The Idle American: What will the Great Scorer say?

In the words of Grantland Rice, the Great Scorer “writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”

It’s an expression rarely heard these days, perhaps because there are so many lenses through which life-in-a-hurry can be viewed. When’s the last time you heard, “I saw it with my own eyes?”

I never expected to see gambling interests advertising on TV sports or the promotion of something called bitcoins. I’ve avoided pitches from the former and drawn the line on the latter, not risking crossed eyes trying to understand what bitcoins are about. I’m treating said coins the way I’ve regarded the sport of track since the switch from understandable yards and feet to metric measurements. I – and millions of others – can’t get the hang of conversion, and therefore have a flagging interest in the sport.

Traditional sports coverage remains valued, but I’m less concerned about outcomes and more eager to learn about how players emerge on the other side….

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   Renowned sportswriter Grantland Rice – known for elegant prose – got it right. He is most remembered for applying sports lessons to real-world situations. Perhaps his most cited quote is simply this: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

During his fifty-plus years of 20th-century writing, he conveyed lessons learned from playing both high school and college sports. He valued life applications far more than won-lost columns.

His sense of honor was unquestioned. Before entering World War I service, he entrusted his entire “fortune” of about $75,000 (equivalent to about $1.4 million today) to a friend. Alas, his friend lost all of Rice’s money in bad investments, then committed suicide.

Rice apologized to the friend’s widow, saying that he shouldn’t have “put that much temptation in the way.” Then, he made monthly contributions to her for the rest of her life. It’s difficult to imagine such acts occurring today, is it not?…

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   All this to say that I’m always on the lookout for expressions of authentic sportsmanship. I applaud when high school–and sometimes professional—players offer handshakes and encouragement to losing teams when games end.

Perhaps the best evidence of sportsmanship I’ve seen is a video of our 15-year-old grandson, Kedren Penney, who plays basketball in a homeschool league. Without mentioning his personal stats or his team’s record, his humility shone through.

He chose to make a video he called “lowlights” of his basketball season. His growth spurted to 5-11 before season’s end, but he’d grown accustomed to competing among the trees, knocked about, and face-planted with some regularity.

I had to request a viewing of the video, but he finally complied. For about five minutes, I saw him sprawling on the floor repeatedly. Every single time, he was offered hands – from teammates and opponents alike – to help him regain his feet. It was both fun and encouraging to view the video again, if only to count the gestures of sportsmanship….

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   Kedren didn’t mention his team’s record or his personal stats. He preferred showing the “lowlights,” giving only passing reference to his half-court buzzer-beater in one outing.

In the short video, I was reminded that there still are programs where some coaches and players (as well as parents much of the time) see value beyond won-lost records.

Grantland Rice would be proud, and I am, too….

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   It is ours, as a culture, to reconsider what sports should be about, for boys and girls alike.

Coaches shouldn’t have to “win at all costs” or look for ways to “unlevel” playing fields.

And parents/fans should cut coaches some slack, foregoing the temptation to support them heartily, provided they win or tie….

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   The name Grantland Rice is worth researching.

His was a remarkable life and his words were heartfelt.

I can never think of his greatness without recalling one of his familiar poems: “For when the One Great Scorer comes, to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” I salute all who value his counsel….

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   Dr. Newbury is a longtime university president who writes weekly and continues to speak throughout the state. Contact: 817-447-3872. Email: [email protected]. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury

Please click HERE to find When The Porch Light’s On, Don’s inspirational and humorous memoir, on Amazon.

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