Much to the delight of many of my friends who know my dislike towards most major sporting-event cultures, football included, my second son has started playing tackle football this season. He’s really good. And I’m not just saying that because I’m his Daddy. He’s a natural and even scored his first touchdown in his very first game. But now I’m just bragging.
Because of weigh-ins, etc., we have to arrive an hour before game-time. I bring a book but I actually get caught up watching people. People are endlessly interesting when you take the time to look. There was a pee-wee game before our game (is that actually what it’s called? The little kids, like 5-6 years old?). I started reading during weigh-ins but I was quickly sidetracked by two women from one side yelled at a woman from the other team.
I won’t repeat what was yelled (my ears still hurt), but here’s the gist: A woman from the other team (and by that, I simply mean the team on the other side of the field from where I was sitting), came to stand on the sidelines of the opposing team. She would follow the coaches around and report back, via cell-phone to her home team what the opposing team’s coaches were saying. Two of the woman on the team nearest me overheard this and began verbally assaulting the cell-phone spy. I mean, verbally assaulting. There’s no nicer way to refer to what they did.
The ref was called over. The game was paused. Threats of calling the police were exchanged. And all this over the pee wee game! Of course this is where I get on my soap-box about raising our children with an unhealthy sense of competition and convince them from an early age that they should be better than others. Competitive sports can be healthy but are more often than not, breeding grounds for the ugliness of the human heart.
As if all of this wasn’t interesting enough to distract me from my book, there were bigger thoughts than just sports swirling about in the fog of my brain. The team closest to wear I was sitting, the team whose privacy had been violated by the cell-phone spy, and who had responded so caustically, was dressed in black. And pink. Because of course they were dressed in pink. And the adults had on team shirts with “Losing Is Not An Option” emblazoned in pink across their backs, with the “Breast Cancer Awareness” pink bow as part of the team logo.
Now don’t get me wrong, I oppose cancer. Cancer sucks. I have lost an almost lost family and friends to cancer. I support cancer research. But I’m not comfortable aligning opposition to cancer with competitive sports so that “Losing Is Not An Option” can refer to either.
What’s wrong with instilling a healthy sense of competition into our children you might ask? Nothing. I talk to my son a lot about trying his best, about funneling nervous energy and all that stuff. But, let’s be honest, is it healthy, much less kind to teach our children that “Losing is not an option,” whether in sports or the fight against cancer. People die from cancer every day. Certainly they are not failures. Anything but.
And people lose football games every day. And most of them are not failures. But many of them believe they are failures because they have been told that failure is not an option. This is nothing but unkind to our children. Part of the beauty of children’s sports is teaching our young ones to win with humility and lose with grace.
But it’s nothing to treat people like mere obstacles in your path when failure is not an option. It’s nothing to spy on the coaches or scream obscenities, curses, threats and denigrations at someone when failure is not an option. Is’s nothing to to gauge worth by success or failure. It’s easy to forget that we are people dealing with other people.
I want my son to succeed. But I want him to love people even more. I want him to know that when he loses (and someday he will) that he is not a loser. I want him to learn from defeat rather than suffer from it. When losing is not an option, we forget that the opposing team is just as much made in the image of God as we are. When losing is not an option, we proclaim that we are better than Jesus Himself, who, through death, turned everything upside down.