You’ve probably heard about Baker Mayfield’s post-game celebration in Columbus by now.
The one featuring his victory lap waving the OU flag in the faces of everyone remaining in the seats before futilely ramming it into the turf “Block O” logo at midfield, surrounded by a handful of his teammates cheering him on.
Not surprisingly, two days after the game Mayfield stood before Oklahoma press and said,
"It was an emotional game. After the game I did not mean for it to be disrespectful toward any Ohio State people at all, especially the team or the players. They're a great team and a great program. I didn't mean for it to be disrespectful at all. We do the flag thing at OU-Texas, and that's just something I got caught up in an emotional win. That should've been something I did in the locker room. So I apologize for doing it in the middle of the field.”
Totally expected. We’ve seen this same scenario hundreds of times in sports: super excited moment produces onfield, university embarrassing behavior leading to contrived-media-apology moment after dust of victory/loss settles.
And just like so many of these press conferences before, he didn’t actually mean it. That’s not even newsworthy—everybody who understands sports can guess he’s not sorry but instead obligated to jump through the right politically correct, administratively satisfying hoops.
We all get it.
Nevertheless, the celebration, the apology, and the subsequent media commentary produced two major groups worth addressing: those who made too big a deal about it and those who made too small a deal about it.
Too Big: “He was completely out of line!”
Those who are upset about what he did break into one of two camps.
One group views his behavior after the game as a sort of moral offense, that to taunt a team or rub a loss in their face is unclassy and wrong. They are focused on the character aspect of Mayfield and his team’s celebration. A combination of old school wisdom (“act like you’ve been there before”) and the fumes of a Biblical worldview (“treat others the way you want to be treated”).
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Perhaps this could have been an expectation 25 years ago, but how can we seriously hold anyone to that kind of standard since we no longer consistently teach proper pre-, in-, or post-game etiquette to our young athletes or have a socially acceptable agreement to act any certain way after games?
Sportsmanship? Really? Where would we even get that idea from anymore given the current “winning is all that matters” value-system perpetuated at every level of sporting life? We ignore (at best) and mock (at worst) character in youth sports then act surprised when college athletes on a public stage in a very emotional moment fail to demonstrate it for the audience.
Both national media and social media celebrate the Jerry Springer spectacle every day—why would we expect an amped up, revenge-tasting 22-year-old to restrain his celebration or think about anything having to do with character?
The folks in the other camp—probably found entirely on the losing side of his dance—are angry because they want to impose parameters on how the victor should treat them in defeat.
When did it become standard for either the loser or someone entirely outside the situation to decide how the victor should celebrate their win? Part of being the loser means you take whatever the victor dishes out as part of the loss.
Prisoners don’t get to dictate or critique the rules of their living conditions—they submit to them as part of being a prisoner.
The winner gets to decide how to celebrate. They may go quietly off into the night, or they may symbolically desecrate your logos. You just have to take it. That’s what happens when you get beat down. It’s essentially built into the definition of “defeated.”
None of the above is to suggest we should give up on character or sportsmanship or others-centered consideration in sports—just that we should stop expecting it and overreacting when we don’t see it across society. Except where we find pockets of resistance and outliers, to “do whatever your emotions lead you to do” is now the generally accepted guide of conduct—for better or worse—across the sports landscape.
Too Small: “He has no reason to be sorry”
With all that’s gone on recently before NFL games, has everyone suddenly forgotten that flags and logos and things that represent a people’s history—whether on behalf of a city, state, nation, or school—mean something to us?
“Yeah, but this is just school vs. school. It’s not a national symbol or anything of that magnitude.”
For some people, their school and football team means more to them than their country. It’s more personal, more immediate, more full of anecdotes and family history. They can never admit that publicly, but if we could put monitors on everyone in the stadium to gauge what causes more emotional stimulus—singing the national anthem before the game or singing the school alma mater after it—we’d see a gap creating some civic dissonance.
In states where football matters, in schools where coaches get paid more than teachers, logos and traditions surrounding a team mean a ton to people. This isn’t to suggest they should mean as much as they do. Just that they do.
So to suddenly suggest that offended fans and school officials should ignore or shrug off an opposing player intentionally stomping on the the symbol that represents their history is disingenuous.
Even ABC announcer Chris Fowler responded with horror reminiscent of the Hindenburg crash as the scene unfolded.
“Oh no, he’s not! NO...he’s not going to plant it at midfield in the O, is he? Wow! Yes he is. Ooohh. Looks like the Ohio State band has come out of their seats. They didn’t like that. There’s no one here to defend the O except the band. But if the Buckeyes in the locker room saw that they might come out and take issue. Now they’re going to dance on the Block O.”
A midfield logo symbolizes history, pride, values—the spirit of the school. There’s a reason why players purposely head to midfield to find that logo after a major win on the road. They don’t go to the opposing bench area. They don’t taunt the press box. They don’t scuffle with cheerleaders.
They stomp on and drive a stake into the midfield logo—because it means something.
When a visiting team pulls off a huge win, they take their logoed school flag and drive it into the ground at midfield to say:
“We conquered you. We now lay claim to this spot. You are defeated and we want your aching heart to feel disrespected, insulted, shamed. We beat you down and will now insult you by imposing our flag and logo upon yours to symbolize your loss.” It’s intended to hurt.
No, it’s not a war or life threatening situation, but it still means something to the people whose life is intertwined with the school and what it represents to them.
We can say a player or team or school in this situation doesn’t owe anyone an apology if we want, but let’s not naively suggest that the behavior in question wasn’t disrespectful or insulting or offensive.
That ruins the intended point of the gesture—even more than the failure to stick a flagpole into solid acrylic turf at midfield.
Questions We’re Reluctant to Ask
The entire Mayfield incident revolves around questions we’re just not very well equipped to interact with these days: What does sportsmanship look like and in what situations should we still expect it? Does the expectation of handling ourselves with class even apply to the sport context? Should we feel sorry when we hurt someone we feel deserves it? How does a person’s allegiance to Christ influence how they conduct ourselves pre-, in-, and post-game? Conversely, should we place character expectations on a person who doesn’t profess Christ?
Athlete, parent, coach—don’t be afraid to raise and interact with these questions, even if the national media has no desire to ask them.