Running gives you a perspective about things. Running was never about running from point A to point B. It was about the in between; the way running made me feel; the weather; the hills; the landmarks that I passed; other runners on the road. In college I met one of my professors while running. He asked why I was running. I told him I was running for fun. He looked at me in disbelief, like there had to be something more, some goal, some endpoint to my running that I wanted to achieve. Running was never like that. For me it was always the in between, the journey.
A professional football player was recently quoted as saying “Not winning the Super Bowl makes you wish you never played in it.” Everyone wants to win. If you play a sport, the goal is to win. If you play cards, the goal is to win. No one consciously wants to lose.
The problem is that no one wants to exert the effort if they cannot win. People who try their best and come in second place are regarded as losers. The Buffalo Bills went to the Super Bowl four years in a row. No other team has accomplished this feat. This means that they were the American Football Conference champions for four consecutive years. They owned the AFC. But, because they lost four consecutive Super Bowls, they are regarded as losers, not as the winners that they certainly were.
I read that Jim Kelly, the only quarterback to ever start four consecutive Super Bowls, has never watched those games, because the memories of losing them are so painful. After the fourth Super Bowl loss, people in Buffalo were actually calling radio stations and pleading with the team members being interviewed not to take them back to the Super Bowl. Apparently it was not worth the effort if they could not win.
There is a quote that is attributed to Henry Grantland Rice in the early 1900’s that ends, “It is not that you won or lost, it is how you played the game.” Martina Navratilova, a tennis champion of the 70’s and 80’s, after hearing this quote, said “Whoever said that probably lost.”
Winning has become the only thing that matters. Not how you play the game. Not how you conduct yourself during or after the game. Not how you handle defeat. Winning is the only worthy goal, and it overshadows sportsmanship, and courage, and honesty, and fellowship- everything. This is why people cheat, or play dirty, or lie. To win at all costs. Even at the cost of our souls.
In 1925, Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer (and some would say the greatest golfer), who ever played, was winning the US Open when he accidently touched his ball with his club while setting up for a shot. The ball moved slightly. No one else saw it. But Jones assessed himself with a penalty shot. This penalty shot cost him the title. When he was praised for his honesty, Jones said “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.” To Jones, not giving himself a penalty shot was the equivalent to stealing, and he could not do it. He would rather finish in second place than destroy his character.
At the end of our time on earth, what will matter will not be how many games we have won, but how we won them. It will not matter how many degrees we have earned, but what we learned along the way. It will not matter how much money we earned, but what we did with that money. It will not matter how many people we employed, but how many of them we knew and cared about and lifted up.
If we are to be a people of substance; if we are to keep our souls, winning at any cost cannot be the way we play the game. Winning, in fact, will be secondary to the process of playing the game; a process in which we will find that it is not the end but the journey that matters most.
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