Football, Politics and the Importance of a Handshake

Written by Irma Ilustre, Manheim Township. A shorter version of this piece was first published on November 29, 2020 in LancasterOnline/LNP under the title “What Happened to Good Losers?”. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

Fall is a great time of year – not for the leaves or the pumpkin spice lattes, but for football. I grew up in a football family with both my brothers playing in high school and college.  When I went away to college, watching football on Sunday night was a weekly ritual and solidified my team of choice. After getting married, we had a group of friends who rotated hosting Sunday football games.  The food was great but the “trash talk” and celebration dances were even better! We may have been on opposing teams on Sunday, but that didn’t matter to our friendship on the other days of the week. 

Unfortunately, that great American tradition of gathering on Sunday for food and football may have fallen by the wayside during these pandemic times. Even more disappointing, is the loss of other American cultural norms that have long been showcased in our national game as well as in real life.

When I was younger, it used to be, that after a game – whether it was football or baseball, basketball or soccer, even volleyball or dodgeball – the team that won would shake hands with the team that lost and say, “Good game.” Even when everyone was getting participation awards, this tradition was still in place. But maybe that sense of “everyone wins” has been taken too far because in competition not everyone wins. In competition, there are winners and losers. 

There were also accepted and expected behaviors around these temporary titles (because these labels are truly only held until the next game when the roles might be switched). Winners won gracefully – they didn’t rub it in the loser’s face, they didn’t bad mouth the team or person that lost. Losers lost gracefully – they didn’t have a tantrum about losing and turned their attention to the future and what they could do better. Losers were also able to say what the winners did that won the game and sometimes, they might even say this with resignation and a hint of admiration.

Politics is a game where there are winners and losers. However, this most recent game has been marred by sore losers and sour grapes. While there are also stories of ungraceful winners, the actions of members of the losing political party has been egregious. Did they not learn how to shake hands and say “good game” when they younger? Or were they the kid who sulked on the bench and got a talking to from Coach and their parents? 

Or maybe, for some reason, they didn’t get that talk – maybe their parents and Coach told them that they didn’t have to shake hands and that the other team won by luck or because they cheated. Maybe those adults also didn’t learn the lesson about losing being an opportunity to grow and learn and practice being humble.

At this time, it seems we, the citizens of this Great Nation, have to be the parents to these politicians who are not willing to concede the election to president-elect Biden. We have to coach the angry, sulking politicians in our party, muttering about the game being unfair, and tell them, “We played hard and did the best we could. Let’s not focus on this loss, but focus on what we can do better next time.” If we have won this election, we have to show good sportsmanship and extend our hand and say, “Good game.” But more importantly, if we have lost this election, we have to show good sportsmanship and extend our hand and say, “Good game.” Then we can leave the field with dignity and a resolve to do better next time.

This is the American Way. This is how we keep our democracy alive.

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

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