I am a sports nut. And for most of my life, I have giggled at an often repeated sports cliché that says, “winning isn’t everything, but it is way ahead of whatever is in second place.” When I played sports in high school (volleyball, basketball, softball and a little track), I played to win. I still like to compete; only now it is a board game or mental contest of some sort that challenges me.
So I can certainly understand the competitive drive to win. The thing is though, as a Christian, my acute sense of competition has been overlaid with an even more important concept, the concept of respect. I still want to win, but not at all cost.
That is why I was pretty disgusted with the big cross town rivalry this past weekend. The annual week of “smack talking” culminated in a hard fought football game that left both teams with tarnished colors.
For those of you, who do not read a sports page, let me share the details. UCLA and USC slugged it out on the field for almost the entire game. With 54 seconds to go and USC up 21-7, the coach of USC told his quarterback to hike the ball and take a knee. It is the polite way to end a game when you are winning big. It signals the other team that you have no desire to rub their noses in the loss. But across the field, the coach of UCLA called a time out. He had three time outs he could call, so it appeared that he planned to call them all and then get the ball back-with 2 seconds to go in the game. Not a realistic plan, more of an “I am not about to let you end this game on your terms” sort of thing.
Not to be out done, the winning coach scraped the plan to end in grace and instead had his quarterback fling it down field for another touchdown. Two grown men, who should have had much more class, figuratively thumbed their noses at their opponents and their choices almost started a riot.
Parents, teachers, scout leaders, coaches and other mentors spend countless hours trying to train young people to respect each other. We make kids line up at little league games and tell the other team “good game,” even if they lost. We have the basketball players huddle up and chant, “Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate…” even when the other side dominated them. It is all an attempt to remember that winning isn’t everything.
David clearly understood that concept. For many years, Saul out of jealousy chased David around the Judean hills trying to kill him. David and his band of “mighty men” fought back. They wanted to win. They wanted to win so badly that on one occasion (I Samuel 24); David snuck up on Saul in a cave and cut off part of his robe. It was a kind of “I gotcha” gesture. But soon afterward, David was conscience stricken and he declared, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him, for he is the anointed of the Lord.”
David wanted to win. He wanted the prize; he wanted to be king of Israel. But he had respect for his adversary…so much so that he twice stopped his men from killing Saul.
There is a real lesson in that story. A lesson all our kids need to know. It is one thing to try hard to accomplish a goal. Excellence in every endeavor is called for in life (I Cor. 10:31). But we need to remind everyone (including ourselves) that mutual respect triumphs over any score, in any game, at any age!