Today I’m going to talk about those silly little critters called people. Surprised you, didn’t I? You thought I was going to talk about dogs. Sorry. Nope : ) Don’t even have a dog. But if you looked at this post hoping to read about dogs, keep reading. It’s a good post.
Anyway, I’ve had a bit of a thought brewing in my mind which, like many of my thoughts, spawned from annoyance with a common human characteristic: what is it, I ask, with people and underdogs?
Allow me to qualify my question. People have a natural attraction to glory, honor, and accomplishment. That’s because people are meant to love God, and there is no greater epicenter of glory, honor, and accomplishment than the Godhead. I understand why people revel when long odds are overcome. But if you look closely at the underdog infatuation, I believe you will discover something far more complex – and devious.
If I lost you with the word “complex,” please stick around. You are probably part of the problem I’m about to talk about, so this would be good for you.
I have noticed that not all underdogs are even trying to defy the numbers. In fact, underdogs are often simply driftwood in the sea of odds. They are what they are and are making no efforts to swim against the current to get on the favorable side of the odds. In other words, they are underdogs for a reason.
There is of course such a thing as a noble underdog. Think of the movie Rudy. Rudy had a dream to play football at Notre Dame, but he was faced with long odds – given a disadvantageous starting point. But his disadvantages were given to him. They were outside of his control. He could not help that his mind did not naturally learn well in a common school setting. He could not help he was born with a body much too small for high-level collegiate football. He could not help he lived in a neighborhood – and with a family – that did not take well to those audacious enough to chase their dreams. But he did not allow those disadvantages to stop him. He pushed through the problems he could not control, and by great bravery, pluck, and hard work, overcame.
But Rudy’s status as underdog was outside of his control. He did not make himself an underdog. Nor did he fail to struggle against and overcome the circumstances that defined his odds as long. A noble underdog will change his underdog status if he can, and when he succeeds in changing his odds or accomplishing his goal against his odds, we rightly glory in his triumph.
It seems to me, however, that people favor underdogs regardless of their level of nobility. There are some underdogs that are underdogs by their own doing. In society, many underdogs were born underdogs, are still underdogs, and will die underdogs for very simple reasons and having accomplished very little against the odds they face. A lot of cultural underdogs – sometimes referred to as the “disadvantaged,” are just lazy, scared, or immature. There is no reason in the world a healthy individual should be unemployed in this nation. Anyone can walk into a restaurant, get a dirty job, work hard, and improve themselves. I know because I have. If you are screaming at me that I don’t know what it’s like to deal with the disadvantages you face, you might be right, but you are also an ignoble underdog. There is no reason to root for your success beyond charity towards fellow man. And even charity does not mean you should be preferred or given sympathy just because you let yourself lie in squalor. In many respects, you deserve disdain. You don’t deserve success. No one does. You have to earn it. So, if I may make so bold, stop calling people racists, stop blaming your parents, and go get a job. Disadvantaged people have succeeded all over the history of this nation, and they did it in the face of far worse odds than you have ever seen.
There is another layer to this unhealthy infatuation with underdogs, and I find that sport is a good arena in which to illustrate. I am a Steelers fan, so I know all about the raw side of this deal. Let me explain.
People seem to constantly favor the lesser team in any athletic exercise simply for the reason that they are the lesser team. At the risk of sounding like a bitter clinger (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, google it. It may help if you throw the word “Obama” into the search.), this habit is a surface-point symptom of what is wrong with our country. The big kid is so not cool.
There are noble underdogs in the field of sport, no doubt, and it is perfectly natural to pull for them. In 1980, America rejoiced at the Miracle on Ice. Our college boys rose up and stunned the USSR athletes to take Olympic glory, and they did it by overcoming odds outside of their control.
At the time, professional athletes were barred from Olympic competition, but my parents tell me the USSR team got around this rule. Apparently, those hockey players lived together, trained together, and practiced together at a level which I believe even exceeds those of professional athletes. But I guess they weren’t paid for it, so technically, they weren’t professional. The United States, being the historically good people that were are, abode by the rules and fielded a team of collegiate kids; thus creating long odds that they were forced to overcome. There of course is the element of national pride in this. Our victory over the USSR was all the sweeter because they expected to win, and should have won, and were looking forward to bragging about their superiority over the US in the process. Now that kind of underdog I root for. I like to see arrogance defeated. There is something satisfying about watching those who win badly lose badly. But it is extremely problematic, and irksome, to root against somebody just because they are good.
And that is what happens. Teams with high frequency of success are almost automatically branded as evil regardless of the level of class or charm with which they go about their successful enterprise. This is a problem because, almost inescapably, a highly successful sports franchise is also a highly skilled sports franchise. Nearly as reliably, an unsuccessful sports franchise is an unskilled one.
Why on earth would we root against a sports team simply for doing their job well? They are, after all, paid to play a good game. Why is it, that once athletes do their jobs excellently, they fall from our good graces?
I have actually answered my own question: excellent athletes, teams, and franchises are disliked because they are excellent. There is another word that describes people’s dislike for the overdog (if you will): dominance. Perhaps there is a third: confidence. These things are not uncommon companions to success, and they are unpopular.
Excellence cannot exist without an unequal distribution of, well, excellence. And excellence is obvious. Excellence often makes those less than excellent uncomfortable; especially those who are less than excellent through their own fault. Dominance cannot exist without a big loser, and few losers have the emotional stability to accept a big loss without whining, complaining, or exercising other such repugnant and unfair efforts to rob the winner of his success. Confidence cannot exist without suggesting both excellence and dominance, and is therefore repulsive to many.
It may be that some of my annoying fellow humans are displaying symptoms of said problems when compulsively rooting for underdogs. These are problems that stem directly from political and cultural liberalism, and liberalism – in attitude, perspective, and feeling – is everywhere. Christians are especially susceptible to it. Maybe that’s why so many of my Christian friends root against the Steelers – my excellent, dominant, and confident franchise of choice. Or maybe they do it to annoy me. As we have just demonstrated, nobody likes excellence, dominance, or confidence.