Success breeds resentment. This is true not only on and off the athletic field, but of life in general. The same is true of repeated failures, but failures also produce a healthy amount of doubt.
I overheard a conversation last week that took place less than 10 feet away from me, at a high volume, in which a prediction was made that the Montana Grizzlies were going to destroy the Appalachian State Mountaineers on Saturday at Appalachian’s home opener in Boone. There was a tone of self-satisfaction in that voice, and a defeated quality to it, that made it more than someone just predicting the outcome of a game. Appalachian wound up disposing of Montana with relative ease, and junior quarterback Jamal Jackson passed for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
I’m an Appalachian alumni, like a lot of people in the foothills, and fortunately my college experience coincided with the Mountaineers’ dominance of FCS football. I’m used to seeing Appalachian win, not only because I have an allegiance to the school, but because winning has become a trend that can’t be denied. The Mountaineers win at home — and the victory over Montana was their 18th-straight regular season home win.
I’m describing an isolated incident, this naysaying, and every person who has ever lived could probably come up with a similar example. The perpetrators are known as the “haters,” and they’re able to rear their heads without shame in the arenas of sports and politics. There is room for all kinds in this world, but the constant negativity that accompanies two of the three subjects worth talking about is draining on the people who are unfortunate enough to hear it, and the people saying it.
The problem is that every game is a microcosm of the greater struggle between life and death. The days of the Roman Gladiator are gone, when victory or defeat actually meant life or death, but what we have in athletics today is just an evolution of that very old premise. I hear newscasters or fans who constantly predict defeat, who seem to get pleasure from losing or predicting loss or wallowing in an in-progress defeat, and it makes me question their general outlook on life.
I value winning, and the spirit of competition, as much as anyone else. But positivity is more important, and attitude can occasionally make up for a lack of talent and skill under the right conditions. That’s how upsets happen. It’s how teams and fans pull through losing streaks. And without it, the game wouldn’t be worth playing.
Michael Gebelein is sports editor of the Lincoln Times-News.