Our society loves sports, and so do I. We love rallying behind our chosen team in solidarity against a common enemy. It can bridge great divides among groups of people, bring unity, encourage teamwork and cooperation, demonstrate perseverance and encourage strength under pressure.
We also really, really like to win.
Is there anything sweeter than the thrill of victory? Is there anything that comes close to the satisfaction of a championship earned or a medal hung around a neck?
I remember being a little girl and watching sports with my family. I remember seeing my dad, uncle and brothers bundle up for a Browns game and return hours later, cold but exhilarated, and I envied their vivaciousness and the life that seemed to flow through them. Their team had won! (Sidenote: yes, there was a time when the Browns won a lot of football games!)
I also remember watching the final game of the 1984 World Series. After watching the Detroit Tigers storm the field in victory, I took a look at the dugout that housed the losers. I was 7 years old, and for the first time in my young life, I noticed the agony of defeat. I saw the players on the second best baseball team in the nation, and they looked so utterly dejected and forlorn that my heart sank, too. I realized then that there was a bitter side to every victory, and it was right across the field.
My team had a big win this weekend, and it was amazing. And on the other side of the field, there was a team that fought just as hard as mine did, cheered on by fans just as devoted as I was. Some of the fans were, in fact, very close to me – some friends, a neighbor and even my sister-in-law. As excited and proud and admiring as I was of my team’s success, I was still aware that people were hurting on the other side of the field.
You see, part of what unites us in sports is that element of coming together against a common enemy in order to win. By definition, that necessitates us having an enemy, and obliges that enemy to lose. That’s fine in a sports arena, but what happens when we take it further than that? What happens if we make it personal?
The sports mentality our society reveres often trickles into areas that have nothing at all to do with sports. How many times have you been in a board meeting and heard something along the lines of, “The ball’s in our court now, let’s not pull any punches.” How many times has Donald Trump mentioned “winning” or whined about “losers” in his presidential campaign speeches? More to the point, how often do we let the sports mentality trickle into our personal lives?
The element of competition, perhaps a remnant of the real battles and wars as old as humanity itself, is apparent in every aspect of our lives, and in almost every interaction we have with fellow humans. We love to be right. We love to come out on top. We love to win.
But it doesn’t feel very good to lose.
Competition is natural and human, and the desire to excel and achieve is valuable. Sometimes, there has to be a clear winner. It feels good. In a world with so much gray and very confusing lines of right and wrong, it is satisfying and comforting to have a resolution after 3 periods, or 9 innings or 60 minutes. The buzzer rings, and it’s done. There’s no more argument to be had (though often the analysis continues for months or years). It’s over. There’s a clear winner.
But do we have to compete everywhere?
A world with constant battles is exhausting. A life in which winning consumes our every thought is overwhelming. Personally, I struggle with this often. I get weary thinking of how to best “present my case” to “win” an argument or to “win” the favor of my boss, or to “win” the respect of a colleague, or worst of all, to “win” the love of my husband.
We can and should, rally behind our teams and cheer for our favorite athletes, and compete ourselves, with pride. We can, and should, feel pride and experience the victorious rush of excitement and achievement that we get from winning. But is it necessary to turn work, school, friendship and marriage into a competition, too? Or can we learn to leave it in the sports arena?
My team won this weekend, and it was indescribably glorious and thrilling. My friends’ team didn’t win, and they probably didn’t feel very good about it. Losing doesn’t feel good, not in sports, and certainly not in life.
Maybe we would all be a little less stressed and a tiny bit happier if we used sports as an outlet for our competitive drives, instead of using our relationships as such.