Sometimes You Lose: A Super Bowl Story

Last weekend, the New England Patriots lost the Superbowl for the first time in five years. Afterwards, there was news about the reactions of Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s family:

Brady’s two sons and daughter were not easily consoled.

At one point, 5-year-old daughter Vivian blurted out, “The Eagles won the Super Bowl.’’

Replied Bündchen (their mother), “Just this time. Daddy won five times. They never won before. Their whole life, they never won a Super Bowl. You have to let someone else win sometimes.’’

This is being held up as a lovely story of graceful winning and good parenting, and it absolutely horrifies me.

Daddy Got Beat

It’s that last sentence that makes it so awful. “You have to let someone else win sometimes.” With that one statement, she nullified any effort, skill, or luck of the opposing players, and gives the children the impression that basically their Dad threw the game so he could “let someone win.”

Need to tell you this, kids: your Daddy didn’t let someone else win.

Your Daddy lost.

Someone else won.

And that needs to be ok. It needs to be remembered that this is a game, and like most (but not all) games, there’s going to end up being a winner and a loser. At some point — and I’m really not sure where — that began to be the point of the game, and that’s a problem. When the game is a means to an end — of acquiring a label of winner or loser — people lose sight of the experience of the game itself. That’s when people cut corners, break rules, act unethically, take unwise risks…that’s when bad things happen.

And suddenly it’s not a game. It’s a place where bad things happen. And you have grown adults hearing the “Coffee’s for closersmonologue from Glengarry Glenn Ross and thinking it’s a manifesto, not a satirical tragedy.

The Important Lesson

It may seem like a minor thing — changing “You have to let someone else win sometimes” to “Sometimes someone else wins, and that’s ok”— but I believe it’s a critical shift from zero-sum game theory to cooperative abundance. Otherwise you’re setting up a young mind — or an old one — with the idea that if they ever lose, it is a tragedy, rather than simply an experience to learn from.

It’s strange that we’ve lost sight of it, because we have a perfectly good and equally well-known quote that manifests this truth, written by a sportswriter using the metaphor of football for life:

For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name—

He marks—not that you won or lost—but how you played the game..

—Grantland Rice, “Alumnus Football

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