By Daniel Dunaief
I am a terrible loser.
I blame John McEnroe, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Pete Rose, and a host of politicians who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept defeat.
All of those people hated to lose. McEnroe had temper tantrums that were so epic that he’s spoofed himself many times, complaining in movies that “you can’t be serious” when things don’t go his way.
Frustrated with the umpiring in a game, Martin would kick dirt on home plate or have an epic meltdown in front of over 50,000 people.
I don’t ever remember any of those tirades or temper tantrums when they or their teams were winning.
Being American means winning. To borrow from the cliche, it means giving 110%.
I can’t tolerate losing, just as CEOs, politicians, athletes and sports coaches and managers can’t stand it, either. Many people hate losing as much if not more than they enjoy winning.
The fans who pay to see their teams win, not just to see them play, boo mercilessly when stars like the New York Knicks Julius Randle don’t live up to their contracts and don’t lead the team to more victories than defeats.
Randle recently expressed his frustration in response to the fans’ disappointment by giving them the thumbs down in a game.
Unconditioned positive regard, however, doesn’t come with having your name in lights or being a star on a celebrated team.
We get that from family members, sometimes, and from psychologists or psychiatrists.
As Americans, we have expectations of ourselves that have been set, in some cases, by role models like athletes, politicians and other popular icons.
At the end of the year, sports networks don’t focus on the best concessions speeches and the most gracious losers.
They are much more likely to replay the greatest rants and epic press conferences when athletes or coaches completely lose their composure in response to a question. We watch in rapt fascination as these superstars have a tantrum or glumly express disappointment.
Being a sore loser is also good business. The media empires on the left and the right long ago figured that out. During the Trump administration, nothing the former president said or did was good enough. The outrage factor over his thoughts, actions, gaffes and verbal inadequacies were attacked mercilessly.
Fox, which spent the last four years laughing at the liberal crying machine, has now turned its attention to attacking President Joe Biden (D) in a similar fashion, mocking everything he says or does or doesn’t do.
People in the sports world describe muscle memory. They train their bodies and minds to react to evolving situations instantly, so they know where to go, what to do, and how to advance their cause.
That preparation almost never includes lessons on what to do when you lose or are losing. No one plays to lose, and yet, every game has a loser.
Maybe this year, we should prepare ourselves better for the moment we lose. We don’t have to be miserable, stare out blankly at the field, the way baseball players always do after the last game of the World Series, wishing they could have been that team that’s dogpiling near the pitcher’s mound.
Maybe this year, when people are continuing to struggle with a third year of the pandemic, we can hope for a celebration of great competition from both teams.
We can take comfort and feel joy in the recognition that we brought out the best in each other.
Even when we lose, we can, to borrow from Lou Gehrig, still feel like the “luckiest people on the face of the Earth” for having been a part of something we know is special, regardless of the outcome.