Losing games doesn’t make someone a loser

If you’ve lived very long and paid any attention at all to sports, you’re aware of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

I’ve never handled defeat very well. I’m not proud of it, either. I don’t like losing, period, whether it’s checkers or whatever. However, losing was easier to handle as a student-athlete than as a fan. As an athlete, I had a chance to participate and enjoyed the competition and the opportunity to succeed, although my athletic career was a mixed bag of winning and losing.

Watching a game when I have a strong rooting interest is brutal. My emotions go up and down more than a roller coaster. I have no idea why I care so much, especially in cases when I don’t personally know any of the athletes playing the game.

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed being a basketball official. I could enjoy the competition without caring emotionally about who won or lost.

When I take some time to look at the big picture, like Charlie Brown of the Peanuts comic strip fame, I find that I have a soft spot for losers. It’s not that coaches and players who lose games are really losers, but that’s how fans generally portray programs and coaches who seemingly can’t win.

Think of all the jokes endured by KU football fans. You may say, “At least they’ll always have men’s basketball to look forward to,” but that is little consolation to the student-athletes and coaches who are trying to win even a few football games.

Losing brings unwanted jokes, and those jokes aren’t funny to those on the short end of the score.

A writer on ESPN.com who ranks the Bottom 10 college football teams calls KU the Kansas Nayhawks. It’s bad enough to be bad, but when KU only gained a grand total of 21 yards in a nationally televised game at TCU, it must have been embarrassing.

Political columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote an interesting column this summer about athletics: “In sports, the pleasure of winning is less than the pain of losing. Winning is great. You get to hoot and holler, hoist the trophy, shower in the open parade car and boycott the White House victory (choose your cause).

“But, as most who have engaged in competitive sports know, there’s nothing to match the amplitude of emotion brought by losing,” said Krauthammer.

Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be the spouse of a losing coach? It can’t be easy.

A story was written earlier this fall about what life is like for a family whose dad is on the coaching hot seat.

Barb Jones, wife of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, allowed ESPN to spend most of a Saturday with her to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what game day is like for a coach’s family, particularly at a pressure-packed place like Tennessee that is thirsting for a winner.

“You have to learn to put on blinders and focus on your family,” says Barb. “We know the noise is only going to get louder.”

When Georgia’s lead ballooned to 31-0 entering the fourth quarter, longtime family friend Randy Golden was already worrying about what Jones’ boys may face Monday in school.

“This is bad, and we hurt for them,” said Golden. “Fans forget a lot of times that real people are involved, families and wives and sons.”

Losing stinks, but someone always loses. Yeah, everyone in sports knows that’s part of the deal.

Losing may build character, but can also tear it down when not handled properly.

It’s interesting to see how professional athletes handle winning and losing. Even many battle-hardened professionals making millions care deeply about the outcome.

“I don’t feel sorry for them,” said Krauthammer. “They can drown their sorrows in the Olympic-sized infinity pool that graces their Florida estate. I am merely fascinated that, despite their other substantial compensations, some of them really do care. Most interestingly, often the very best.

“Vince Lombardi said, ‘Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.’

“To which I add—conjecture—yes, but losing is worse,” said Krauthammer.

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein­sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Klein­sasser@wichita.edu.