As many Cincinnati fans, I have spent the last few days pacing, riding the roller-coaster that is fandom in Cincinnati. Peaks of hope followed by valleys of hopelessness and despair – if you are from here (or have lived here more than a few years) you know the ones.
It seems that the high levels of stress and anxiety caused by these sorts of things don’t bring out the best in our city. Too many years of crushing losses in big games, poor leadership, questionable coaching, inconsistent officiating, frustrating injuries and game-ending mistakes have taken their toll. You see, there’s something in us that wants to win, bad, and especially against our biggest rivals. And this desire goes all the way from the happenings at the stadium last night to the community ball field. We love to win, especially when we have worked hard and played well, and even more when we have something to prove. We love to be the fans of a winning team, and we especially love being the parents of winners. (You don’t see people posting about their kid who placed 18th at the regional wrestling meet, just sayin’). Friends, there is nothing wrong with winning. Winning is great, but even if we had won, the lack of character displayed last night makes us losers in the long run.
Someone I know said about an injured player: “I hope he broke his shoulder in 41 places”. Really? Fans hoping for other people to be injured? Coaches pulling players hair? A friend told me that her family was booed in public for wearing opposing team gear – her children, booed by adults? Players playing in a manner that can only be described as dirty? And to top it off, grown people throwing things at an injured player being carted to the locker room? All I can think is that their brains must have been water-logged.
To be clear, I was frustrated too, angry even, but I can’t wrap my head around adults acting in such a manner. What has happened to us? Have we been beaten so badly and so often that we have lost some of ourselves? And if the parts of ourselves that have been lost by the events at a football game are things like character and integrity, then perhaps those things weren’t important enough to us in the first place. I’m sure we all know that it’s JUST a game. We all know that in 100 years no one will care anyway, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. It doesn’t ease the pain. But no matter how badly we want to win, no matter how poor the officiating or how dirty the playing, we have to do better. We have to be sure that the stuff that matters is rooted deeply enough in us that it can’t be eroded by a football game.
Sports are great. They are an incredible way to learn skills, physical and social for sure, but what about the emotional lessons that come with playing (or even cheering)? What about the value of turning disappointment into fuel to coach better, lead better, play better, be better? We stop too short. We get so wrapped up in our anger and our sadness that we stop short of all there is to learn, and it’s because we prioritize winning over learning, winning over community, winning over fun, winning over integrity, and after last night, winning over humanity and goodness and value for fellow human beings. We prioritize winning over everything, and we are wrong. Pride in your team matters, but kindness matters more. Fair play-calling matters, but self-control matters more. Winning matters, but character matters more.
My kids were in bed at the start of the game last night, and I’m glad. I’m glad I didn’t have to explain the actions of sad and angry adults who let their emotions get the best of them and acted in ways that they would never teach their own children to act. I’m glad I didn’t have to explain that people didn’t really mean they hoped a player was hurt. I’m glad that this morning when we told them that we lost they said “Oh no. Can we go play in the snow?”.
Cincinnati, we can do better. Cincinnati moms and dads, let’s teach our kids all that is wonderful about sports. Let’s teach them to play to win by practicing hard and doing their very best. Let’s train them to be humble winners and gracious losers. Let’s train them to be teammates and competitors that have character and honor and respect for the other team, players and coaches. I’ll even go so far as to challenge us to raise the kid who shake hands with the rival that just rubbed the loss in their face, because the world needs way more of those people. Whether our kids end up on the sidelines, on the field, or in the seats – the stuff that really matters is the same, and all those things are caught, not taught.
Our kids learn what kind of fans to be by watching us. They learn what kind of players to be by watching us. They learn what kind of people to be by watching us. Let’s show them something worth imitating. And when we do lose again, because we will lose again, let’s make sure we only lose a game.