I am a recovering “winaholic.” That is, I am trying to get over what has always damaged my appreciation of sports – an excessive preoccupation with winning that has often made it difficult for me to truly enjoy athletic events and has frequently blinded me to the real value of sports.
For many years, my wife has expressed exasperation at how my normally balanced disposition can easily become unhinged when my teams go on losing streaks or fail to live up to their early season promise. And the teams I have chosen to support, most notably the Red Sox, Dodgers and Bills, have inflicted more pain on me than I deserve in the form of bonehead plays, blown leads and woeful front office decisions.
But after many years of suffering as a winaholic, I have finally discovered the wonderful pleasure of enjoying athletic events for their own sake. It started when I attended a Bandits game a few years ago. I know nothing about lacrosse and have not bonded as a fan with any team. As a result, I simply enjoyed the experience of the game itself, even though the Bandits were drubbed by a mediocre team in a game described the next day by sports writers as their most lamentable performance of the season. But I was thrilled by the extraordinary speed of the game and marveled at the athletic dexterity of both teams.
So I now try to look at sports as something to be enjoyed rather than fretted about. No longer dominated by final scores, I can relax and see games from a fresh perspective that is much more rewarding. Attending several Canisius basketball games with my son during the past season, I did indeed enjoy the many victories, but was even more impressed by things I would not have even noticed in my winaholic past.
For example, while watching the Canisius women’s games, I observed a young girl sitting on the bench, assuming that she was the little sister of one of the players. But I later found out that she has a serious illness, was adopted as a member of the team and was even given a locker in the team’s dressing room. We often give lip service to the idea that sports teach valuable lessons of “team play,” all the while honoring individual “winners” and deprecating particular “losers.” But here was “team play” truly put into beautiful practice.
Freeing myself from crudely reducing athletics to final scores, I have come to revise my understanding of the most significant achievements in sports history. Whereas in my previous life as a winaholic, I had considered the Brooklyn Dodgers’ victory over the Yankees in the 1956 World Series as the high point in their team history, I now regard an incident in a game in Jackie Robinson’s early career as the shining moment in Dodger annals and perhaps one of the very finest moments in all American sports history. It crystalizes for me what all sports should teach us, how to be fully human in moments of great stress.
When opposing fans were pouring down the foulest racist abuse on Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, a white Southerner, called time and went from his shortstop position to Robinson’s slot at first base and hugged him, all the while staring down and silencing the rabid fans. I don’t know which team “won” or “lost” that game and I don’t care. American culture received a resounding victory that cannot be tabulated on a scoreboard.