What does every athletic team in the world have in common with every reality-TV-show contestant at the end of each season? All, except one, go home with a loss on their mind. While watching our premier American sports and music combatants this spring, it seems that everyone expects to be the last one standing, and everyone seems shocked when they are sent home with that final loss, as though winning were an entitlement and losing should be reserved for, well, losers -- something to be tasted only on rare occasions.
This expectation isn't necessarily bad. When an underdog concedes defeat before the battle begins, our competitive instincts get insulted, as though unspoken rules of engagement were violated -- you don't invite, request, or welcome losing. Nobody intentionally practices to be second best -- "the first loser." When the brackets come out, and a play-in team gets matched against a number-one seed, if competitive instinct cannot rile the underdog into believing they can win, save the airfare and stay home. We play to win -- period.
Even Winners Lose
In youth leagues across the country, our five-year-olds learn from their parents' and coaches' behavior almost immediately the adage Vince Lombardi popularized decades ago: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Whether on a field with balls or a stage with microphones, we are regularly reminded that failure to win should be welcomed like a slice of death, that losing practically equals a moral shame. As long-time baseball writer Jerome Holtzman suggests, "Losing is the great American sin," and we work devotionally to purge ourselves from experiencing its pain.
But even an iconic "winner" like Lombardi, who won a ridiculous 74% of the time during the regular season over his ten-year career, while taking five league championships, still drove home with something less than a championship in five of those years. Lombardi’s fifty-fifty experience with final-game loss doesn’t mean he had to accept losing, but apparently even he had to make sense of it at the end of the season half the time.
[Read the rest of the article at Desiring God.]