December 04, 2004

Winning

As Ralph McInerny writes in his NYT op-ed about Notre Dame football: "The sad thing about the Willingham firing is that winning at all costs now seems paramount." One could say the same about the drug scandals in cycling, baseball, and track.

Winning is kind of a catch-22. Very often, the sweetest victories follow an effort that we remember as being somehow "all-out, whatever it takes." We speak of the "sacrifice" of other goals and pleasures that we make in order to grab victory by the throat, and not let go. "Cheap victories" somehow don't feel as good--the glory of winning depends upon the single-minded sacrifice that comes before.

On the other hand, we often say that winning "at all costs" somehow tarnishes the achievement. We recognize that victory can come at too high a price. Cheating may be one example--when the price of victory is playing the game differently, we're less eager to respect the "winner."

The drug scandals seem to be a kind of cheating. But what about Notre Dame football? McInerny points out that victory in big-time college football these days might require that the athletes be treated like highly-paid gladiators, that we give them every athletic advantage possible, but at the cost of dropping all expectations of them as students, or even as dignified citizens (something that schools like Colorado and Nebraska seem so willing to do when their players are accused of rape). This isn't the same kind of thing as "cheating" at football, but it still seems to tarnish the glory of victory.

Where is the right balance? How much sacrifice for the sake of winning is too much? How much is too little? Though this question might not be easy to answer, it's clear that winning isn't valuable in itself. The sweetness of victory depends crucially on how you play the game.

Posted by Carey at December 4, 2004 08:54 AM
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