The sore loser syndrome

By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that, with the start of the new year, this is a time to do a bit of philosophizing – a twenty dollar word for thinking about some principles underlying the our conduct and concepts. I’m pretty sure I got to thinking about this because the amateur football season is finally over while the professional season is winding up. (Didja ever notice that “winding up” and “winding down” mean the same thing – coming to an end?)

Anyway, if my memory serves me correctly there were about forty post season college games, that is, eighty teams had sufficiently successful regular seasons to qualify for additional recognition by being chosen to play in “bowl” games. The primary condition for selection was having a “winning” season or, at least having won as many games as were lost.. Okay, so what? Well, that means there were lotsa college football teams which likely had “losing” seasons or didn’t win enough games to qualify for post season play.

Furthermore, of those teams that were selected to participate in bowl games, half went home after losing their final game. Indeed, of the final four college teams vying for the national championship, three finished the season by losing. In the professional ranks just a few teams with a sufficiently successful season qualify for the playoffs with only one emerging as the ultimately winner. The others go home after being eliminated from the competition by losing. You know, on the face of it, we have a bunch of “losers”, right? Well, that’s far from reality. Just because an individual, team, or body of folks is defeated in a competition doesn’t necessarily mean they are “losers” – anyone who watched the most recent Rose Bowl game can testify to that. Sure, one team “lost”, but the young men on that team certainly weren’t “losers”. This is where that “philosophizing” comes in.

When I was involved in competitive sports many years ago I was never on a championship team. I, and my teammates, practiced hard, listened to our coaches, and won some games – but we also lost some despite our best efforts. One thing I remember very well is that we never quit – and we never considered ourselves “losers” even in defeat. Sure, we were disappointed in not winning, but we accepted the reality that we had been outplayed, and, perhaps most importantly, the responsibility for a loss was on us – not someone or something else such as the officiating or playing conditions. Yep, in retrospect, we were learning the fundamental concept of facing up to a loss by building on the positive aspects and trying to avoid or eliminate the negative ones.

If we were to look in the dictionary we’d find a number of definitions of the term “loser” including the obvious “one who loses” but there are other meanings such as: “”one who seems destined to lose”; “a person who reacts to a loss in a negative way (a poor loser)”; and, “a person who is incompetent or unable to succeed”. These latter definitions are the ones we often associate with “loser” but one stands out – a “sore /bad loser ” is defined as. “a person who becomes very upset or angry when he or she loses a game, contest, etc.”

I understand there is even a technical name for this state of mind – the “Sore Loser Syndrome” or SLS. This condition is reportedly characterized by: exhibiting extreme anger; denying responsibility for a defeat while blaming others; and “acting out” which may include violent acts against those considered responsible for what is deemed an undeserved, unfair negative outcome of a competition. How about them apples. Well, we haven’t seen this syndrome associated with sports in our country that I know of. Oh, sure, we have seen some rather exuberant, high- spirited demonstrations following a sports victory, but those were celebrations, not protests fueled by anger.

In Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, however, it’s a different story. Soccer fans have caused what essentially amounts to near riots with extreme violence resulting in property being destroyed and people being injured -some severely. These events look like Sore Loser Syndrome on steroids. When you come to think of it, about the only venue in this country where this Sore Loser Syndrome has possibly showed up to any degree is in the political scene.

Yep, the characteristics of this condition have appeared in several locations following the recent election and reportedly will continue to manifest themselves. I don’t know if these folks are consciously imitating those European soccer fans or not, but it would be nice if they could learn how to handle a loss the way our sports teams and fans do. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor may be contacted at [email protected]

Bill Taylor may be contacted at [email protected]

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