Of the 16 teams who played in the opening round of the No Gloves Nationals last Thursday, half wind up in the Losers Bracket after just one game. 

I have empathy for those eight teams because for most of my life I’ve been a loser when it comes to sports. I still have nightmares about an interception I threw in ninth grade when we were on the opposing team’s 5 yard line. In my three-year career as a quarterback in middle school, we lost every game we played.

My record as a pitcher in high school was 2 wins and 5 losses, and I was the losing pitcher in a game that knocked us out of the state tournament. I’d always get what my father called “butterflies” in my stomach — nervous, anxious about winning or losing — before those games. 

In contrast I’d never get those butterflies in the basketball games six of us would play in Paul Anderson’s driveway on Sunday afternoons. We didn’t keep track of who won and who lost. In fact if one 3-man team won by too big a margin we’d switch players because it wasn’t any fun. 

But the news we heard when the 16-inch tournament was over was not about how much fun the teams had, but who won. 

“Our culture is obsessed with winning: just look at the amount of money cities invest in sports teams,” wrote Lisa Kentgen in an April 2017 post. “A reverence for winners favors a narrow outcome over desirable personal qualities and long-term solutions. This obsession confuses striving for excellence with a drive to stand out compared to others.”

You all know Vince Lombardi’s famous quip: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

I know. I know. The argument goes that competition promotes excellence. And it does. Aaron Rodgers has risen to the top of the very competitive sport of pro football. Good for him, but not so good for my self-worth when I compare my performance to his.

My problem is that this obsession with winning we have promotes excellence in things that I do not value highly. Kentgen argues that our cultural obsession with winning 

Fosters unhealthy relationships: “The motivation to win values the self (or a proxy for the self) above others, inescapably inhibiting cooperation. This limited view cannot appreciate others for who they are and for what they bring to the table.”

Wastes valuable resources: “It generates energy and passion. But, like eating junk food, the cravings are only temporarily alleviated. The hunger for the win itself leads to an inability to see the forest through the trees, and the big picture is lost.”

Narrowly defines self-worth: “The only way to prove our worth is dependent upon a narrow outcome. This creates a fear-driven, Us vs. Them world view.”

Promotes short-term gains at the expense of long-term solutions: “Great leaders are developed and complex problems are solved by adeptly moving through gray areas. Masterful problem-solvers view setbacks as inevitable and do not define them as failures.”

Edmund Lau, in a January 2017 post, said that participating in debate taught him a lot of good things, then confessed, “But debate also taught me a bad habit — one that ironically made it more difficult for me to communicate effectively at home and at work. Debate taught me to argue every point and strive to win every argument. It taught me how to keep arguing even if I didn’t believe my position. And it taught me to never admit that my opponent was right.”

Christian Coon, a Methodist pastor in River Forest, wrote a book titled, Failing Boldly in which he argues that the fear of failure has paralyzed the church [and many of us] from taking the risks necessary if we want to make the changes we need to make to keep up with a changing world.

I grew up 40 miles from Green Bay, so I’m a Packer fan. And I agree that Rodgers and Tom Brady and several other quarterbacks are at the top of their game. But personally, I hope he doesn’t sign with the Packers for this upcoming season. They’ll lose more games without him but they’ll regain my respect.

First, because I don’t like the game he’s playing. He’s only making $21.5 million a year and is now reportedly pushing for — are you ready? — $45 million. 

Do you remember Ernie “Let’s play two” Banks? In his Hall of Fame 19-year career Mr. Cub earned an estimated $680,500. Mr. Rodgers, $680,500 divided by 19 equals $35,816 a year. Whether or not you think the Cubs organization exploited him is not my point.

In contrast to Rodgers, I’m a big fan of Banks — whom I got to see play once at Milwaukee County Stadium — because as the Britannica website notes, “Banks was known for his enthusiasm and love of the game, his trademark cry of let’s play two! reflecting the pure enjoyment he took in baseball. In 2013, Banks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

Second, as a religious person, my main concern really is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. That’s not how the world, i.e. our culture, sees it, but then again my community of faith has always seen itself as “in the world but not of it.”

Tom Holmes writes a regular column in our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...