Our Unhealthy Obsession With Winning

“McKenzie Milton coming off the bench to erase a double digit deficit after one of the most devastating knee injuries possible in the first game after Bobby Bowden died? And we’re headed to overtime? This legit feels like a movie script. Notre Dame may be about to get Rudy’d.”

I saw this tweet while watching the end of the Notre Dame Florida State football game Sunday night. Ultimately, Notre Dame didn’t get Rudy’d. They won by 3 in overtime after Florida State’s kicker missed a field goal. The game did feel like a movie though, and the McKenzie Milton story was fascinating.

Milton was the backup quarterback and came in towards the end of the game when the starting quarterback had to leave for a play because his helmet came off. As said numerous times on the broadcast, the fact that McKenzie playing was a miracle because three years ago, he suffered a knee injury so devastating that he needed emergency surgery to prevent amputation.

There are a few fascinating topics to explore from this story.

What if the starting quarterback didn’t lose his helmet and Milton never had a chance to play? (This is similar to Kevin Durant stepping on the line in game 7 vs the Bucks which I wrote about here.)

For how many stories of someone beating the odds when the doctors told him he’d never have a chance of playing again, how many stories are there of the doctors being right? (This idea is called survivorship bias)

As interesting as these topics are, I want to focus on a separate one: How much did this story change because Florida State had lost? As Notre Dame’s made the game-winning field goal, I found myself discrediting Milton’s comeback as if his comeback meant nothing now. Winning certainly would have made the story greater, but should losing negate how incredible his comeback was?

Florida State didn’t lose because of Milton’s poor play – their kicker missed a field goal in overtime, and Milton still made a miraculous medical comeback and got to play the game again on national television after wondering for 3 years if he ever would. Milton and Florida State still gave College Football fans an incredible game and had an entire stadium on the verge of a frenzy. The loss doesn’t negate this.

I feel we as a culture have made winning (not just in sports), the ultimate value – I know I have. Is playing to win important? Absolutely. But when winning becomes our ultimate value, we are creating a world that is inherently unstable and will inevitably have problems.

In January, I wrote a post called The Good Place: The Problems With Culture’s View on Heaven, and in it I said this:

But what happens in the Good Place when two men want to marry the same woman and receive her full affection, but only one of them can? What happens when two people want the same job, but only one person can have it? What happens when someone will only be happy if they have more than their neighbor, and their neighbor feels the same way?

In that same line of thinking, what happens when two opposing teams will only be happy if they win a game and only one of them can? For someone to win, someone must lose. If heaven, a utopian paradise, is what we want, winning can’t be our ultimate desire.

1 thought on “Our Unhealthy Obsession With Winning”

  1. I wonder if some of the obsession with winning is that there are so many games, so many stories, so many narratives that most of us need to filter things somehow. Winning is an easy filter — we eliminate half of the stories. Our technology puts so many peoples’ stories in front of us that we are overwhelmed.

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