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Winning…At what cost?

It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.

From P.E. to peewee football to little league baseball, this is what we’re taught when we’re young. In addition to physical skills, some of the biggest things sports and athletics teach us are hard work, perseverance, sportsmanship, teamwork and fair play.

Or, at least that’s what they’re supposed to teach us.

In the wake of the Penn State scandal, you have to wonder: How obsessed with winning have we become that we’re willing to cover up such a horrendous a crime?

For years boys, some as young as 10, were allegedly being sexually abused and raped by a man who was supposed be a mentor. A man they trusted. And while it would be understandably difficult for the victims to come forward with what happened, those who knew about what was going on had ample opportunity, but dropped the ball on these boys in a big way.


Because the man being accused is Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach for the Penn State University football program. It is alleged that some of the crimes were committed in the team’s locker room and there was even a witness for one account.

But to report this to the police would mean bad press for a national institution when it comes to college ball. Obviously, this backfired in a massive way, but that’s not my point.

My point is that while the crimes have nothing to do with football, they have everything to do with football — or at least some of the mentality in football. When the situation first came to light, these men had the opportunity to put stop to it but they didn’t because they didn’t want to tarnish their program’s winning reputation. They were too blinded by the desire to win to protect these boys, some of which are now in their mid-20s like me.

While this is probably one of the worst scandals in sports history, it is unfortunately not the first that was born out of the need to come out on top:

Baseball — one of my favorite sports to watch (live, not on TV) — has been riddled with the use of steroids. Track and field’s former golden girl Marion Jones has also admitted to using steroids. And while doing stuff to your own body is bad enough, it’s even worse when you try to do something to someone else’s body as in the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan attack in 1994.

All of these actions were taken in order to give these athletes a competitive edge. But in hindsight, I doubt anyone involved would say the shame, ridicule and any stripping of titles were worth it.

Even my beloved sport of gymnastics is not immune. The Chinese women’s gymnastics team was stripped of its 2000 of its bronze medal because one gymnast was underage. Gymnasts must be at least 16 years old to be eligible to compete and the gymnast in question was actually 14. There have also been investigations circling around the country’s 2008 Olympic squad and a couple of members’ ages, but nothing has come from them.

Again, these actions were taken so the team could have a better chance at winning.

What kind of message are we sending kids if organized sports — often said to have a positive influence and impact on youngsters’ lives — condone this type of behavior? What are we telling young people when they see the athletes and coaches they idolize lying, cheating and in some cases, even falsifying documents and breaking the law?

Now, I’m not dissing organized sports. I spent seven years in gymnastics, which taught me the value of all the things I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I also made some great friends during my time in the sport and learned the importance of setting and working toward achieving goals.

Sports and the competitiveness that comes with them teach us to strive for the best. This is true in any field or industry. Competition pushes us to do our best. But when the competition gets so stiff and intense that we’re willing to harm ourselves or others, then it’s gone too far.

Remember: It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.


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