THROUGH THE FIRE: The Value of Winning

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By SHARON YAMATO

Being a diehard Bruin, it’s difficult not to gloat after UCLA’s triumphant win over USC last Saturday. Unlike members of the team, who are only allowed 24 hours of reveling by coach Jim Mora, I’m still high with all the celebration.  I’ve read every game analysis, watched every replay, and pored over every Mora quote. On top of the early season wins by the UCLA basketball team and the recent reinstatement by the NCAA of highly touted player Shabazz Muhammed, this football win has me completely Bruin eight-clapped out.

My overwhelming joy over this victory has caused me to wonder why winning a game has become so important to me (and many of my Asian and even non-Asian friends). What is it about 22 guys on a field trying to knock each other around over an oval-shaped ball that has me so emotional?

As an overweight young girl, I never won at any sport. What’s worse, I remember all too well being the proverbial “last one” picked for a team. During those times of personal humiliation, I vowed not to place value on athletic competition, which always seemed to favor the naturally talented and physically fit. Likewise, competition reinforced the notion that there were those at the top and the rest of us underneath, only contributing to my already keen sense of inferiority.

As I grew to adulthood, I discovered that I could become involved in the relatively non-competitive sport of running. Since I knew I was never going to win a marathon or even a10K race, I only had to compete with myself. A race meant camaraderie in pursuing a goal and self-satisfaction in getting to the finish line.

However, as races piled up I found myself watching the people (especially the few Asian women in races back then) around me and became determined to pass them. Then I became focused on the age-level (thank goodness) results to see if I had placed in my division. These days I secretly admit that I hesitate to even enter a local race unless I think that I can win my now-senior age group.

Without even realizing it, I have joined the ranks of those who place an overabundance of value on winning. It’s a penchant that manifests itself most obviously in sports but is present in every aspect of life — from competing for a job to winning an election or waging a war.

We saw the workings of this familiar American pastime of winning at all costs in the recent presidential election. Two men spent millions of dollars trying to outperform the other. Though I shudder to think how that money could have been better spent, I’m reassured that campaign dollars also served to fuel a shaky American economy. I’m also happy to say that the man (aptly self-described as the “first Pacific president”) who best understands the underdog, i.e., those who’ve lost their jobs or don’t have medical insurance, was the man who — yes, that word again — won.

Aside from a presidential campaign, which has huge repercussions for billions of people, I still wonder why we as a society place so much value on winning. The wise person would say that there is more to be gained by losing, but in the aftermath of defeat, it’s a hard pill to swallow.  Just ask UCLA superstar running back Johnathan Franklin, who just last year fumbled so much that he said his teammates stopped talking to him. After last year’s stinging 50-0 defeat to USC, Franklin shelved his football gear for months. And yet he bounced back this year stronger and more resolute than ever.

Perhaps basketball great Michael Jordan said it best when he added up the 9,000 shots he has missed, 300 games he has lost, and the innumerable game-winning plays he has failed to make over the course of his career. He summed it up in these words: “I have failed over and over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed.”

Good thing to remember when life deals blows. Yes, I know we can all learn something from failure and defeat (I’ll try to remember that when UCLA plays Stanford next week), but for now, can I just keep enjoying this one little UCLA victory?

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Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at sharony360@gmail.com.

Sharon Yamato and friends savoring UCLA’s win over USC on Saturday.

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