

Courtside CivilityI’m disappointed. My March Madness bracket, probably like yours, was way off the mark this year.  But there were some really close games. Great exhibitions of competitiveness and athleticism.

I was excited for the women’s national title game on Tuesday between two unbeaten teams, my alma mater Notre Dame and the omnipresent UConn.

Unfortunately, UConn would go on to win the game 79-58.

The off the court drama proved more interesting than the game itself. The head coach of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team, Muffet McGraw, had just been named AP’s college basketball coach of the year for the second straight year.  UConn’s women’s head basketball coach Geno Auriemma had also previously won the title twice.

Pregame interviews of the two coaches characterized them as smack-talking each other and reveling in it.  Muffet McGraw was described as characterizing the relationship between the two teams as “past that point [of civility].” She explained that there was a modicum of respect when the two teams were in the same conference but “after beating them and still not feeling any respect for that, we definitely lost something…I think [civility] got lost.”

In another article Muffet did recognize a positive role model for civility in Pat Summitt, former head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, where Tuesday’s match was held.

“I think all women’s coaches really respect her and looked up to her, because they knew when she spoke, it was about what was good for the women’s game. She role-modeled how to be gracious in victory, as well as defeat. She was such a classy coach and, unfortunately, the game and sportsmanship lost a lot when we lost her,” said McGraw.

Civility is not something that you lose, like a pair of gloves on a bus. You either choose to conduct yourself with civility or you choose not to. And athletes learn such behavior from their coaches.

Also choosing not to behave civilly was UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who responded in kind. He explained the trash talk as “a function of women’s basketball…We’re supposed to play each other, try to beat each other’s brains in, try to win a national championship and compete like hell, Muffet and Geno.  And then we’re supposed to get together afterwards and go have a bottle of wine? That s— is just not going to happen.”

In a similar misguided vein, some trial lawyers think aggressiveness towards opposing counsel is just part of being a lawyer. Nobody expects rival coaches or opposing counsel necessarily to be best friends or to go have dinner or a drink together.  But animosity between rivals doesn’t help coaches—or lawyers–add another “W” to their records.   Judges and juries repeatedly say they are turned off by incivility between counsel. Don’t college athletes deserve better role models of how adults should conduct themselves in the arena of life?

Whether on the court or in the courtroom, we need adults to start acting like adults.  To step up and role model civility.

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