What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Today brings to a conclusion to one of the greatest events this country has to offer. Regardless of who wins this afternoon in Williamsport, we all got treated to another shining example of what can be done in this country when people are unified behind a common, positive cause.
When you watch Little League baseball on television, you get a glimpse of that. This is an organization based on sportsmanship and fair play, which is a serious breath from some of the nonsense professional sports subjects us to. It also the purest reminder that no matter what your sport of choice is, while its easy to get lost in the rah-rahism of competition, here the fact the competitors are kids makes it hard to forget something terribly important. Unlike the NFL, where its hard not to see gargantuan men clad in modern-day armor as completely gladiatorial, that view is impossible with a bunch of fresh-faced children; faces on which the ebbs and flows of the game are reflected in the purest emotion. Wide World of Sports used to call it the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat;” nowhere is that more evident than in Little League. All you have to do is look at the face of the kid who just hit the game-winning home run compared to the pitcher who gave it up.
That’s the seminal dividing moment; where we create winners and losers. That’s where the emotion comes from. A generation or so ago, we made a cultural decision in this country as to how to handle that moment. We sowed a decision from which now we are reaping some pretty bitter fruit. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Little League complex in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Unlike the environment you will see later today during Championship Sunday, I had a chance to walk the grounds; Mrs. J-Dub and I being the only people there save the occasional worker. I’m telling you now, if you ever get a chance to do that…do it. I would love to see a game there another time, but the game day experience would not have allowed for the epiphany I had on a Tuesday in May.
There’s so much to this place you don’t see on television during the Little League World Series. If you get a chance to go to Williamsport, start with the museum at the top of the hill.
The first thing you will notice is how clean and well-organized both the museum and the grounds are, which is slightly amazing considering this place is usually full of kids. The second thing which will occur once you get past the gift shop and get into the actual museum is the sense of tradition. I’m an admitted “museum nerd,” and as such, I expect to be met with a dedication to history. After all, that’s the “bread and butter” for such places. Don’t get me wrong, the Little League museum is not short on it’s collection of memorabilia, but it’s all laid out in a way so you have no chance of misunderstanding what Little League is all about.
The genius in how they did it for me was purely subliminal. Being the aforementioned “museum nerd,” I got stuck on the knick-knacks and bric-a-brac on display. It wasn’t until I started walking down the hill and around the grounds that it hit me.
While I was standing above the field at Lamade Stadium watching the grounds crew working on the field, it occurred to me that everything I had just seen in the museum and every thing I was now surveying was all the result of volunteers banding together to create something awesome where there was once nothing. I understand Little League now has paid employees, but in 1939 the amazing complex on which I was standing was just another hillside in Depression-wracked hill country Pennsylvania.
Little League catches a lot of non-sense because of it’s adherence to “traditional values,” meaning it wholly rejects the “participation trophy” bullshit we as a culture embraced a generation ago. Thanks to that bit of mushy-headed thinking, we created a generation of kids in this country who didn’t ever understand the value of competition. That means they never learned the lessons playing team sports teaches, and worse yet, they never learned how to lose.
Watch the Little League games today and notice what you don’t see. Nothing in Little League is about “me.” You won’t see a kid throwing his batting helmet after he strikes out. You won’t see a manager screaming at an umpire. You won’t see anything even remotely resembling taunting. Little League is more than just teaching kids to play baseball; it’s really about instilling values that help turn kids into adults who are productive members of society.
See, the real world is all about winning and losing. Trying to eliminate that “winner/loser” division amongst kids may cure some short-term tears, but it does far greater long-term damage. The “everybody wins” mentality of the “participation trophy” crowd is completely false. It’s really “nobody wins” because no lesson was learned. Think about it. If you raise a generation of kids who think all you have to do to “win” is show up, what do you think happens when those kids hit adulthood substantively unprepared for the concept of winning and losing?
Here’s the part where this gets real.
Am I the only one who thinks these anti-free speech, bike-lock swinging Neo-fascists running amok on college campuses and tearing down statues look just like young adult versions of ‘participation trophy” kids having a temper tantrum because they didn’t get their way? They lost an election, and they can’t handle it.
Even if you disagree with that, there’s no denying that learning to lose is part and parcel to being successful. I don’t trust anybody who says they’ve never failed at anything because it means only one of two things:
Don’t get me wrong. Losing sucks; nobody like to lose. But it is the fact that losing sucks which should make people not want to lose. Losing means being in a place you don’t want to be, which should serve as the motivation to improve your situation so you win next time. That’s why “everybody wins” is really losing…there’s never a motivation to get better, which means there’s never a lesson learned about how to improve.
Doubt that? Look at all the stuff the bike-lock swingers are “protesting.” They would have you believing it is they who stand against a “divided and racist America.” Regardless of what they believe, just like the kid who breaks all his own toys because he got the wrong video game for his birthday, they fail to understand that ripping down statues does absolutely nothing. By destroying “monuments to America’s racist history and tradition,” they are not only wasting time and effort, but they are doing nothing substantive to solve whatever problem they believe exists. That’s because they never learned how to…that’s why they can never win.
Standing on that hill in Pennsylvania is where that became clear to me. Guys like Gary Sheffield think there aren’t enough blacks in baseball. But what has he done beside run his mouth? Little League’s got that covered.
Do you still think this country denies opportunity to women? Agree or not, Little League was on this years ago.
If you think America is a country which is not friendly to the physically-challenged, ask yourself what you’ve done to help that. While you’re doing that, understand Little League has already gone there.
And there you have it. Little League is not now, nor has it ever been about who throws the ball hardest, hits it the furthest, or runs the fastest. It has always been about teaching life lessons. That’s why it has always had the “everybody plays” rule, because that way, that’s how everybody truly wins.