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Winning, but at what cost?

Published: October 26, 2012
Section: Opinions


We all want to be winners. Throughout our lives, from pee-wee soccer and homecoming court to class rankings, we all want to be on top. Recently, we’ve seen that winning comes with a cost. Across the globe, from the locker rooms in State Park, Penn., hotel rooms in Paris, France and classrooms in Chapel Hill, N.C., we have witnessed the underbelly of winning—and it is an unpleasant site.

America is enamored with winning. Tuning in to the presidential debate last night or any other kind of political event ever held, we repeatedly hear the rhetoric of America as number one in the world, along with the insistence that our country remain at the top of the podium.This past summer, in two of the very few manifestations of my patriotism, I sweated and screamed until my throat was hoarse as I watched, enraptured, the Olympics. The Olympics along with the other annual summer sports, even, the Tour de France, are two highly competitive, international events that grab the attention of all Americans and highlight the importance and value we find in winning.

It was a huge blow to the cycling and sports community as well as Lance Armstrong’s reputation, when earlier this month the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revealed its results of the expansive trial of Lance Armstrong, which revealed Armstrong to be the ringleader in a massive doping practice. Their findings lead us to attribute the once commendable Armstrong as a cheater, manipulator and liar, a far cry from his once lofty praise. Unable to fathom the idea of not wearing the yellow jersey or having his name inscribed in the cycling hall of fame, Armstrong injected himself with the blood-boosting hormone known as erythropoietin in order to remain on the top of the podium as a winner—both on and off the bike.

Our society values and perpetuates the importance of winning and of being number one. Armstrong is not alone in exposing America’s addiction to winning.

In State College, Pennsylvania, the disease of winning spread in the locker rooms, coaches’ offices and administrative buildings of Pennsylvania State University. Swept up in the tide of maintaining their greatness, the coaches and administrators at Penn State did what they believed they had to do to keep winning, regardless of the law. In the perfect example of how important winning has become to all Americans, it was not the indictment of Sandusky nor the death of Joe Paterno that pushed the Penn State fans over the edge. It was the fact that the NCAA stripped the school of its winning games and seasons during the time of Paterno’s tenure that was the last straw on the camel’s back.

It isn’t a bad idea to value someone who has done the best job; in fact, our society is founded on it. Promotions at work, elections in our own student government, the sports teams we so ardently ignore here at Brandeis—all of it comes back to winning. It would be absurd to think that our society as a whole, would be able to rethink our societal goals and how we value people. Most of what we set out to do in our lives relies on our capacity to beat out others, which is the standard we set in determining ourselves successful.

Yet when confronted with the truth, too often people are content to let the team, the hero remain on top all because we want to be winners. As a friend of mine passionately discussed the horrors that occurred at Penn State, in the same breath she defended and deflected against the accusations of the University of North Carolina men’s basketball academic program that violated countless laws in an attempt to keep players eligible. The actions that the school undertook to maintain players at Carolina in order to win basketball games, goes unnoticed by the Carolina community. Quick to point fingers at Paterno, they refuse to see their own shortcomings.

While seemingly unnecessary to point out, it remains an uncomfortable truth in our nation’s culture: these basketball players, football coaches and ultra-athletes serve as an inspiration to thousands of Americans who pledge not only their loyalty to these schools, teams and people, but also their time and money. We valued Lance Armstrong because he was the supreme winner. The man who climbed the impossibly high mountain with thigh muscles bulging, had previously preserved blood from weeks earlier running through his veins. These are the values that we are teaching the next generation and even the current ones: that winning, at all costs, is acceptable.

All of these factors in our society perpetuate America’s preoccupation with winning. Our global outlook as a country would be radically different if we weren’t so concerned with maintaining our number one status in the world.

As a nation, and a people, we need to find more value in the activities in which we partake.