Winning isn't everything (or is it?)

Its the baseball offseason again, and free agents are shopping their wares. The GM's are all meeting in Chicago this week, and we're all eager to hear which players will be moving teams and which will be staying. All of this means we're about to be inundated with the oft-used, but regrettable stock phrase, "Its not about the money, its about winning championships."

Now when I was a lad, still but knee high to a yak-pup, I participated in many organized sports. And if there was one moral lesson to be taken away from the experience, it was that winning wasn't everything. Sure, we played to win, but it was more important that we play fair, do our best, encourage our teammates, and shake hands with the opponents after the game. And considering I played for mostly Christian school teams, giving glory to God was also a consideration.

Apparently somewhere between youth sports and the professional level, this lesson is being lost. And not only is it being lost, but it is being replaced with the exact opposite lesson, "Winning IS everything." And not only has the emphasis on winning won the day, but it has simultaneously managed to usurp the moral high ground that used to be reserved for honesty and fairness. One gets the impression these days that players who say they simply want to go where they can win a championship really think they are being more noble and self denying than their money grubbing colleagues who will simply accept the largest contract regardless of which team offers it.

It would appear that winning and money are the only two factors in the lives of a professional athletes, and by throwing money under the bus, winning has managed to come out on top. Of course, given the financial incentives that accompany winning, there's rarely much sacrifice involved when a player decides to go to a winning team. Winning leads to money. So what they're really saying is that "Money isn't everything, getting paid well to win is." How noble. They've decided to lust after both fame AND fortune, rather than just fortune.

NBA star LeBron James was the latest to use this line, amidst ongoing speculation related to his upcoming free agency. But just to be safe, he clarified today:
"Let's get this clear: I said the max contract doesn't mean more than winning," James said. "I didn't say 'I don't need a max contract' or 'I'm not going to get a max contract.' All I'm saying is that winning is more important to me than money at the end of the day."
Lest his greed be mistaken for altruism, James wants to make one thing clear: He really, really wants to make boatloads of money while simultaneously pursuing fame and titles. But as he says, money isn't everything, its about winning. What a great guy.


Jeff said…
I can only think of one time when a player actually had a choice between money and winning. In 2003 Paul Kariya turned down a 10 million dollar per year contract with the Mighty Ducks to sign for 1.5 Million with the Avs. He wanted both to win a championship, and also to be reunited with his good friend and former teammate Teemu Selane, who also took a radically undervalued contract. It was the deal of the century for the Avs.

So if LeBron signs somewhere for 1.5 Mil per year of less, I will retract my comments and apologize.

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