I was blessed to experience my first Masters Tournament in 1986, the year Jack Nicklaus astounded the golf world and came roaring back to win in legendary fashion, silencing all the critics.
There is something in us that instinctively roots for the comeback and rejoices to see the fallen rise once more. This is undoubtedly what motivated Nike to salute Tiger Woods after his recent win at Bay Hill with an ad that read: “Winning Takes Care of Everything.”
Though Nike caught a lot of flak for the campaign, the only sin was that Nike told the truth.
American culture idolizes nothing as much as winning, from sports to business to politics, and an individual’s worth in our society is determined by the most recent score. One of the biggest insults we hurl is to label someone a “loser.”
A dark corollary to this philosophy is that how we win is far less important. As long as the hero keeps racking up points or profits or power, nobody wants to look too closely at collateral damage that might be inflicted along the way.
This explains everything from Mark McGwire’s home-run record to Lance Armstrong’s victories in the Tour de France. It also includes the Enron scandal and the meltdown at Lehman Brothers, and sadly, the horror at Penn State and the more recent ugly display at Rutgers.
You could even catch a glimpse of this philosophy at work locally, as the majority of the Greenbrier soccer team evidently figured their championship run entitled them to alcohol on a road trip. The defiant reaction of some who are penalized for their actions speaks volumes about the questionable values we have managed to impart to the next generation.
One day, the trophies will gather dust, and the names will be footnotes in a sports trivia book. As for wealth, it has been well said that you never see an armored car in a funeral procession. There was one, however, who managed to win by losing, giving his life for the salvation of humanity, and he summed it all up this way: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
I wish Tiger and his competitors all the best this weekend. I just hope one day we can all learn how to keep score more accurately.
THE REV. ED REES IS PASTOR OF ST. ANDREW PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.