The Dirty Little Secret About Winning
– by David Matthews 2
There’s been a stream of questions that have been making the rounds in the media when it comes to the criminal trial of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. If the allegations of rampant molestation are true, as were supposedly proven by his recent conviction, then how could it go on for so long without something being done about it? How could he continue to be placed in positions of power and authority without someone stepping up and saying that this was wrong?
Unfortunately these kinds of questions won’t really get answered. Or at least not in a way that would be honest.
But it won’t be the only kind of question that won’t ever be answered honestly.
For instance, we talk about bullying and how “bad” it is. But no matter much we talk about it and how “bad” it is, we don’t really address the behavior itself, do we? We say it’s bad, but we really do nothing to stop it.
The folks behind professional wrestling are probably the worst of the bunch. They’ll do their public service announcements, telling kids that bullying is “bad”, and then they’ll go right back to their storylines featuring spoiled prima-donnas, power-mad executives, and so-called “champions” that cheat and do everything in their power to get their way. Yeah, that’s really nailing the message about how “bad” bullying is, huh?
Well, believe it or not, these two things are connected, and what connects them is the real reason why we really do not want those kinds of questions answered.
It all has to do with… winning.
Think for a minute about the worst of the bullies. What is it that makes their actions so reprehensible?
Well it has less to do with what they do and everything to do with who they are. Or more to the point, who and what we perceive them to be.
The no-name thug that picks a regular fight with the 100-pound weakling is easily put in his place by society. Someone will step up for the victim. The police will step in. The courts will say that this is a crime. The thug may even serve some jail time and end up fighting off other bullies that decide to use him as the next victim.
But what if the bully in question is the star quarterback of the local football team? Or maybe the most popular girl in school? What if he’s the CEO of the largest bank in the area? What if he’s the patriarch of the most powerful family in the community and treats the area as his personal fiefdom? How fast do you think society will step up for the victim then?
Think about the real-life “Mean Girls”. We don’t punish them for their manipulative ways, do we? No, we celebrate them! We make movies about them and put them on cable TV shows like “Bad Girls” or “Jersey Shore”.
Think for a minute about all of the abuse that goes unreported because the abuser is someone powerful or popular or wealthy. You only find out about it after they’re dead or after they’re in jail for something else, and only then will everyone wonder why “nobody noticed” or “nobody did anything”.
What’s the difference between them and the no-name thug? Status. Stature. Wealth. Influence. All the trappings of success.
In other words… winning. They’re all seen as winners.
Now take a look at our so-called “institutions” such as Penn State or even the Roman Catholic Church. When faced with allegations of some horrific act, such as someone in a position of trust molesting children, what is their first concern? Is it for the truth? Is it to find out if the accusations are real? No. It seems that their first concern is to their own reputations. They would rather keep a predator loose than to risk a “scandal” that could “demean” their status in the community.
But it seems our society has no qualms dragging ordinary people through the public mud even on the mere inference of impropriety. There’s no “concern” for the accused’s reputation then. “Better safe than sorry”, we are told.
What’s the difference between the ordinary citizen versus a collegiate official or priest? Stature. Prestige. Influence. Again, all the trappings of success.
Again… they’re seen as winners.
Think about the business and financial institutions that have fallen in the past ten years. From Enron and Worldcom to Countrywide and AIG. In every single instance, there is a time when certain flaws are discovered in their operations. Someone sounds the alarm. There is plenty of time for the errors to be fixed and to either stave off failure, or to lessen its impact to the business. But nothing is done. The alarm is ignored, it’s dismissed and the author is discredited as being a “flake”. It is only after the damage has been done that people start asking what happened and why nobody did anything.
Why do we do that? Why do we ignore the clear and present warning signs and then feign ignorance of them after-the-fact?
Well it’s simple, really. Corporate executives ignore the warning signs because at the time, their actions are bringing in huge profits for the business. They’re being hailed as business wizards. They’re being honored and celebrated.
In other words, they’re seen as being winners. And it is only after they fail, after they stop being seen as “winners” that we start to recognize the flaws that were always there. And then our own egos will refuse to admit that the formerly-dismissed whistleblower was right all along.
Are you noticing a pattern here?
Let’s get brutally honest here… the dirty little secret about winning is that we will excuse and justify just about anything that a supposed “winner” does.
We constantly say that “cheaters never win” and “winners never cheat”, but those are, in fact, outright lies. The truth is that we refuse to recognize when so-called “winners” cheat. We will consciously refuse to spot the flaws, the abuses, the acts of greed and corruption, the very things that we vilify and criticize in others. We will either excuse those flaws, or justify those flaws, or rationalize their necessity, but we will never treat those people like we would our neighbors or even ourselves.
We see this on a regular basis in professional sports. Remember the so-called “Bounty Scandal” of the New Orleans Saints football team? Did it come out when the Saints won the Super Bowl? No, it came out in 2012, after they lost in the Division Playoffs.
We see it in politics. We see it in the political candidate that claims to champion “family values”, but whose personal record is the very epitome of the word “hypocrisy”. What does he say when his star is still on the rise? He claims that “his message” is supposedly more important than his personal actions. And we will actually believe it! We will actually latch on to his serial hypocrisy and become an accomplice to it.
We see it in education. We claim that education is “important”, yet we pay more attention to the school’s sports teams than to the teachers. Johnny can’t read, but that doesn’t matter as long as he can score the winning touchdown in every game.
The point being made is this: we will really never solve some of these social problems that we claim are “important”, simply because the principal perpetrators of these problems are people we deem to be “winners”. We will never stop bullying until we are willing to take down the star quarterback or the head cheerleader. We will never truly crack down on serial molesters until we are willing to take down the churches and the universities that shelter them. We will never have real business accountability as long as we still think that some businesses are “too big to fail”.
As long as we put certain people and certain groups on a pedestal and worship them as pseudo-deities, we will never be able to address the evils that go on in their shadows.