A New Low in Sportsmanship
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By Theresa A. Goiffon – MBIS AKC Breeder of Merit
What is the definition of sportsmanship? According to the dictionary, a sportsman can be defined as “a person who exhibits qualities highly regarded in sports, such as fairness, generosity, observance of the rules and good humor when losing.”
Sportsmanship is important enough to the American Kennel Club that it developed the Code of Sportsmanship. By devising a list of principles pertaining to dog showing, the bullet points articulate the fundamentals of the sport. (The list is attached in its entirety at the end of this article.)
This code applies to all participating in the sport, whether you are an exhibitor, breeder, or judge. Respect for the sport of showing purebred dogs means that one is obligated to abide by the rules. So, why do some feel that they do not need to follow the code? In addition, how is this attitude affected by the advent of social media? One case in point is the posting of unflattering or photoshopped pictures of competitors’ dogs on Facebook. According to the Code, “Sportsmen commit themselves to values of fair play, honesty, courtesy, and vigorous competition, as well as winning and losing with grace.” Additionally, “Sportsmen find that vigorous competition and civility are not inconsistent and are able to appreciate the merit of their competition and the effort of competitors.”
I’d like to share a recent experience to illustrate this concern and to make others aware of this new form of unsportsmanlike and bullying behavior.
I recently enjoyed a great weekend with family and friends by participating in a four day dog show at the Sunflower Cluster in Kansas. What a wonderful show venue and program. Our new young friend and top junior handler was showing her new puppy for only the second time. There were five open bitches showing on the first day of the show. Ringside there were two women we did not know, one taking many photos as well as videotaping our dogs without our permission. According to the judging program the following is stated, “Photos and videotaping by individuals for their own use will be allowed. The Show Committee does, however, reserve the right to regulate placement of cameras to prevent interference with traffic flow and exhibiting of dogs. Photography for any other purposes is prohibited, including but not limited to commercial purposes unless prior permission in writing from the Show Chair.” Our young, minor handler/owner of this new puppy won the major that day. We were all thrilled for this win and very supportive of her.
The next day a demeaning photo of the junior handler and her show puppy, clearly taken the day before, was posted on the Facebook page of another breeder, someone we know but do not associate with either on Facebook or at shows. The opinion was shared by many who saw the photo, it appeared to me to be altered or photoshopped. The caption with the photo said, “Is this a winning photo? Who is it?” Commentary posted below the photo included comments from a different breeder, again not anyone associated with either the young handler or her dog. This particular breeder stated the child’s name along with the kennel name of her dog.
The intent, in my opinion, was deliberate and with malice. One can only speculate about the reason that someone would do this, but apparently someone wanted this photo to be seen by others. Not only did it misrepresent the quality of the dog, it was also an unwanted and unflattering photo of a minor. This incident directly affected this young exhibitor in a negative way.
Along with three witnesses, we spoke to the person who was taking pictures of our dogs that day and asked her purpose for taking photos of our dogs. We also asked how one photo ended up on someone’s Facebook page? She told us she took the photos for someone else; she told us who requested that she take the photos of our dogs and she also told us to whom that person sent the photos. It is my understanding that the person that ended up with the photos is a breeder/exhibitor, parent club member of our breed, who I believe has previously been reported to the AKC for unsportsmanlike behavior.
Not one of these three exhibitors/breeders involved, neither the one that we were told requested the photos, or the one that we were told, ultimately, wanted the photos, or the one that posted the photo on her Facebook page were at the show or had dogs at the show. There was no reason, in my opinion for any of them to desire photos, share photos or post photos of our dogs or anyone associated with our dogs. What is the purpose of such behavior, one might ask? Whether this behavior is based on jealousy, envy, the desire to intimidate another exhibitor, the attitude of not wanting minors or junior handlers showing in open conformation or any other reason, I cannot say. However, I do know this is unsportsmanlike conduct, and it certainly doesn’t welcome, encourage or support newcomers in the sport.
Even though she was asked to remove the photo from her Facebook page, the photo with the comments remained on her page for almost 24 hours before it was finally removed. Many people who saw this post were outraged and reported to Facebook that this was harassment and that the photo should be removed. The woman that posted the photo refused to state where she obtained the photo, except to say that it was on the internet. The dismay we received over these actions, from other exhibitors, breeders, friends and strangers alike was overwhelming. It is good to know many others find this kind of action deplorable, too.
Some of you might imagine how I, as this young junior exhibitor’s mentor, struggled to find the words to explain to this innocent child why adults would behave this way, and set such a poor example for our youth, the future of this sport.
My request to you the reader is to think about this question: Is this action indicative of the low road our society wishes to take with respect to sportsmanship? I believe it is. Perhaps AKC and other sports organizations might consider revising their own sportsmanship codes to address the problems that social media presents in today’s world. Posting photos of other competitors in any sport with the intent to discourage or negatively affect their reputation should be addressed. However, unless organizations are willing to enforce the requirements of their codes, then there is no reason to have a code in the first place. To interfere in such an unkind manner as happened at this particular dog show takes away any joy that others find by spending time with and showing their beloved canine companions along with other people who share their interests at a dog show.
You might wonder why I have shared this story with others. I am so passionate about my dogs, investing so much time and love into them and encouraging as well as bringing new people into the sport of purebreed dogs. I support AKC’s efforts greatly by serving in many areas of our kennel club including the role of Secretary and Newsletter Editor, just to name a few. Along with my children, we show several dogs, follow a health and temperament regimen for our dogs, focus on improving the breed litter by litter, register my puppies, teach and support others new to our breed, regardless of where their dogs came from, and so much more. It’s a lot of work, but we love what we do. I have thought long and hard about that question and the answer is two-fold. First of all, I don’t want others to have a similar experience and secondly, if we continue to keep looking the other way and allowing bad behavior to continue, indirectly, we become part of the problem by doing nothing to change it.
Equally important, I must add how this incident directly affected another family new to the idea of AKC conformation dog shows. This family wanted to become involved in conformation showing and purchased a show prospect puppy from my last litter. They were excited and eager to begin showing this summer, in the sport of AKC conformation as well as junior showmanship for their child. After this incident, however, they contacted me to say they no longer are interested in showing at any AKC event. They stated, “because of what had happened to this junior handler, they do not want to take the chance that it could happen to their young child.” Of course, I understood completely and, under the circumstances, who would blame them.
Every time I talk to other AKC exhibitors, I hear the same questions: why are entries down at AKC shows and why don’t we have more young people involved in this wonderful sport? Those are good questions. I have placed several show prospects with people new to showing, both juniors and adults. If this is what they will experience, I will no longer expose good new families to the sport of AKC conformation. I think it’s exhibitors like the one in this article that continue to get away with this behavior, which is a form of bullying, who are the problem. They have found a new way, through social media, to intimidate their competitors. It’s time to put an end to this kind of behavior, AKC, and hold people accountable to your AKC Code of Sportsmanship.
AKC Code of Sportsmanship
PREFACE: The sport of purebred dog competitive events dates prior to 1884, the year of AKC’s birth. Shared values of those involved in the sport include principles of sportsmanship. They are practiced in all sectors of our sport: conformation, performance and companion. Many believe that these principles of sportsmanship are the prime reason why our sport has thrived for over one hundred years. With the belief that it is useful to periodically articulate the fundamentals of our sport, this code is presented.
• Sportsmen respect the history, traditions and integrity of the sport of purebred dogzz
• Sportsmen commit themselves to values of fair play, honesty, courtesy, and vigorous competition, as well as winning and losing with grace.
• Sportsmen refuse to compromise their commitment and obligation to the sport of purebred dogs by injecting personal advantage or consideration into their decisions or behavior.
• The sportsman judge judges only on the merits of the dogs and considers no other factors.
• The sportsman judge or exhibitor accepts constructive criticism.
• The sportsman exhibitor declines to enter or exhibit under a judge where it might reasonably appear that the judge’s placements could be based on something other than the merits of the dogs.
• The sportsman exhibitor refuses to compromise the impartiality of a judge.
• The sportsman respects the AKC bylaws, rules, regulations and policies governing the sport of purebred dogs.
• Sportsmen find that vigorous competition and civility are not inconsistent and are able to appreciate the merit of their competition and the effort of competitors.
• Sportsmen welcome, encourage and support newcomers to the sport.
• Sportsmen will deal fairly with all those who trade with them.
• Sportsmen are willing to share honest and open appraisals of both the strengths and weaknesses of their breeding stock.
• Sportsmen spurn any opportunity to take personal advantage of positions offered or bestowed upon them.
• Sportsmen always consider as paramount the welfare of their dog.
• Sportsmen refuse to embarrass the sport, the American Kennel Club, or themselves while taking part in the sport.
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