CHARLIE FIRESTONE: IN SPORTS, WIN-AT-ALL-COSTS IS A LOSING MENTALITY

CHARLIE FIRESTONE: IN SPORTS, WIN-AT-ALL-COSTS IS A LOSING MENTALITY

STL Today (Aug. 18, 2020)– By Charlie Firestone

As professional sports resume operations in America, they could be venues not only for anti-racism and anti-sexism sentiments displayed by players and teams but also a reaction to the win-at-all cost mindset. They could be part of the “mentality revolution” that was described in Moises Naim’s prescient 2013 book, “The End of Power.”

Naim’s thesis is that global institutions of power in government, the military, religion and in business are losing their abilities to control the actions of others. “In the twenty-first century,” he said, “power is easier to get, harder to use — and easier to lose.”

Those abilities are decaying, Naim contends, due to three overriding developments: the more, mobility and mentality revolutions.

The more revolution refers to increased populations and the rise in wealth raising hundreds of millions into the middle classes of their countries, and the attendant difficulty in controlling them.

The mobility revolution hinges on mass migrations of goods, services, information, money and ideas, fostered by the communications revolution and, until the pandemic, greater ease of physical movement.

As a consequence of these revolutions, people have developed higher expectations for themselves and their societies. The mentality revolution, Naim concluded, was the increased tendency of people not to accept the status quo, an openness to newer thinking.

While much has changed in the intervening seven years, Naim’s observations, particularly his mentality revolution, warrant a fresh look.

In the United States, we have shown an ability to change our attitudes over time in areas such as anti-littering and anti-smoking. And currently Americans are undergoing at least two new cultural or mentality revolutions: women’s empowerment (#MeToo) and racial justice (Black Lives Matter).

The outstanding characteristic of these changes is, as Naim suggested, an openness to changing the prevailing mindset, sparked by a younger generation. There is a longing to do the right thing, to treat others as you would have them treat you. These new mentalities empathize, help others in need, and work together for the common good.

Now, the mentality revolution may have another, unexpected setting: sports.

The win-at-all-cost attitude is rapidly losing its appeal. The Houston Astros, found by the commissioner of Major League Baseball to have cheated with hidden video cameras, are being derided as the Houston Asterisks. Lance Armstrong’s persistent doping to win the Tour de France disgraced him for life, and Myles Garrett’s helmet hit will stand as a low point in NFL history.

Contrast those moments with the lasting image of the NASCAR drivers walking with Bubba Wallace to the start line after finding a noose in his garage, or with Spanish cross-country runner Ivan Fernandez helping his confused Kenyan opponent to the finish line ahead of him.

We are at the cusp of a new cultural movement in sports: championing sportsmanship. Appreciation of the game, respect for the opponent, fair play, and teamwork have always been hallmarks of good sportsmanship. But with the emerging generation, they will become critical to the practice and appreciation of sport itself. And these elements have important analogs to our democratic society as well.

No doubt, all fans want their team to win. That is the nature of competition and is entirely consistent with good sportsmanship. But the win-at-all-cost mentality is an extreme that continues to debase sports and the broader society.

There are still fans and parents who cheer teams that skirt rules, and there are still egocentric individuals who do not yet understand that the sport is bigger than they are. But the revolution is advancing.

Nelson Mandela understood that “sport … has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” At their best, sports are a unifier among a team, a fan base, or an entire metropolitan area. There is no political or philosophical filter for a fan group. A Cardinals fan is a Cardinals fan.

So, as we enjoy our resumed sports, let us realize the importance of sportsmanship, and recognize the model that it can play in leading Americans to a new appreciation for our political heritage, to respect for the “other,” to playing by the rules, and to collaborate for collective action when needed.

We can all be on the same team.

Charlie Firestone is president of the Rose Bowl Institute, which champions sportsmanship and leverages the power of sports to unite people everywhere.