For everyone else, I was quoted in the April issue of Wired Magazine in Brendan I. Koerner's Mr. Know-It-All column. Thank you to Wired and Mr. Koerner.
I wrote up some more extensive comments on the question Mr. Koerner is answering in his column. Below is a lightly edited version of these comments.
The Question: "I recently posted a video of one of my son's high school wrestling triumphs on YouTube. The defeated wrestler's father has asked me to take it down, saying it humiliates his boy. Is his request reasonable?"
One thing that I find troubling in the request to pull the video is the idea that losing itself is humiliating. There are certainly ways of losing that can be humiliating, but the mere fact of losing a match is not itself humiliating. One can lose with grace. This is a large part of what good sportsmanship is about: learning to accept one’s loss in stride and with poise. Moreover, losing, while painful, is a learning opportunity. The athlete can see what he did wrong, and he can study what his opponent did right.
If an athlete gives his best—that is, he has trained hard, worked at developing his ability, and competed to the best of his ability—and yet loses in a fair match, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. There is no shame in losing to a better, more skilled opponent; and much pride can be taken by competing well against such an opponent.
If the athlete did not try his best or had not come prepared, he might well be embarrassed. But the humiliation here is not from the loss. It’s from the recognition of failing short of what is required of an athlete. Even had he won the match in such a case, he should still be embarrassed for not training and competing as one should.
Winning is important, but it is not the only thing that is important in sport. It is, as the cliché goes, also important how one plays the game. But I mean something more than merely the cliché idea of being a good sport and so on. Competing in sport is also about striving towards excellence. Excellence is not the same as winning. Winning is one measure of excellence. Earning a bronze metal at the Olympics is a great achievement and measure of excellence, and yet one did not win. Some of the swimmers who finished behind Michael Phelps still swam faster than the world records. Surely these are excellent athletes worthy of praise and admiration.
One might raise the issue of consent, that there is a difference between losing in front of a small group of spectators at the school gym and losing in front a world audience on Youtube. In one respect, I can understand this point. What might not bother someone in a small group, would be more embarrassing if broadcast the world over. And anyone who has survived high school knows that such a wide public airing could make worse the teasing and ridicule from one’s peers. However, this is a cost of competing. Being an athlete means that one has to take risks. Not just the physical risks of training and competing, but the risk of going out to compete and not winning, of failing to perform to expectations (one’s own or others). By agreeing to compete, one is agreeing to this risk. If one is not willing to risk that one’s loss will be known by others, then one should not compete.