In a climate of, “if it bleeds it leads” and unprecedented popularity of negative poor sportsmanship stories going viral, trying to popularize good sportsmanship was and is a daunting task. The Awards and Recognition Association’s ARA Sportsmanship Award has not only taken it on  – as the association presents the ARA Sportsmanship Award to a NCAA Division I college football player who exemplifies sportsmanship both on and off the field – but for six consecutive years, they’ve made it cool to be good sports.  Negative displays of sportsmanship, from grandstanding to scandals to foul language and chair throwing, have become increasingly popular news stories. The effect on sports -from pee wee to professionals – has been taking its toll with ongoing reports of screaming parents, coaches and fans. The ARA set a goal to recognize and shine a bright light on good sportsmanship and reward athletes for their exemplary acts on and off the field, by utilizing broadcast, print, on-line and social media. Visit for more information.

With an objective to start to turn the negative tide of media coverage on a broad scale, the ARA Sportsmanship award has generated positive exposure since its launch:

  • Media coverage of positive sportsmanship was strategically staggered throughout the  year for maximum impact—from ARA survey statistics on the state of sportsmanship to announcing finalists to the winner’s announcement. Americans’ attitudes have moved from 85% saying sportsmanship was worse now than when they were growing up to 65% in 2010.
  • The ARA uncovered ways to make the positive stories bigger, more local and with accessible messages. By utilizing social media outlets including coaching sites and local groups, ARA created pathways for local coaches to receive tips from ARA’s coaching legends.
  • Coverage of the award grew from 1 million media impressions in year one to 380 million in 2010.

To attract media attention, ARA recruited some of the most respected retired football coaches to serve on the Sportsmanship Award selection panel. This all-volunteer group reviews the entrants and selects each year’s winner. Coaches believe in the cause so much, that they not only volunteer their time to judge, but for media interviews, too. Panel members include LaVell Edwards, Brigham Young; Bobby Bowden, Florida State; Spike Dykes, Texas Tech; Dick MacPherson, Syracuse; Tubby Raymond, Delaware; Don James, Washington; Don Nehlen, West Virginia; and Gene Stallings, Alabama. Their contribution has been estimated by independent resources as $ 3 million in celebrity spokesperson fees annually. To date, honorees include: DeAngelo Williams/Memphis, currently of the Carolina Panthers (2005); Brian Leonard/Rutgers, currently of Cincinnati Bengals (2006), Alex Brink/Washington State (2007), Eric Peterman/Northwestern (2008), Jeron Mastrud/Kansas State (2009) and Sam Acho/Texas (2010).

Key coverage included ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, SIRIUS, MSNBC as well as local print, radio and television stories. Stories were tracked in 46 states —from local market to national stories. With a cumulative audience reach of 750 million, from 2005-2011, the ARA exceeded all expectations for measurable media coverage and grassroots buzz. Their efforts to capture the time and talents of volunteer coaches has proven to be an effective way to spotlight positive stories of good sportsmanship with a general audience and, among athletes, coaches, kids and parents.