Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.
In thousands of high school, college and even pro locker rooms around the country, it is written. During hundreds of thousands of half-time speeches, motivational speaking seminars and out-of-town sales conventions, it is repeated. It defines American sports. It rationalizes American Capitalism. It’s a dangerous lie perpetrated by the shortsighted, the ignorant and the morally suspect.
I played high school and college sports. I understand that in a sweaty, adrenaline-pumped, brainwashed locker room setting, this quote makes a certain sense. But people take these mantras out into the world and live by them and justify scrupulousness with them.
“Winning is the only thing” justifies gathering exceptional players at well-to-do high schools by hook or by crook. “Winning is the only thing” justifies paying future Heisman Trophy winners (or their parents) to play for your school. “Winning is the only thing” justifies future Super Bowl champions illegally filming opposing teams’ defensive play-calling signals to ensure wins.
In the last several years we’ve seen sterling examples of all three. “Sterling” as in trophies. And the unscrupulous winning parties went largely unpunished, so the mantra was affirmed.
Oh, there have been a few hitches, most of the high-profile cases involving women. Tonya Harding obviously took the mantra over the top. Marion Jones ran her way into the record books juiced up on this credo and it backfired horribly. And arguably, unfairly.
Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds hardly share her disgrace. And Alex Rodriguez is still playing.
Tour de France winner Floyd Landis took a spill in 2006, but, for the most part, winning is still the only thing and campaigns to challenge this sentiment haven’t received much traction.
One of my conservative uncles used to say that dollar signs were the only way to rack up points on the scoreboard of life, and I vehemently disagreed. But winning was the only thing for BP on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and they were so anxious for another big score that they ignored failed pressure tests and skipped or skirted numerous safety precautions. Winning was also the only thing for big health insurance companies when they automatically challenged every medical claim they could to avoid losing revenue. And winning is the only thing that keeps natural gas magnates from coming clean about the current and long-term impacts of the “fracking” method of gas extraction, the induced seismicity it’s led to and the toxins it introduces into our water supplies.
“Winning is the only thing” is what led to the nefarious whisper campaigns that Karl Rove generated to knock off John McCain in the Republican Presidential Primary of 2000. “Winning is the only thing” led to the shocking cover-up of the friendly-fire death of former NFL star Pat Tillman in 2004.
“Winning is the only thing” is also what led to the ludicrous legal rationale for “corporate personhood.” By “winning” the rights afforded under the law to natural persons for corporations, corporate entities established themselves as “super players” who—by the sheer fact of their numbers (human and monetary, but mostly monetary)—normal players or citizens couldn’t compete with in the democratic process. And now the winning edge of “corporate persons” is felt in every election cycle when corporate donations determine our leadership and on a daily basis when corporate-controlled lobbyists—democratic representation on steroids—determine our “rules” or laws and “reffing” or governance.
So let’s set the record straight.
Winning isn’t anything if it’s the only thing.
If you and I aren’t lining up on a level playing field, no one really wins.
If the refs are in either of our pockets, the game isn’t worth playing.
And if one of us is juiced up on performance-enhancing drugs or profit-enhancing legalese, the scoreboard is a disgrace.
How long will we continue to embarrass ourselves? How long will conquests and wealth continue to justify cheating, inequality and kleptocracy?
How long will our hopes for the future continue to take a back seat to destructive victories?