Sportsmanship in athletics today is often the exception and rarely the rule.
On any given day, you can see highlights of a hockey player biting another on SportsCenter, watch a professional football player celebrate after a meaningless 6-yard catch or read about a high school basketball team running up the score against an obviously overmatched opponent.
Recently, a story came to my attention that occurred shortly after the Olympics.
I don’t recall this getting any time in the national spotlight. I don’t remember it being debated on Pardon the Interruption or talked about on Mike and Mike in the Morning as I’m sure the recent story about Michael Phelps’ marijuana photograph will.
During the 2008 Olympics, Usain Bolt was the star of the 200m race, winning the gold medal and doing it in record time. Finishing in second place and winning the silver medal was Netherlands Antilles sprinter Churandy Martina. Martina was only the second person to ever win an Olympic medal for his country. At least, so he thought.
After taking his celebratory lap around the stadium, Olympic officials decided to look at video footage of the race to determine whether American runner Wallace Spearmon, who finished third, should be disqualified for running outside of his lane. After determining that Spearmon did leave his lane and should be disqualified, officials noticed that Martina made a similar mistake.
They stripped both Martina and Spearmon of their medals, and awarded the silver to American runner Shawn Crawford, who finished in fourth, .14 seconds behind Martina. Despite the Netherlands Antilles team filing an appeal against the ruling, believing the protest against Martina was filed too late, Martina returned to his country empty-handed. At least, so he thought.
On Aug. 28, a few weeks after the Olympics ended, Martina received a package that he thought was a new pair of shoes from his sponsor for an upcoming event.
Instead, the package contained the 200m silver medal, sent from Crawford. In an incredible display of sportsmanship, Crawford mailed Martina the medal, believing he should have it. Crawford explained that he did not believe he had earned the medal and that Martina defeated him fairly.
In a sports world today that is often driven by the question “What have you done for me lately?” Crawford could have kept his silver medal and returned back to the United States as an Olympic hero.
He could have received praise and endorsements and nobody would have questioned him because technically he won the silver medal. However, that wasn’t good enough for Shawn Crawford.
Crawford’s act of sportsmanship is not something that should be overlooked. It should be championed. This is believed to be the first time in the history of the Olympics that a track and field athlete willingly gave its medal to a competitor purely on the basis of fairness.
Rachael Cohen of the Associated Press quoted Crawford as saying “It wasn’t about doing the right thing. It’s just me as an athlete-I feel like we all compete and train for four years to get to the Olympic Games.”
Crawford also felt that he doesn’t deserve the medal.
“If a guy is 10 meters in front of me, I don’t care if he stayed in the middle of his lane,” Crawford said. “He was going to beat me anyway. He didn’t impede in anybody’s race.”
I believe Shawn Crawford is a perfect example of a how professional athlete should act. He saw a situation where he believed an injustice was occurring and he fixed it, with little national attention or praise. In the future, I know I’ll be rooting for Shawn Crawford because he has displayed the traits that we all want our Olympic athletes to possess.
Despite returning home without a medal, in my eyes, Shawn Crawford is an Olympic hero.