Lombardi Was a Loser

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?

E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo, Texas and the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious (History Press, 2013). He can be reached at: erbillsthinks@gmail.com. Read other articles by E.R..

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 4th, 2011 at 8:38am #

    it is not only americans who promote personal supremacism. competing to be the ‘best’ with rules devised by ‘best’ may be at least 10 k yrs old.

    supremacism, of which nazism and fascism r just branches., had been taught to tillers, fishers, laborers by priestly-noble class in all of asia and europe.

    Bills does not, seems, want to wade in this ‘minefield’ . hey bills, don’t worry– the ‘holy spirits’, the wrath of ‘god’, priestly voodoo craft cannot harm u.

    and hell has indeed cooled dwn sufficiently to suit even a rabbi like ovadiah.
    hasn’t this very nice fella even outdone hitler in determining who’s ‘best’ in the world? and for all time? and not just for a few paltry mn yrs? tnx

  2. Loucleve said on February 4th, 2011 at 9:03am #

    Lombardi was not a loser, and I while I agree with the authors positions, I object to the title of the article.

    It has been many, many years since I read Jerry Kramers book on his time with the Green Bay Packers under Lombardi. I do recall that he was a stern task-master. But I also seem to recall that he was a great man for reasons other than football.

    To make such a blanket statement over such a revred figure is shallow and shortsighted. I suppose next it will be that George Washington was a loser.

  3. kalidasa said on February 4th, 2011 at 11:20am #

    A society of cheaters and the cheated.
    From top to bottom. ( and in between)

  4. Deadbeat said on February 4th, 2011 at 3:18pm #

    ER Bills writes …

    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.

    This type of misleading spin is typical of poor journalism and plays upon sexism to create a fallacious comparison. Marion Jones competed in the Olympics where there are STRICT rules against doping. However when McGwire (who has admitted) used steroids, there were NO rules against the use. In other words McGwire didn’t break any rules and did what his predecessors did like Hank Aaron who used amphetamines. Bonds on the other hands has never admitted to using steroids and there has only been allegations however even if he did use steroids, he broke no rules and committed no crimes.

    Therefore both McGwire and Bonds clearly would not “share” the same “disgrace” as Jones. In Harding’s case she ASSAULTED the competition which is a crime.

    There is something to be said about sports but like all things in this system it is corrupted by Capitalism. Ending Capitalism will end the idea of winning is everything.

  5. The Evil One said on February 5th, 2011 at 4:33am #

    The truth is that by American standards 99.999% of the human race have no right to consider themselves as better than losers.

    Loucleve.

    I think the point of the title was to point out how ridiculous this worship of winning as everything is. If you judge by this standard anyone who does not come first all the time is a loser. Only won 5 Olympic gold medals, loser, only a multi-illionaire but not a billionaire, loser not married to a young super model loser.

  6. The Evil One said on February 5th, 2011 at 4:36am #

    E R Bills.

    It might help if you gave a short biography of Lombardi for those of us not au fait with US elite sportsmen and coaches.

  7. Don Hawkins said on February 5th, 2011 at 4:49am #

    “If a team is to reach its potential, each player must be willing to subordinate his personal goals to the good of the team.”
    –Bud Wilkinson

    That was a great quote from Bud and as we all go down the drain in not such slow motion let’s see how the good of the team play’s out as it sure does seem the team is life on Earth. Ask that question to your average pro football player then say think about it take a few minutes unless of course you have been living under a rock.

  8. Don Hawkins said on February 5th, 2011 at 5:07am #

    First we read this to say the Dallas Cowboy’s football team;

    02/02/11
    A fierce heatwave has continued for a third day in NSW with temperatures ripping into the forties, dozens of people taken to hospital and bushfires erupting across the state.
    Paramedics have helped more than 55 people suffering from heat-related illnesses since the heatwave began on Monday, and the number of calls for assistance is expected to rise as the big heat continues.
    Most of those needing help were construction workers, elderly people and young women suffering dizziness, heat exhaustion and severe dehydration, a NSW Ambulance spokesman told AAP on Wednesday.
    Although Wednesday was slightly cooler than Tuesday, temperatures in Sydney’s western suburbs still nudged into the forties. Penrith had recorded a peak of 41.1 degrees by 3pm (AEDT). Elsewhere, temperatures peaked in the high thirties. Herald Sun

    Then we could start off with ok a question what is the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius? Ok then is Australia in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere? Let’s make this a true or false question is Australia located on the third planet from the Sun in our solar system. Ok let’s make this a shout-out you get one call. I wonder who would be at the top of the list there lawyer, broker?

  9. Don Hawkins said on February 5th, 2011 at 5:31am #

    EL-ARISH, Egypt
    The gas pipelines have come under attack in the past. Bedouin tribesmen attempted to blow up the pipeline last July as tensions intensified between them and the Egyptian government, which they accuse of discrimination and of ignoring their plight.

    Israel relies on the gas pipeline to meet its energy needs and spends billions to bring natural gas from Egypt.

    Israeli officials said it was not clear whether the explosion affected the pipeline leading to Israel.

    “At this stage, the gas supply to Israel was stopped according to procedure in emergency scenarios,” said Chen Ben Lulu, spokesman of Israel’s Infrastructure Ministry. “We are not sure what caused the explosion.”

    Ok then let’s make this an easy one is Egypt located in North Africa? Another true or false question is natural gas natural. What State were you born in?

  10. mary said on February 5th, 2011 at 7:05am #

    Are you quite sure it was Bedouin tribesmen who were responsible? Were you getting that from one of the US propaganda channels?

    You might have read that a contingent of US troops from Groton has gone to that area plus 800 Israeli ‘troops’.

    I would not put it past the Israelis or the Americans to get up to tricks like that which make good headlines that all Arabs are terrorists.

  11. Don Hawkins said on February 5th, 2011 at 7:21am #

    Mary I got that on the AOL start up screen and where did they get that information good question maybe it came from the ministry of information somewhere on Earth.

  12. Don Hawkins said on February 5th, 2011 at 8:10am #

    In a time of Universal Deceit probably best to believe nothing and repeat the obvious two plus two equal’s four is a good example.

  13. Don Hawkins said on February 5th, 2011 at 8:43am #

    I just used the two plus two equals four math and I’ll bet 30% of the population of the States knows about the Universal deceit part. Now about 2% of the population or less who use two plus two equal’s 27 if nothing else are somewhat relentless and have the other 58% of the population in Oz so to speak. Boring this will not be. That 2% number could be a larger number if we count the little helpers the American Media.

  14. Don Hawkins said on February 6th, 2011 at 4:14am #

    Ok then Katie Couric of CBS News and Brian Williams of NBC have decided it’s best to try it from home as to walk like an Egyptian a little harder than they thought. Now some people are beginning to worry that a few are having difficulty distinguishing between reality and movies, and between themselves and the roles they play. How’s Oprah Winfrey doing these day’s did she move on from giving away a new car and a refrigerator and lot’s of little plastic thing’s. How about Hollywood in general any new movies at least for the actors who are not in rehab or need to be in rehab is Randy still in Canada did anybody check on him. You hang in there Randy. What’s going on at Fox New’s lately are they waiting for the last glorious battle the Christians against the Muslim’s and baby it’s so cold outside. Maybe just waiting for the apocalypse while they prepare food outside the studio. I saw on the Weather Channel maybe our last hope of truth about ten meteorologists stand in front of a screen and figure out the day’s, week’s weather. I like GOES full disk myself and usually just say oh crap and sometimes think about climate change, drinking water supplies, agriculture, habitats and life on Earth in general. What is today that’s right Sunday of course it’s super bowl Sunday do they barbeque in front of the Colosseum or the Coliseum I mean stadium good weather for the game. I see we are getting a new message do it for the gripper. One for the gipper meaning. what is a gipper. give one for the gipper. score one for the gipper. what is a Gipper. Yep the shinny city on the hill very soon. Now color me crazy but seem’s to be a few things missing if we wish to survive reason, knowledge tax carbon not high speed trains but tracks that can just handle trains, mass transit in our cities if we must have cities a total focus on research clean energy here’s a big one work together but we do well could have fooled me. 135 billion for bonuses Wall Street a record in the greatest nation on Earth and a rising tide lifts all boats and if it keep’s snowing some this summer will need boat’s alright. Do it for the gripper; the insanity of it all is mind boggling.

  15. Don Hawkins said on February 6th, 2011 at 4:52am #

    The United States has urged an orderly transition of power in Egypt, but has not said whether Mubarak should leave immediately. voa

    An orderly transition hay the Mubarak family has property on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Mubarak thinking of a move remember California’s best shops, beutiques & stores granted this summer if it warms up to fast and the snow pack now well over 200% of normal and those levees in the Sacramento valley somewhat in ruff shape but should be ok in the LA area heck maybe you could help us all with a little rehab in the Northern Hemisphere if nothing else just go shopping.

  16. Don Hawkins said on February 6th, 2011 at 5:11am #

    We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
    Plato
    Greek author & philosopher in Athens (427 BC – 347 BC)

    For the football payers in today’s game BC doesn’t stand for before the Colosseum.

    BC is the Abbreviation for ‘Before Christ’, used in the Gregorian Calendar to refer to the era before the birth of Jesus Christ.

    AD is the Abbreviation for Anno Domini , Latin for ‘The Year Of Our Lord ‘, used in the Gregorian Calendar to refer to the current era.

    If you are still having trouble with this maybe call your lawyer or broker now there is something called a search engine if you open the hood of your car, SUV bingo there it is.

  17. zackattack784 said on February 10th, 2011 at 3:27pm #

    Perhaps you should have done some research before beginning your rant. Vince Lombardi was not the first person to speak the famous “Winning isn’t everything…” line. Henry Russell Sanders first spoke that line 9 years before Lombardi. Even more, Lombardi’s exact words are disputed.

    Overall I disagree with most of this article. Comparing winning in sporting events to other real-world activities is unprofessional, lazy researching, and a huge stretch of the imagination. Must be a Steelers fan…