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Sportsmanship is the ultimate mind game

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I’ve been doing this all wrong.

In a World Cup matchup between the Netherlands and Japan on Tuesday, a questionable handball call against Japan’s Saki Kumagai gave the Netherlands the penalty kick it needed to secure a 2-1 win.

Kumagai, understandably, looked devastated by the outcome. Shanice van den Sanden, Kumagai’s club teammate turned World Cup opponent, delayed celebrating the victory to comfort the defeated. The rest of the Dutch players followed suit. It was a beautiful moment, and it looked totally sincere.



And now, you have to figure, Team Netherlands is totally going to be in Japan’s heads whenever they next play. How are you going to get yourself motivated to defeat an opponent that recently treated you with genuine decency, humanity and grace? You’re a competitive pro athlete and thus extremely driven to win, but at the same time, you’re a normal person with goodness in your heart and a lasting appreciation for such a transcendently nice gesture.

Kindness is the ultimate psych-out.

I don’t lose well, but I don’t win well either. In the rare instance I best an opponent in any sort of athletic competition, I want to make sure he or she knows about it, is reminded of it frequently, and remembers it forever. And though I know that weird trash talk is the best type of trash talk, I never even considered all the ways that being cordial and sportsmanlike might faze my conquered friends.

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

I’ve spent roughly the last seven years trying to keep one buddy, a good pitcher, aware of a double I smoked into the gap off him in our weekly old-man scrub baseball game. It’s not working. He seems blissfully unaware, or at least capable of mentally highlighting all the times he’s gotten me to roll over weak grounders to the left side of the infield. It’s only now I realize I blew it. I should’ve praised the hanging slider he threw me that fateful day in, like, 2012, and maybe called time-out from second base to pause the game and give him a consolatory bro-hug.

Elsewhere, maybe:

“Dude, you really gave your all in that bachelor-party beer-pong match, and, honestly, you played a great game. I thought you had us there for a second! It’s not at all your fault your last ball rimmed out; why did our mutual friend’s high-school bro buy blue cups, anyway? If we were playing with standard red cups, I’m sure you would’ve been properly calibrated, and my teammate and I never would’ve gotten the chance to sink four straight and defeat you.”

Or even:

“Beloved wife, light of my world, that was a brilliant mini-golf performance and I am truly humbled to have won by six strokes because you knocked the ball clear off the astroturf, tried to chip it back in and wound up having to pull it out of the water hazard on an entirely different hole. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the way you attempted to play that.”





And so on. Kill ’em with kindness, I say. Then kill ’em again in competition, now that they can’t stop thinking about how nice you were the last time around.

Tuesday’s big winner: The New York Knicks

James Dolan (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Amid some growing concern that the Mets might overtake them in the ongoing battle to be the most dysfunctional organization in New York sports and possibly the world, the Knicks barred the New York Daily News from the introductory press conference for top draft pick R.J. Barrett. The NBA stepped in and fined the team $50,000 — as if James Dolan doesn’t use $50,000 toilet paper on the regular, as if $50,000 is going to be the penalty that forces the actual New York Knicks to examine the myriad errors of their ways — and the Daily News‘ sports editor made a funny burn in response.

The Jets are always a looming contender for most embarrassing New York sports operation, but the Knicks’ latest triumph shows why they remain the perennial favorite. Where other area teams frequently humiliate themselves with sheer, hamfisted haplessness, the Knicks embellish their inability to field a competitive team with open hostility to the public, the press, and even beloved franchise icons. It’s stunning.

Quick hits:

– Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s sister, Kelley, joined his podcast to discuss — among heavier topics — the various type of vehicle they crashed while growing up. It sounds like there was a malicious, intentional jet-ski crash in there at some point.

Zion Williamson (Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

– Drew Brees welcomed Zion Williamson to New Orleans with a signed jersey and a nice note. Fun fact: Williamson was nine months old when Drew Brees was drafted in 2001. Also, a typo in the URL for that article offers a phenomenal rap alias that’s just out there for the taking: Drew Trees.

– This video is tremendous. Jim Harbaugh’s kid has a really nice swing.

Weird sport Wednesday: Beer can regatta

YouTube

All you ever thought to do with your empty cans of Natural Light was stack them into a big pyramid on the party’s lone available surface area, annoying the hell out of everyone else, all, “careful, bro! Don’t knock over the tower, bro!” Meanwhile, in the Australian city of Darwin, they hold an annual regatta for boats built from empty beer cans. It’s a creative approach to recycling, for sure, and everyone gets to learn important lessons about buoyancy and boatcraft. Make sure to spar a dolphin striker along the bowsprit to tension your bobspray. I don’t know what that means but it’s on the Wikipedia so it’s probably a real thing.



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