Sunday, November 06, 2016

We all want a name when we lose

It's tough to lose.

After losing the Super Bowl last January, Carolina Panthers quarterback, Cam Newton, was widely criticized for appearing to be a sore loser during his post-game press conference. Granted, I've never played football at the level at which Cam Newton plays so I've no idea the emotional havoc that Newton's 24 to 10 loss to the Denver Broncos wreaked on him.

Most of us like to win. While the saying didn't originate with him, legendary Green Bay Packers coach is widely quoted for his "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." Later in life, after receiving criticism for the sentiment being too harsh, Lombardi offered a corrective by observing that what he actually said was that winning "is not everything, but making the effort to win is." (A terrifically researched origins story for Lombardi's famous quote was written by Steven J. Overman for Football Studies.)

Is there a right way to lose?

It's a challenge to lose, particularly to lose gracefully. But most of us have faced losing at some contest in our lives.

I'm taken each time I see my grandsons play in a high school soccer match, not just with pride in seeing them play well and together with their classmates, but particularly after each game they lose when they line up and shake the hands of each player on the opposing team, as well as the two referees before they return to huddle with their coach. Sure, occasionally a player mutters an obscenity under his breath so an opponent who was particularly rough or unsportsmanlike during the game can hear, but out of earshot of the officials. The tradition of shaking hands after a loss or a win tries to send a message to the players that there is grace both in winning and losing.

A copy of a letter from President George H.W. Bush toPresident Bill Clinton that greeted Clinton on his desk in the Oval office his first day on the job in the White House after he had defeated Bush in a U.S. presidential election went viral a couple of weeks ago. "Your success is now our country's success," Bush wrote. "I am rooting for you." It's hard to find a stronger example of gracious losing.

Learning how to lose well is an ethical act. "Ethics is how we behave when we decide we belong together," wrote Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers in A Simpler Way. "Daily we see this interplay of ethics and belonging in our own lives. We want to be part of an organization. We observe what is accepted or rewarded, and we adapt. But these ethics are not always good. We may agree to behaviors that go against personal or societal values. Months or years later, we dislike the person we have become. Did we sacrifice some essential aspect of ourselves in order to stay with an organization? What was the price of belonging?"

The right thing is to enjoy winning, but to learn to lose gracefully.

In "Deacon Blues" Steely Dan sang: "They got a name for the winners in the world. I want a name when I lose." The goal should be to work to avoid being named "sore" when we lose. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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