Does winning really matter?

This summer, I had the opportunity to visit my younger siblings in NC. I happened to arrive in time for the middle school basketball playoffs and, as a sports fanatic, I attended as many competitions as was humanly possible.

Fortunately, the Donald clan produced stellar-performances and won a combined six games over three days of play. Unfortunately, I was introduced to two different concepts that I have to come to despise: the participation trophy and the “fifth quarter.”

The participation trophy–a tacky, gold figurine–was awarded to each player in the league at the end of the season.

The fifth quarter actually (and erroneously) changed the rules of basketball. The league decided to add an extra period to the normal basketball game (a four-quarter affair) in order to allow those folks who are stuck at the end of the bench to get their jerseys dirty, so to speak.

Seeing these measures in action forced me to realize that some do not care about winning. Some play sports for the camaraderie and exercise. Others just enjoy being a part of the team. So, I had to ask myself: does winning matter?

It is fair to say that most participants in athletics–whether they are spectators or competitors–have an unhealthy obsession with winning and how frequently they are able to do so.

Without question, that unhealthy obsession contains a sort of philosophical potential energy that can (and often does) lead to savage displays of animalistic behavior in pursuit of finding a home in the win column.

In order to win, folks will lie to their family, friends, and fans. There are some athletes, coaches, and trainers that will cheat their sport and steal from other athletes in exchange for a season’s worth of bragging rights.

Some–not all and not most–will display depraved personality traits to mold themselves a slot in the winning culture.

This begs a question: what is winning? Winning is classified as achieving success by defeating an enemy, but how often must one win to earn the right to call himself a true winner?

Is winning a fluid concept? That is, if one wins now and loses later, are they still a winner, or are they a winner turned loser?

Conversely, if one loses now and wins later, are they a loser trying to pick up a new winning habit? Further, if one achieves success, but cheats to do so and is never caught, are they still a winner?

These questions, and many more like them, are why some folks prefer that scores not be counted, records not be kept, and for everyone to be praised based on effort instead of skill.

Competitiveness has been seen as inappropriate. Others value equality over skill and success, and would simply love to see everyone with a jersey be awarded equal playing time. There are many folks–fans, athletes, and corporations–that pretend to be concerned about winning the “right” way.

Is there truly a right or wrong way to win? On top of that, the various acts of malfeasance committed in the name of winning have turned lots of casual fans away from sports that they love.

The supposed perpetrators of those acts have seen their sterling reputations dragged through the mud, regardless of actual guilt or innocence.

So, in light of the damning evidence concerning the crime of winning, I am forced, again, to ask: does winning really matter?

Yes. Winning matters. Winning mattered yesterday, winning matters today, and will matter forevermore. Competition between enemies is the heart of sport: that is why winning matters. If the topic of winning is expanded to the art of living, I am doubtful that those who favor participation trophies would favor equal pay simply for showing up to any job.

I am pessimistic that folks who value equality in playing time–regardless of skill level–would gladly ask for the services of a medical doctor or lawyer that has a low rate of success.

I would be more than skeptical of anyone who told me that they willingly passed up the opportunity to learn from first-rate professors in favor of those that have not proved their worth. The essence of athletics is rivalry and the emotional highs and lows associated with its results.

We practice and play sports in hopes of achieving greatness, not in hopes of participating. The Derek Jeters, Emmitt Smiths, and Rafael Nadals of the world are only any good to us because they win.

Without winning, Venus and Serena would just be young black women who count tennis as a hobby.

Without winning, Larry Joe Bird would simply be an old man with chronic back trouble. Without winning, Tim Couch would just be…wait. Tim Couch is a simply a former player who violated the NFL drug policy and “used to be” good” in college.

If we, as sportspersons, fail to keep score, praise everyone equally regardless of skill, and celebrate the ghosts of inconsistent winners, we are destroying the very core of sport.

We play games to win. We study to gather as much knowledge as we can. We raise children to be good contributors to society, not so that they can suck up air and give nothing in return.What do we do, you might ask, with those depraved athletes and their cliques? What do we do about our liars, such as Mark McGwire and Ryan Braun? What do we do with our cheaters, like Danny Almonte?

This is a good question and it is one that smarter people than me have yet to figure out. Some of those cheaters are literally ripping apart the reason we love competitive sports.

Others of them are victims to an unchecked pleasure principle residing in their unconscious mind. Until we can figure out how to handle the true cheaters, my recommendation is that we allow them to handle themselves.

Let their conscious wreck their hearts and let their competitors destroy their records. Let us be fair in our application of regulations and cautious with our claims. Regarding winning, let us uphold the standards of competitiveness, accuracy, and skill.

May we ever continue to defend the essence of all that is good with athletics.

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