Thursday, March 7, 2013

If you win the good sportsmanship award, are you an oxymoron?

Everyone loves a good sport. I’m talking about the genuine article, the person who, win or lose but especially in loss, always has a smile and a word of sincere praise for the opponent. It’s obvious why we value good sportsmanship: in its true form, it reminds us that some of the greatest joy in life comes not from being better than other people but achieving our own personal best.

Here’s the thing, though. There are two kinds of good sport. There’s the real thing, as described above, and then there’s the rest of us. It isn’t quite so genuine with us. Feel that tightness in your face when you try to smile? That’s the feeling you get when your good sportsmanship veneer is threatening to crack. We can’t help it. We value good sportsmanship as much as the next person, yet we can’t help but wish the next person were standing on a platform just a little lower than ours watching us take the prize. I have to admit I have a soft spot for this kind of good sport, especially when the façade is revealed. I’m not talking about the pouting, trash-talking major leaguer who throws a tantrum, his glove, a large cooler of water and all the extra Louisville sluggers in the dugout. I’m talking McKayla Maroney, vexed and not hiding it, about to become a facebook meme. At least this is one Miss Congeniality who isn’t pretending she’s just glad to be there.
And why shouldn’t I admit this? Face it: losing sucks. Yes, the degree of suckness can vary a great deal from person to person, situation to situation. But no one prefers losing to winning.

Case in point: he’s there and she’s there and you’re there, and there’s no question who’s the winner and who’s the loser. They win. You lose. Oh, no one’s gloating, not one bit, but they might as well. The way her eyes light up when he appears, the way his follow her every move, the way they stand too close together, laugh too much, smile too bright and long, so you smile too, smile and smile, even though a tidal wave of acid reflux is blistering your esophagus, because you have to be a good sport about it, you see. What else can you do? It could have been you, it almost was you, but ultimately he picked her instead. Her by a landslide, a landslide that buries you deeper and deeper into the ground that right now they dance upon together. You smile because the only other thing to do is run away and never come back and even though that’s probably the smartest thing you could do, that would make you one worse than a loser—that would make you a quitter—and nobody loves a quitter, everyone loves a good sport, and that’s really what you want, isn’t it, not to win but to be loved? So you smile. Smile and smile, and keep smiling, and try not to wonder just when exactly you’re supposed to start feeling loved for it.



  1. Remember, when you lose, there's no rule anywhere that says you have to like it. And as I've been there all too many times in similar situations, there's also no rule that says you have to hang around and watch the "winners" keep playing after you've lost all your chips. It's not quitting when the game is over, after all...just remember to start another game somewhere else where the odds are better.

  2. Wow. Hard to read! Looking at the date, recalling events, it's appalling!