Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sore Losers vs. ?

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."


Billy said...

If you are a true team fan, only one thing can come close to matching the pleasure of "your" team winning a big game, and that is the pleasure of your "arch enemy" team losing a big game.

I gloated privately to two people. On Twitter, I praised UK. On Facebook, I only mocked how irrational someone like me can be watching a game -- the kind of irrationality that comes with statements like "Jesus/the refs are Badgers". Like for example how you conveniently forgot the Flagrant 1 Foul ("the sucker punch") against Kentucky that wasn't called.

I do that, too, when I'm on the sore loser side. And ALL true fans are sore losers. ALL OF THEM. It's only the degree to which they can keep those feelings and reactions in check that separate decent ones from insufferable ones.

goofytakemyhand said...


In your particular situation, it is compounded by UK currently being one of the most polarizing programs of the last 25 years.

I sincerely doubt there was much national chest-thumping after Duke's blowout win over Mich. State.

Anyhow, I'm sure Billy as a can concur when as a student, the Tar Heels beat the Fab Five and their long shorts and hip-hop hubris - even though there was no rivalry.

And this UK - Wisconsin game and the one last year reminded me of the UNLV - Duke that were as much morality plays as they were basketball games in the 1990 finals, and 1991 semis...

And I agree entirely with what Billy said about irrationality - and now with social media "armchair quarterbacks" can type their knee-jerk reactions. It's why I stay off Facebook and Twitter. Well that, and it seems 90% of my friends are neo-cons and love to tell the world about it on a daily basis.

And Bob, the officiating was awful on both sides. Lyles' non-call on the flagrant one was laughable. There were clean strips/blocks on both sides being called fouls. As much as UK supporters want to complain about the shot-clock violation, they might want to ask why Calipari switched screens defensively creating so many mismatches for Wisconsin to exploit or why UK ran so many sets down the stretch where the offense did not go through Karl Anthony Towns' or any other big.

Just my two cents.

Bob said...

@ mike pence I didn't watch the game, so I can't say. I got baited by a text, took the bait, and then did some baiting of my own. No, my point is that iF someone tries to explain a loss, any loss, then they are sore losers. But you can be a complete jerk in winning and that is acceptable.

@billy it's hard to see Ky as an "arch enemy." The teams have met a mere 37 times in 81 years. UNC holds a strong edge. In terms of post season, they have met 3 times and UNC has won 2. Weak case for ill will, imho.

Billy said...

@Bob -- Dook is the singular "arch enemy," to be sure, but UK is an extremely despised team, arguably in our top 3. Two big reasons why:

(1) UK is the winningest team in hoops history. UNC briefly surpassed them in the early '90s but then fell behind by the early '00s. The only reason some of us don't despise Kansas (also now ahead of us) as much is because most UNC fans respect the state for being the foundation of both of our recent national champion coaches, Dean Smith (Kansas native) and Roy Williams (former Kansas coach). So we sort of owe 'em a little.

And (2) Most UNC fans consider Adolph Rupp the Anti-Dean Smith of basketball. While Dean actively championed civil rights and integration, Rupp was famously racist. In our self-righteous and biased noggins, we sort of think that without Rupp's 4 racist titles, UK would have fewer (4) than UNC (5).

One of the many annoying things about UNC fans is how entitled to self-righteousness we feel merely because a beloved coach was also something of a decent human being. As if that makes all of us clean and beyond reproach in the eyes of God and man.

G. B. Miller said...

I think that you're sadly mistaken about UK having the most wins, because it doesn't take into account the woman's game. Specifically UCONN (I'm from CT and I despise UCONN for variety of reasons that are way too lengthy to get into here).

Right now, can you honestly say that UCONN isn't the better team, hands down?

The only team to win as many national championships as UCONN was the UCLA Bruins under John Wooden.

And frankly, as much as I despise UCONN, they can beat any top men's team, including UK or Duke.

Billy said...

G.B.: Whoa down there big fella. The five best players in the history of the UConn women's team, a program one would have to be insane not to respect for its dominance and consistency, could combined not defeat a top 20 men's team in any of the last 20 years. If you don't believe me, go ask Auriemma, because I daresay he'd agree with me. I'd hope he'd also be insulted to think their inability to beat a men's team should diminish their accomplishments.

Comparing women's basketball to men's basketball is like comparing men's and women's power lifting, or the long jump and high jump, so comparing is unfair to both.

As someone who witnessed, as a student, UNC win the men's title in '93 and the women's in '94, I can promise you no sane person equated the talent level or the ability of those two teams... except when exclusively compared to others in their own gender-exclusive fields.

That said, in the acknowledgement of coaching supremacy, the comparison between Wooden and Auriemma is a fair one.

goofytakemyhand said...

Some differences in men's and women's college basketball from someone who has witnessed 100s of games in person on both sides and once recruited Florida and the Caribbean for two years (before I swore off sports):

#1 The men's game is played well above the rim. There are very few women who can play at the rim. Note all the Notre Dame women who couldn't even finish at the rim against UConn.

#2 I went to a school that was regularly in the women's Top 25. Most of the men's practice squad that matched against them in practice evenly were guys who were at best decent high school players who just wanted to stay in shape and play a better level of competition that what they'd see in intramurals. At UTK, one of my classmates who was cut in even junior varsity defended a future WNBA player with no problem. A rower who might have played one year of basketball did the same at UGA.

#3 A player like Brianna Stewart who might go down as one of the best women's basketball players ever is 6'4" 170 lb. Comparable men's players at her position whether they are starters or at the end of the bench at her position are about 6'10" 240 lb. Any shot she ever took would be either blocked or altered.

#4 Once a men's guard catches a ball on the perimeter, the amount of ground they cover in their first step before a dribble is imperative. Women cannot physically cover as much ground as men. If they pull up for a jumper, they won't even get close to the same elevation that men do.

This isn't to belittle the women's game at all nor the accomplishments of UConn. In fact the state of men's college basketball has never been worse - and I do agree with Geno that it is becoming unwatchable. I appreciate the exact same level of hard work the women and women's coaches put in their sport as well. I dated two D1 athletes in my college days and the amount of time they have to devote to their sport and be a student is incredible.

Anyhow, if Duke men faced UConn's women, Jahlil Okafor would score 80 points and grab 40 rebounds. I say that without exaggeration.

There's many endeavors and activities in life where the proverbial playing field is equal between men and women. Sports is not one of them.