Monday, February 8, 2016

On Defeat

On Defeat
I have seen and heard a lot of comments about Cam Newton’s post-Super Bowl Press Conference. Most people have characterized his press conference as “disappointing,” “inappropriate,” “rude,” or “revealing.”
Please allow me to offer an alternative view.

There is an old saying, “Don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” Precious view of us have ever even worn cleats in a real football game, let alone in the NFL, and even fewer have ever run a “mile” in the Super Bowl. I am not sure there is any greater high or low in sports than winning or losing the Super Bowl, with the possible exception of competing in the Olympics. Time and time again, it has been the team that is the most emotionally prepared for the Super Bowl that wins. Teams that have been there before are often assumed to have an advantage. Butterflies in the first quarter have dictated the outcome more often than not. Can anybody forget the snap whizzing by Peyton Manning’s head for the opening play two years ago? If there is anything worse than having a terrible season in the NFL, it is going to the Super Bowl and losing. I have been excited to see my San Diego Chargers get to the playoffs for several seasons, but, in the back of my mind, I knew they did not have what it takes to win the big one. Secretly, I was often relieved when they did not make it. The one time the Chargers made it to the big dance, they got beat badly—so badly I have erased the experience from my head.
So, what’s my point? Cam Newton’s disappointment—however much it was in itself disappointing—is certainly understandable. Especially, after his team went 17-1 in the regular season, dominated the playoffs, and he earns the MVP award. It had to be a crushing defeat.

When Fritz was wrestling, I took a great interest in the sport. A sport his great grandfather excelled in, but I had aggressively avoided when I saw a friend get a nasty case of cauliflower ear. I read a story about wrestling from an Iowa wrestling coach, and, yes, Iowa is the wrestling capital of America. He talked about the grueling conditioning required, the challenges of making weight, and then having to compete while dehydrated and with little or no energy reserves. He talked about the fact that teams could always comfort each other in loss, or one could attribute a loss to another teammate’s failure, but in wrestling (and other single player sports) losing was a failure each competitor owns singularly. Moreover, when you lose a wrestling match, it is one of the most humiliating forms of defeat that the sporting world has to offer. Think about it. In the natural world, how do predators display dominance over their prey and even their own family group? They roll their opponent over on to their backs, hold them down until the opponent submits—they pin their opponent. You lose a wrestling match by either getting pinned, or rolled over onto your back so many times the opponent out scores you. As Fritz used to say when he lost, “I got owned.”
Well, Cam Newton got owned in Super Bowl 50. No two ways about it. He got sacked 6 times, had the ball wrenched from his hands leading to a touchdown, he got hit and thrown to the ground many more times than I could count. It was like no other game he played this year, and it was humiliating. It would be for anyone. And for the record, he is certainly not the first Super Bowl competitor to look and act defeated after a humbling experience like that.

The Bible says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” (Luke 12:48) Cam Newton certainly could have shown more grace in defeat. But, honestly, how many of us ever do that? To his credit, he acknowledged that Denver out played them, played better than them, that the Panthers missed opportunities, had their chances, and turned the ball over too many times. Then he left abruptly to lick his wounds.
I learned, while I could easily share in Fritz’s wrestling victories with him, he needed time and to be alone to process his losses—he needed to lick his wounds. If I left him alone, he would quickly rebound; if I pressed the issue, his defeat would get the better of him. Fritz and I both learned from those experiences.

Politics has much in common with sports when it comes to handling losses. I have been a political operative for 30 years. I have managed ballot initiatives, helped elect State Reps, State Senators, three U.S. Congressmen, a U.S. Senator, and even a U.S. President, but I have never put my name on the ballot. As an operative, I could rationalize a defeat by pointing to the candidate’s shortcomings or errors they committed. When you put your name on the ballot, you have only the mirror to gaze at when you lose. And, ironically, it seems that Monday-Morning Quarterbacks are more prevalent in politics than football.
It can be said that adversity is a great teacher. It can make you stronger, or it can crush you. It builds character, or reveals it. It can produce humility, or it can be the fall that goes before a haughty spirit (it is destruction that goes before pride) (Pro. 16:18). Wisdom is a gift from God, but unfortunately, most of us have to get knocked down a notch or two before our pride gives way to humility before God, and we actually ask for the wisdom that God gives liberally (James 1:5). Cam Newton got knocked down more notches last night that many of us have likely experienced in a lifetime. His ultimate response to adversity will be played out over the coming months and next season. His mother raised him to know God, and God has certainly blessed him with tremendous gifts. I believe and hope he will react more appropriately to adversity. In the meantime, I can allow some forbearance for his response last night because I have some empathy for what he experienced.

FYI: Here is a video of Fritz's Senior Year Wrestling Highlights, and, yes, they are all wins because that's what highlights are!
Fritz Senior Year Wrestling Highlights 07-07

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