Opinion: No More Sore Losers In Sports

Filed under: Opinions

Jaroslav Halak (41) shakes hands with Pal Grotnes (33) after the game between Slovakia and Norway during the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. Slovakia won 4-3. Credit: Cris Bouroncle, AFP / Getty Images

In our "win or bust", "you only get one shot" culture, we've forgotten something that used to be important. Being a good sport, whether you win or lose.

One of the great things about the Olympics is that they feature the best athletes in the world competing because they just love their sport. But the fun isn't only in the competition, it's the pure physical prowess on display. Writing in the New Yorker, Nancy Franklin said that one of the major pleasures of watching the Olympics was "the display of stunning skills and gorgeous bodies, the devotion, and the drive." Every Olympics features several jaw-dropping "did you SEE that?" moments, and this year is no exception.

Sometimes those moments aren't about winning a gold medal. Like J.R. Celski, who won bronze at his first-ever Olympics. He looked pretty happy to me. And why shouldn't he? The kid is 19 years old. When I was 19, I was in college trying to pick a major. From where I'm sitting -- on my couch, watching the Olympics -- Celski has achieved something pretty amazing.

For some, however, gold is all that matters. For example, Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko gave himself a PLATINUM medal. That's right. He is so upset that he "only" won a silver, he invented something that, in his mind, is BETTER than gold. Reality: Who needs it?

The "gold or bust" notion is not limited to bizarre Russian figure skaters. On the popular sports blog Deadspin, a reader named Maria wrote in criticizing the idea of tallying up the most medals, rather than just the most medals made of gold. "A gold does not have the same weight as a silver or a bronze," she wrote. "A gold medal symbolizes a championship. The world counts championships won and not who has the best runners-up collection. This is not pre-school soccer."

Perhaps. But let's look at it another way. It's great to be the fastest man or woman in the world. It's also great to be the third fastest. Is it AS great? No. But it's still pretty great, right? Anyone who wins a bronze medal at the Olympics has achieved something that very few athletes ever will. Why is it all or nothing? How can being "almost as fast Usain Bolt" be considered a colossal failure?

One could argue that Olympic athletes have more reason to be feel frustrated about not coming in first. They're not paid the way the pros are (if they get paid at all), and winning a gold medal could mean an opportunity to make some serious endorsement cash. Athletes of all types have a limited window for success (they get old, even Derek Jeter), and most Olympic sports only get significant international attention once every four years. So, playing devil's advocate, maybe some of the bitter feelings are a teeny bit justified.

This is not the case for American professional athletes, particular in baseball, where contracts are guaranteed (unlike football) and salaries can be enormous. For example: Johnny Damon has earned many millions of dollars playing baseball since he began his Major League career in 1995, and won World Series rings with two teams -- the Boston Red Sox in 2004, and, just this past season, with the New York Yankees. Damon's contract expired at the end of the 2009 season, and the Yankees wanted to resign him, but for less than the $13 million a year he earned on his previous deal. Damon and his Jerry Maguire wannabe agent Scott Boras said no, Yankee management said fine, and Damon signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Tigers for $8 million. Which, in case you hadn't noticed, is less than $13 million.

At a press conference announcing his move to Detroit, Damon told the press that it was "a little humbling" for the Yankees to ask him to take a pay cut. But apparently it's fine for another team to do the same thing. Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong Yankee fan, and I used to like Damon (even when he played for the Red Sox and looked like a caveman). But how can he complain about getting paid $8 million dollars a year to play baseball?

We tell kids to be good sports, but that's a lot harder to do when an athlete can't keep his mouth shut about coming in second place or being paid millions of dollars to play ball. Here's a suggestion to all the dissatisfied athletes out there. Next time things don't go your way, instead of whining about it, try being grateful that you get to do something that you love. Who knows? Maybe you'll find out that it feels almost as good as winning.

Related: Get an Olympic Workout with These Snowboarders' iPod Playlists

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.