Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer of Morality

This past Independence Day weekend got me thinking. While most people were consumed with the Steve McNair story, I started wondering about Wimbledon. And soccer. And Phil Mickleson. And Rocky. Let me explain.

See, this weekend was a microcosm of what I call the Trophy Era, which is our current state of giving the kid who struck out four times and made two errors the same hardware as the kid who went 4-4 with five RBIs. It is the land of morals, home of the meek, and they are indeed inheriting the Earth. And it's entirely possible that the movie Rocky helped shape this new form of ideals.

Looking at the series as a whole, there are six parts. In part one, Rocky loses, but receives the biggest moral victory in the history of both fantasy and reality athletics. But in parts 2-5, Rocky wins. And our memories of Rocky are in those wins. He beat Mr. T. He knocks out Drago. It doesn't matter that the first image is of him losing, because the lasting images, which are the most important, are of the underdog champion.

When the franchise came full circle in 2006 with part six, Rocky Balboa, the underdog loses. Rocky gets beat. So the message being sent here is that while all the wins were good and made a champion out of Rocky, it's the losses, to start and end his career, which are the most important. It is the birth of the moral victory - the most disgusting term in sports.

The summer of 2009 is the result of this kind of thinking; the Summer of Morality. The lasting images of this summer will be of three events: the U.S. Open, the FIFA championship and the Wimbledon final. The dominating storylines of these three were of the underdog caliber. Mickleson had to fight for his sick wife. Team USA and Andy Roddick had to fight the foreign powerhouses. Real Hollywood stuff, you know? But in real life, we want Rocky II-V, instead we got Rocky I and VI.

Mickleson fell short. Team USA gagged. Andy Roddick was no match for history. In the way we usually look at sports, these are failures on the biggest stage. Mickleson's bogies on 15 and 17 were awful. Team USA blew a 2-0 lead at halftime. Roddick played the greatest game of his life, and found out it wasn't enough. These are the lowest of the low. Except, we live in a Rocky world, where not only does failing in the clutch not get you criticized, it gets you a medal.

I'm not saying that the Rocky movies create excuses for professional athletes. Art reflects reality, it doesn't produce it. This is a new, late 20th century American view. We changed Lombardi's quote of "winning isn't everything, the will to win is" to "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing", because that is what America has always been about.

Not now. No, Mickleson, Roddick and Team USA are champions of the heart, and that's all that matters. The compelling aspect of athletics used to be to witness what it takes to rise to the top, not what it takes to achieve noble failure. Maybe we need to stop rewarding people for just trying. Whether it's giving runner-ups journalistic praise or your clumsy kid a medal. It breeds defeat, not success.

Remember, Rocky did eventually become a champion. He had a statue erected. Phil Mickleson, Andy Roddick and Team USA lost. There is no award for second place in life, so let's not give one out in sports. I want to go back to "only the strong survive". It's what makes July 4th such a great holiday; a day to raise our foam fingers as #1. We didn't just try, we succeeded. There used to be morality in that.


Jeff F. said...

Moral Victories!!! LOL

* 1990 Mizzou vs. Colorado (Famous 5th Down Play)

* 1972 USA vs. USSR Oympic B-Ball Finals

* 2008/2009 Mizzou vs. UConn (Elite 8 Game)

* 2007/2008 Memphis vs. KU (NCAA Basketball Finals)

* 1995 Mizzou vs. UCLA (Tyus Edney's 4.8 second shot in the Elite 8)

Ask these "losers" (Mizzou 3-times)how they feel about moral victories

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