Recent comments from our new and divided culture on attitudes, winning, and personal achievement reflect a startling omen to our future. Are we doomed if we become satisfied with everyone being just alike?
I’m accused of ‘stirring the pot’ with columns published on Press Pros pertaining to generational views on hard work, achievement, and separating one’s self from the masses.
Imagine, of course, writing such invective 25 five years ago, and the difference in attitudes. Back then no one would even have read, because it was accepted that there was no other alternative for success in life than hard work, achievement…and that every Little Leaguer that suited up to play was expected to compete and win.
Now…not so much. It’s a softer society bent on kindness and sportsmanship (which we had back then, too), fellowship (which we had back then, too), and mutual respect (which we had back then, too). The difference now? You’re expected to reward lesser achievement, the vanquished, if you will, with equal enthusiasm. But speaking on behalf of a lot of 65-year-olds who played for coaches like Jim Hardman and Marty Karow, the generational lessons I’ve carried this far just doesn’t support that. So when others suggest something else it’s my pot that gets stirred.
It’s troubling to read through some of the emails we’ve received in the last year…in the past two weeks. One wrote to us saying, “ I would point out that this is a day where over-emphasizing winning only deepens the obvious divisions in our country, our culture, and to those with different gifts. Losing, like poverty and unequal rights and opportunity, is a constant reminder to one side that there’s another side that always must feel superior.“
What he’s talking about, of course, is the constant reminder that we live in a world – we’ve always lived in a world – of “haves” and “have nots”. I know this because I grew up with both, as most of you did. The “haves” turned out to be those who did the little extra in school to get the better grade, or the starting position on the baseball or basketball team. They ultimately ended up with being the valedictorian in their class, with extra money for education, and the added advantage of an accelerated start in life.
I very well remember the “have nots” from my own school experience. They did as little as possible in school, and made no excuse for it. It wasn’t a matter of poverty, as you hear now from the psychologists. It was simply a matter of priority. School work, and sports, was simply too much work. Cigarettes and beer were comfortable, available, and their chosen (I say “chosen”) option. Some were the school bullies back then, but now, a lifetime later, they’re the first to claim that they’ve been bullied by a society of other people that just got in the way of their success. They’re also the first to tell you that equal rights amount to equal privileges, too…as long as they don’t have to get off their butts.
These are people that never won at anything and never even tried…and I well remember them laughing at those that did try unsuccessfully. They called them “losers” then, one of life’s great ironies. Those same “losers” turned out to be doctors, attorneys, and bankers. And one actually owns an entire township now with a king’s ransom worth of mineral rights in coal and natural gas. I remember him being cut from the grade school basketball team.
There’s really no secret, though, to the reason people look at success and winning today with such a jaded view…that it’s a constant reminder that there’s always another side that must feel superior. It’s called jealousy, and it’s as old as mankind, because none of us are destined to become a “have not”. The record books are full of those who started with nothing and finished with having it all.
One of the great statements I’ve ever heard came from former Ohio State and Boston Celtic great John Havlicek, who was recognized by the OHSAA a few years ago at the state basketball tournament. Someone asked Havlicek if when the Celtics were winning all those NBA titles in a row (8 of them), whether he ever felt sorry for the teams they were beating. “No,” answered Havlicek. “It seemed like a better thing to look back on when I got old.”
And, of course, a better way to grow old as his success as an athlete continued to open doors for him the rest of his life. What a concept!
I suppose there are some, like Ed O’Neal, who really believe that ‘sharing’ the wealth of titles, like redistributing the wealth in society, is the sign of graciousness in modern sports. After all, we actually exploit photos of athletes who give up their own competitive chances to stop and help a fallen competitor across the finish line.
But we also exploit the term ‘respect the game’, as well, which means you play the game to the fullest with expectations of winning. And to any question about Minster and Russia in that June 3 title game, I know Kevin Phlipot (the Russia coach) would not have looked back fondly when he got old if he knew that Mike Wiss had held the winning run at third base.
I know that Wiss could not have look back fondly, either, because that’s not respecting the game or how its played. He’s brought his players along in the correct tradition of competition – the example set down by people like John Havlicek, Archie Griffin, and Urban Meyer.
It’s ironic that both the Browns and the Bengals jumped on the InsideOut initiative last year to discourage a mentality of winning at all costs in high school sports, which seems like mere window-dressing when you consider that in the NFL you either win or you’re fired. And to those raised under men like Kevin Phlipot and Mike Wiss it raises more confusion than clarity.
I hate to say it…but this confusion over winning and cultural disparity is not going to go away. We’ve turned that corner now where people actually believe that it’s simply nicer to give everyone a trophy – and everything else they might need before they die, as well. We’re going to come to that point in life where we don’t know what to look back on fondly…because every one of us will be just alike. There will be no distinguishing achievements.
No one’s feelings will be hurt.
No one will be made to feel the superiority of the people across the field.
No one’s life will be dashed because they lost a baseball game.
But you won’t see that when Russia takes the basketball court in December to reprise their 20-4 record from last year. They’ll play hard, and they’ll play to win, as everyone does in the rugged Shelby County League. There’ll be no psychologists in the crowd, just cheering people in a wrenching atmosphere. And they’ll talk about the games for years, as they always have…games with Loramie, Jackson Center, and Minster. It’s expected.
And they tell me…the ones they win are more fun to look back on. What a concept!