here in texas…the land of high school football worship…we had a little episode that made national headlines. one of our local teams beat another team 91-0. not only that, they have beaten other schools by the scores of 84-7 (twice), 77-16 and outscored their opponents by an average of 69 points…on the way to an 8-0 record.
to make matters more dramatic, a parent of one of the players whose team lost 91-0, filed a charge of bullying against the coach of the winning team. by law, it was investigated and then dismissed.
the bullying charge was wholeheartedly rejected by pretty much everybody…players, coaches, other parents, school administrators, media…you name it. it was turned into a joke. as well it probably should have been. but to me, there’s a little more to the story.
there is no doubt things have changed over my lifetime. it wasn’t long ago that a boy getting the crap kicked out of him was simply a right of passage. a lot of times, dads were the first ones to do it. it was called helping him grow up to be a man.
the quicker we helped little boys (and later, girls) understand that winning and losing was the way of the world…that only the strong survive…that real men don’t cry…that you have to pick yourself up by your bootstraps…or a hundred other “tough guy” quotes…the better off those little boys would be.
although my father never really taught me those life lessons, i was certainly part of a culture that taught them. i grew up an athletic competitor. i worked hard. i knew the thrill of winning and the emptiness of defeat. i knew what it was like to earn a “starting position” and what it was like to be demoted to the bench…and to pick myself up and “win” back my spot. i think the experience made me a better man.
in college (for all my texas bruthas, that would be my left-coast, hippy, drugged out, liberal, socialist education!), i learned the difference between competitive and non-competitive games. i learned about the joy of participation and the damage of a win-at-any-cost attitude. i started working with kids who didn’t have the resources, family structures or healthy psyches to excel in society naturally.
so we played. sometimes competitively, sometimes not. but always with the view of building confidence, building esteem, building communication skills, building a healthy pride and a sense of teamwork. watching kids, who were at the bottom of the social pecking order, grow and change and develop confidence…because we took the emphasis off of winning and losing and placed it on relationship building and personality formation and healthy life skills…became the joy of my life.
along the way, i began to take the life and words of jesus seriously and started to understand that he called his followers to a different kind of life…one that would almost always stand in opposition to values and ethics of modern society and one that would certainly make for an uncomfortable marriage with the great american dream and the competitive drive it takes to see it become reality.
i have lived with that tension my whole life. i still love good athletic competition, though my days of personally competing are now limited to mere fantasy. i cheer for my teams and generally enjoy my mondays more when the chargers win on sundays. i did everything i could to help my boys achieve their athletic dreams and see success on the field. and it was an awesome season of my life.
but as a follower of christ, my heart is never far from the losers and the forgotten and the outcasts. my heart breaks every time i see the little boy strike out or the little girl who lets the ball go through her legs for the winning goal. i get a lump in my throat when i see the look in the face of the kid who is picked last…or the boys as they climb on the bus after getting their tails whipped 91-0.
can they be better for it? you bet. losing is one of the best ways that character can be built… but not without the help of coaches that are both wise and compassionate. losing…in the hands of careless and misguided parents and coaches…can steal innocence, rob dignity and choke off the will to move forward.
do i think those coaches “ran up” the score to belittle and embarrass the other team? nope. no way.
do i think the mom filing a charge of bullying served any purpose at all? nope…other than to embarrass her own son more than losing ever did.
the answer? as long as there is competition, there will be winners and losers and occasional blow-outs.
i hope there will always be wise and compassionate people around to help pick up the pieces.