Losing sucks. There’s no two ways about it.
You invest blood, sweat and tears into something and come up short. It hurts. Bad.
Losing can cut you to your very soul, and how you handle it reveals a great deal about who you are.
Believe it or not, there’s a lot of character getting revealed out there.
There are 32 teams in the National Football League; only one wins the Super Bowl.
There are 351 teams in 32 conferences in Division I of the NCAA. Only 68 basketball teams reach the national championship tournament – and of those teams only the national champion wins its last game. Everyone else ends their season with a loss.
It’s the same on the world stage. There are 211 countries playing soccer and only 32 qualify for the World Cup tournament. Only one lifts the trophy at the end.
It’s the same with high school sports. Each sport is broken down by size, but there is only one state champion crowned per year.
The bottom line is this, the better you are, the more likely it becomes that you will see your season end on a loss.
You would think we would learn to handle it better.
The simple fact is that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. That depends on HOW you lose.
After the Seattle Seahawks lost their final game of the season, 36-20 in Atlanta, defensive end Michael Bennett was interviewed by KCPQ reporter Bill Wixey. When asked why the pass rush struggled to get pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Bennett exploded with a profanity-laden tirade that belittled the reporter for never having played professional football.
Look, if strapping on a helmet and playing in the NFL is a prerequisite for asking post-game questions after playoff games, the networks never got the memo. Most of their sideline reporters are women.
And don’t get me started on the “insights” of the former players who occupy the announcer’s booth for these games. If I ever have to listen to Troy Aikman offer insight into ANYTHING again, it will be too soon.
Bennett demanded to know from Wixey “What injury you play through? What adversity you went through?”
Here’s the thing. Bill Wixey is a cancer survivor: Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to be exact.
Yup. Talk about railing at the wrong guy.
One of the harder things you do as a reporter is talk to athletes and coaches immediately following a loss.
Personally, I try to give them time to deal with the immediate onrush of emotions that follow suffering a tough loss. Sometimes, however, deadlines mean getting in there and asking tough questions at a very tough time.
And the vast majority of the athletes and coaches I’ve interviewed have been gracious. Some are understandably angry at a situation that may have influenced the game, but most understand that reporters have a job to do.
Football players love to quote Vince Lombardi, who famously said “winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
More appropriately, he said “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”
That quote gets used a lot, but it really is a load of hogwash.
It’s not an excuse to throw a tantrum. It’s not an excuse for a tirade like the one that Bennett aimed at Wixey nor is it an excuse for Richard Sherman telling long-time Seattle reporter Jim Moore “I’ll end your career.”
Of course, Richard Sherman is known for ripping on opponents even when he wins (Michael Crabtree of the 49ers, for example).
I have seen and admired the class so many of our area athletes have shown in the face of a tough loss over all these many years – especially when they have literally poured every ounce of their personal will into their effort. The number of thrown helmets I have seen in 30 years I can count on one hand – there have been a few more thrown towels or warm-ups, but not that many. The number of tears I have seen shed, however, are innumerable.
I have seen young athletes unable to talk after a tough loss, and I find that perfectly understandable. And I have great respect for them, and their reasons, when they decline to talk to me.
A high school coach set my personal gold standard. His girls basketball team lost to the same team three times, always by two points. There were dramatic calls that contributed to those three losses and there were missed opportunities that kept his team from pulling out a win. The third loss came in a loser-out, winner-to-state game.
He had a great team that year, and not getting the chance to take them to the state tournament was devastating. When I approached him after the game, he simply shook his head.
“I guess they’re just two points better than we are,” he said.
With so many more eyes watching professional athletes, there should be no excuse for childish behavior.
I don’t give professional athletes a pass when their losses come on a bigger stage, but I do give them bonus credit when they carry themselves with both dignity and class.
And every year it happens, whether it’s the losing quarterback or a coach looking to cover his own backside for a bad call: someone is going to make themselves look like the north end of a south-bound horse. Michael Bennett will not be alone in that category.
You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to human nature.
You just don’t have to like it. And you certainly don’t want to see your kids use their bad behavior as a role model.
Email Steve Christilaw at email@example.com.
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