With the arrival of fall and the baseball playoffs, Iím reminded about playing Little League when I was a kid. Not because any of our games or playoffs matched the spectacle of Major League Baseball, however exciting they were to me at the time, but because of the mantra my coaches and father recited to us at every practice and game.
ďItís not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that matters.Ē
It may be dated, even a little clichťd, but sometimes old school wisdom is the best kind.
As the playoffs pick up, and rivalries begin to reach their zenith, I sometimes wonder what ever happened to good sportsmanship. When we were kids, no matter how competitive the games got, when the game was over, there were no hard feelings between us, usually.
It always takes me by surprise, and startles me a little, when I see people rooting against a team more than rooting for one. When did being a bad sport become the norm? When did being a sore loser become acceptable? When did winning at all costs replace playing the game right?
When I was a kid, I wanted to win just as badly as anyone. Believe me, losses crushed me just as much as the next guy, especially when making the last out. They still sting a little. However, I remember clearly after these Little League losses moving on. My best friend, and better ball player than I, was on my teamís arch rival. I didnít hold a grudge in the neighborhood the next day. All of us kids on the different teams, once the uniforms were off and the games were over, went back to playing with one another. We moved on, were still friends, and went about business as usual.
Our rivals made us better. They pushed us to play harder and be better. If they countered our strengths, we needed to be creative and innovative and find a different way to win. To succeed. As a fan, I donít hate my teamís rival. I treasure them, for my team is less without them.
Things havenít changed. Rivals still make us better. The Sox bring out the best ball in the Yankees, as do the Yanks for the Sox ó well, in most years anyway. However, when one team beats the other, does the loser refuse to take the field for the next game? No. The players pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back to work after a loss. In most cases, they work harder to right the loss. They work harder to succeed.
So what troubles me today is this lack of good sportsmanship. I still try to ingrain it in my girls, as my father did with me. But it seems there was a whole generation who missed this simple lesson. So what if weíre on opposing teams or parties? So what if your team lost? So what if my party lost? Move on. Donít be a sore loser. Shake it off and get back up. Thereís work to do.
And the funny thing about the baseball playoffs is that every four years, they coincide with a presidential election. So I get a double dose of watching the decay of sportsmanship.
Being on opposing teams is OK. Good even.
We strengthen each other with our differences and through our competing campaigns. We donít need to hate the other team because when the election or game is over, weíre still from the same neighborhood. Arenít we?
Is there more at stake in an election than a baseball game? Sure. More reason to keeping working together and continue to succeed as a nation.
When itís all done, no matter who wins, we still have work to do. We canít refuse to play the game just because we lost. We need to dust ourselves off, take the field and get back to work.
Frankly, thereís too much at risk if we donít. Our rivals make us stronger, they make us rise up and be our best. Without each other we wonít reach our greatest potential. By ourselves we wonít see the most innovative solutions; we canít be our best.
Only working together, and challenging each other, will we truly succeed and be winners.
Mark Freeman is a resident of Hyde Park.MORE IN Perspective
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