Thursday, June 9, 2011

Winning at All Cost: an American Addiction

The recent twelfth-inning collision involving San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey reaffirmed my theory that Americans are addicted to winning. It’s a position I have long considered, but the final straw was witnessing that beefy 24-year-old writhe in pain and pound the dirt as he sensed an extensive amount of damage to his left ankle (fractured fibula and three torn ligaments).

Winning in America is a double-edged sword: the desire to win makes us great achievers, but it may be desensitizing us into heartless people with no concern for the consequences.

When asked about his decision, Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins said he aimed a shoulder at Posey’s chest because it gave his team a chance to win. “I wanted to knock the ball clean out of his glove, but I certainly didn’t want him to get hurt,” said Cousins. I believe him, but I am troubled by the fact that he was willing to risk maiming Posey for the sake of winning one game.

Cousins did not violate Major League Baseball (MLB) rules, but it does not mean his action was ethical or of sound judgment. Many a pundit and sports fan agreed Cousins had the right to lay Posey out. “Too bad for Posey, but that’s baseball,” they collectively sneered.

I saw it as one player taking a free shot at a competitor who placed himself in a vulnerable position during one game in a 162-game season. On the other hand, one could argue that single victory might be the difference in his team making the playoffs.

The legal profession has an interesting perspective on such situations. Per, “in contract law, an unconscionable contract is one that is unjust or extremely one-sided in favor of the person who has the superior bargaining power.”

Life is About Decisions
Most people love winning, but some are not willing to win at the expense of others. I’m sure Donald Trump would disagree. So would Leo Durocher, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who said, “Nice guys finish last,” in 1939.

Obviously, there are legitimate reasons for wanting to win whether they are on the field or beyond. Each of the Philadelphia Phillies earned an extra $365k on top of their salaries for winning the 2009 World Series. Winning a friendly bet or board game is fun and gives us bragging rights while being elected to congress means one can contribute to society, or from a more cynical perspective, line one’s pockets with cash and make lucrative business connections for life.

Life is about decisions, and Cousins decided that the benefits of trying to score the go-ahead run in a regular-season game outweighed the risks. If you agree with Cousins and those who exonerated him, then you need to explain why other MLB players would have chosen to slide in that situation. I believe the thoughtful person does a split-second cost analysis, and concludes that the risks of instigating a collision are not worth the benefits.

Winning is an American Way of Life
When it comes to competing on the playing field of life, Americans have lost sight of the forest. It’s not good enough to simply “give it your all” anymore. We must win at all cost. Consequently, we get caught up in the moment, and allow our good judgment to be clouded by adrenalin rushes that release post-victory payoffs of more adrenalin. I believe that is what happened to Cousins.

For some Americans, it’s a matter of succumbing to the pressure of living in a country where winning without concern for the consequences is the norm. For others, meaningless everyday victories make them feel in control of a world that is out of their control. (Consider the immature driver who drag races unsuspecting motorists at traffic lights just for the sake of being first.) Psychologists may say some of this behavior is caused by the release of repressed anger, but not everyone playing the “win game” has anger issues.

For the majority of perpetrators, however, it’s simply about “making the deal” and “winning the game”. Perhaps Americans have been conditioned to win after generations of urban living because there seem to be more issues with dysfunctional winning in our most populated cities and on our most crowded highways where aggression is a way of life.

When Cooler Heads Prevail
Thankfully, there are some Americans with cooler heads. Thankfully, there are some Americans who slide at home whether it ends with them being called safe or out. They slide because winning is not worth hurting themselves or others, and they’ll even do it while no one is watching because it means they are being true to themselves.

Those people give me reason to hope, but that optimism rides on who wins the American game of life: the proponents of winning at all cost, or those who try to win within reason. Perhaps it really is about winning after all, isn’t it?