How to Lose in Sports

I hate losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a card game, a touch-football game, or Scattergories. Losing is like being forced to drink a tall glass of cottage cheese while watching your puppy get kicked by the opposing team.

One of the worst days in UO history.

One of the worst days in UO history.

I know that sounds slightly extreme, but it used to be a lot worse for me. Whenever I’d lose or my favorite team would lose, it used to depress me for days. Not minutes. Not hours. Days. The worst was whenever my beloved Oregon Ducks would lose a football game.

Growing up, the Ducks used to lose often, so fall was always a rough time for my heart. But once I hit high school, winning became a regular thing for the Ducks. It got to the point that in my freshman year of college—attending the University of Oregon, of course—the Ducks were well on their way to go to the national championship game, led by the Heisman-trophy-candidate quarterback, Dennis Dixon.

But while playing Arizona, Dixon’s knee gave out, a season-ending injury. Without their starting quarterback, the Ducks flailed and lost the game, forfeiting all national championship aspirations. They limped through the remainder of the season.

Needless to say, I was devastated. This was the worst loss of them all. I wasn’t just depressed, I was angry. I felt like this had been some sick cosmic joke, to come so far over the years just to fall flat. It was unjust.

Trying to cope with the loss, some friends wanted to watch a movie. If something else occupied our minds, then maybe we would feel better. Someone chose the movie Blood Diamond, which had come out on DVD not too long before. If you don’t know, Blood Diamond is a movie about conflict diamonds and how they are used to fund rebel armies who use child soldiers to wage their wars. It’s a gruesome but very well-made film.

There’s this one scene in the movie where the rebel general invades a village looking for new boys to join his army and slaves to mine for diamonds. The general massacres much of the village and rounds up all the males, boys and men. Hands get chopped off. Mothers get shot. It’s horrible.

I remember watching the scene and feeling disturbed because the crimes committed were so wrong. But then I suddenly felt more disturbed. I realized that although I was moved by this injustice, I was not angered by it—not like how I was angered by the supposed injustice of the Duck game. I was more furious about a football game than I was about an evil man brainwashing children to kill people. I remember thinking, I am a horrible human being. Football doesn’t matter as much as people.

Jesus took me to the mat for that one. Thankfully, from that point on I’ve had a sobered perspective on losing. Sometimes I have an initial emotional reflex, but it’s always tempered with that memory.

A couple years later, the Oregon Ducks actually ended up going the national championship game but we lost because of a last second field goal. I was fine. Watching the game was actually one of the most fun experiences of my college career.

I’m not saying losing should be easy. I understand the pain of losing a game. In a high school soccer playoff game, I missed a penalty kick that would’ve tied the game. Instead, we lost because of me. The pain is real, especially for the players and coaches. I’m not going to take that away from anyone. But I do know that sports is just a part of life, not life itself. While we’re losing games, people are losing loved ones. We should consider ourselves blessed when the most traumatic event in our life is just losing a game.

At the same time, we shouldn’t devalue the losses. Don’t pretend like they never happened. They’re tools to teach us, grow us. In many ways, you learn more when you lose than when you win. There is such a thing as getting back on the horse, stepping back into the ring, and the come-from-behind win.

Everyone is going to lose at some point, definitely in sports but also in life. The question is not if you will lose, but how will you react.

Tweets of the Week: 08|30|13

The NCAA’s Monday Justice

Monday was a day for justice.

First, James Holmes—the movie theater mass murderer from Friday morning—had his first day in court. But since much more is to come of this, I am going to focus on another case of Monday justice, the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State.

Punishment had already being thrown (and even more yet to come) at the many individuals involved in the horrendous cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s sexually abusive acts. Nothing had yet been levied toward the institution that facilitated all of this cowardly evil—the Penn State football program. That’s where the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) comes into play. The NCAA is the regulating body of all the major universities’ athletic programs. As such, the association felt compelled to discipline Penn State for its negligence.

Slate lists the sanctions as being:

A $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, and the vacation of all wins dating back to 1998.
The penalties also include the loss of 20 scholarships per year over four years and a five-year probationary period. The NCAA likewise announced that any current or incoming football players will be free to immediately transfer and compete at another school, a decision that is sure to deplete the Nittany Lions squad moving forward.

The severity of such a penalty is unprecedented but the situation prompting them is also unprecedented. Previously, all of the NCAA’s sanctions towards a university athletic program had been because of “cheating” in its various forms. That all changed on Monday.

Many have already asked, what right does the NCAA, a body that is supposed to focus on athletic violations, have in disciplining a program that had not “broken” any NCAA rules? Every right. They had every right, because Penn State had neglected to protect the children, allowing a monster to continue in his rampage unseen, and instead opted to protect a football giant-of-a-program and a football god. The NCAA had the right to judge this sports program because the program had gone too far.

Penn State had created a world and culture in which the highest good was not loving God and loving your neighbor, but loving your team and loving to win. You cheer for your team. You adore your team. You protect your team. You die for your team.

But to be honest, this is not just a Penn State problem. What happened there was bound to happen sooner or later somewhere else in some other form because we all kind of let this happen. As Americans, we have created a culture of football, sport, and celebrity that is larger than life—larger than God.

Our team, our coach, our star can do no wrong and how dare you for suggesting otherwise. If the situation had occurred in Eugene, I shudder to consider how our university, football program, and community would react.

Next time you attend a college football game, look around, and try to prove me wrong. They are worshiping.

I am speaking from experience; in the past I have been caught up in this hysteria too. Don’t get me wrong, I love football but we have taken this too far in the name of championships and bowl games. And it doesn’t just have to be football. Any time we elevate something above morality, truth, and God, we are setting ourselves up for trouble.

May this Penn State situation be a wake up call to the rest of the nation that football is not more important than a human life—than a child’s well-being. This is precisely the message the NCAA is trying to send to the other institutions of this country.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. Let us hope he is right.

Outside Penn State’s football stadium was placed a 7-foot tall bronze statue of Joe Paterno—the former winningest coach in history, the coach who should have done more. It has now been torn down by the university.

Let us make sure that we tear down our idols too, lest we fall with them.

Boba Fett Meets The NFL

Football has once again stepped into the limelight of scandal, but this time it is the paid professional adults who must give account not the amateur twenty-somethings.

The NFL released a statement on March 21st that the New Orleans Saints had instituted a program with their players that “included ‘bounty’ payments for ‘knock-outs’ [knocking a player unconscious] and ‘cart-offs,’ [injuring a player to the extent that they need to be driven off the field with a John Deere tractor] plays on which an opposing player was forced to leave the game. At times, the bounties even targeted specific players by name.” Basically, to motivate their players to play harder and to help them win games, the Saints were paying for them to intentionally injure opposing teammates. Think, bounty hunters with helmets and body armor—almost sounds like science fiction, right?

Upon examining the evidence, NFL commissioner issued swift and severe discipline on the Saints including:

A $500,000 fine; a forfeiture of second round draft picks for 2012 and 2013; a suspension of the head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season without pay; a suspension of the General Manager for eight games without pay; an indefinite suspension of a former defensive coordinator; a six-game suspension of the assistant Head Coach without pay; and also the punished individuals will be required to participate in certain programs to help discourage bounty programs in all levels of football.

What has happened here is a graphic distortion of the spirit of sportsmanship, competition, and also human decency.

It is bad enough when a player tries to intentionally injure an opposing teammate. I have seen my brother, now a wide receiver for Oregon State, be the target of multiple shots from ill-willed players—one helmet-to-helmet hit left him unconscious after a punt return. But for the coaching staff to monetarily encourage the carnage, it is downright sadistic and corrupt.

I absolutely love sports and specifically football. It is a great game. When I hear about sports scandals, my initial reaction is to get so angry because all I see are grown men running in tights, who are paid millions of dollars, ruining something I really enjoy. But the more I think about the Saints and other scandals (the Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina, Penn State, Ohio State, and USC) I can’t help but think that we the sports fanatic have helped create the problem.

ALL I DO IS WIN

Our society has taken the American dream of the pursuit of happiness to its inevitable conclusion—if losing bring me sadness then the only path to happiness is through winning.

It is my right to win. I need to win. I will win at all costs.

When the accomplishment of a determined goal is the ultimate pursuit of a life, it becomes idolatry, it becomes worship.

We are willing to sacrifice things for what we worship. Nothing becomes more important than what we worship. This is why Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Everything goes out the window for what you treasure. This is why someone would be willing to end a colleague’s career through intentional sabotage and assault just to earn a trophy and an iced up ring.

This is not just among players though. Attend any sporting event, professional, college, even grade school (sometimes sports parents are the most vicious), and you will see that fans have been calling for the heads of their enemies long before there was a price on them.

How are Christians to react to such a worldview?

WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN

Christian sports fans, if we are really honest with ourselves, there are many times when we suffer from cognitive dissonance—holding two opposing viewpoints as true at the very same time.

1. We love Jesus and want to please Him.

2. We want our team to win. We want our team to win real badly.

It is not impossible to love Jesus and at the same time want your team to win. The problem is when our desire for our team to win trumps our desire to please Jesus.

Rarely does this occur in outright rebellion: “Forget you Jesus! Have fun with the weak and the lowly cause I’m watching the Packers!”

Instead, our hypocrisy happens in subtle ways: We hurl insults at opposing players to get inside their heads and demean them. We argue and complain when penalties are rightfully made against our team. We demonize referees…period. We call for the head of our rival’s star player. We think fans of our rival must be missing a few crucial brain cells to be willing to cheer against our team.

We are not consciously defying Jesus; we just forget about Him altogether.

Forget Him and it is easy to begin thinking that something else matters. Forget Him while you are alone with your girlfriend and it is easy to begin thinking only her body matters. Forget Him while you are at your workplace and it is easy to begin thinking only the corporate ladder matters. Forget Him in the arena and it is easy to begin thinking only your team matters—after all, everyone else is cheering for them.

And when only your team matters, nothing else really does.