Author's Note: I didn't realize that as I was writing this, Kentucky themselves were being sore losers. My apologies to those readers looking for that story.
Here's the double-edged sword of all competitive events: if you gloat, if you preen, if you vociferously celebrate the losing of a team that you hate, well, all of that is fair game. However, if you say anything that attempts to explain the loss, then you are a "sore loser."
Case in point: tonight, for reasons personal to my wife, we were for Kentucky. Normally, she hates Kentucky, but this year, circumstances dictated otherwise. I followed the game late. In particular, I reacted to the refs' no-call on a shot clock violation against Wisconsin down the stretch. I also reacted against the "one and a half steps" of a large, Wisconsin white boy driving the lane who managed to spin, among other things, in his long, arduous path to the lane.
When the game was over, and Kentucky had lost, one friend texted, "Jesus is a Badger." I responded, "The refs are a Badger." My other friend responded, "Oh, the chant of the sore loser." Etc.
So, here's the problem: you can invoke religion, you can kick someone when he is down, you can be a complete jerk (I'm not obviously not claiming in this case--none of us cared abut this game much) and all of that is completely acceptable, is fair game, is how it's done. But try to justify why your team lost, and you are a sore loser.
Yeah, I've been on both sides of it. Heck, I'm a Steeler fan. This time, I didn't care that much one way or the other, but like any good husband, I am going to support my wife for her reasons.
In the last month, I've read any number of explanations about what is wrong with college basketball, have heard personal testimonials about other reasons. Funny thing about those people is that when their team or the team they are for wins, all of that goes out the window. For example, if the problem with college basketball is Kentucky, then the second that Kentucky loses, they are no longer the problem.
The "winner" culture that pervades our sports and our society skews our understanding of situations by creating a mindset, which we all accept, that what the winner did was right and what the loser did was wrong. Surely, we know that things are not that simple, but it is too easy to accept the "all win" vs. "all lose" perspective that analysis seems tedious and, really, pointless. The losing candidate in a political campaign, for example, immediately sees all of his or her ideas invalidated.
In sports, it is probably worse. Except in the Olympics, where you at least get a medal, the runners-up in a competition become immediately irrelevant. So Kentucky, who strung together an unprecedented unbeaten streak this season will be forgotten, or will be a footnote, because they did not win the last game they played. Achievement by sports teams is not recognized, only winning is. Pundits will be parsing for weeks what Kentucky did wrong, because they were the mightiest and the mightiest fell.
I don't know that there is anything to be done about it. It is so ingrained within us that now, with the immediacy of technology, we can gloat the second a contest is over. So any kind of self-reflective response to a competition is likely to be lost in the moment, especially when we can celebrate victories that we don't own around the world as fast as we can type them.
We all know the many rights, privileges, and, indeed, histories themselves, which are granted to the winners. I just wonder if that is worth a little examination. Typically, for example, the biggest gloaters are not those whose team has won, but those whose team has lost and so they must wish ill fortune on teams that haven't, perhaps teams that have beaten their team, as a way to assuage their own anger and disappointment. It's human nature. But that doesn't mean that it is acceptable behavior.
Maybe, in the way of good and bad, Heaven and Hell, chocolate and vanilla, Yin and Yang, in addition to the label "sore loser," we should solidify the counter-label "ungracious winner."