What’s a poor sport?

Before you jump in with 20 one-liners, all ending with Trump, let’s hold those guffaws. 

Who asks a question like that? In this case, it was a six year old girl. I don’t know what prompted the question. She might have heard her parents talking about the 2018 Dodgers stealing signs in the World Series or Bill Belichick’s videotaping opposing team practices. 

Or Baby Donald’s tantrums at losing to Biden. 

(Sorry. Couldn’t resist. On the other hand, this really isn’t a guffaw moment, is it.) 

Traditionally a poor sport is someone who cheats in a competition or loses, and then, rather than accept the loss, complains about the winner, the rules, or the referees. We’ve all seen it: a thrown baseball bat, a football helmet slammed on the ground, a tennis racket flying at the ref.

Being a good sport has been a standard of our culture for, well, ever. For example, since 1865 when the Marquess of Queensberry Rules were written (by a Welshman), bare fists have been forbidden in boxing.

Other sports developed protocols, too. Like politics and business.

Today senators refer to even their most hated enemies as “My Colleague” or “Our friends across the aisle.” It’s a way of keeping arguments civil, as opposed to the early days, like in 1804 when Alexander Hamilton accused Aaron Burr of corruption. They settled it with a duel. Hamilton – the good guy –  lost. 

One politician, corrupt, trying to destroy the other – hard to believe, huh.

Human beings have developed rules for how to treat each other from the Garden of Eden forward. For example, shaking hands was a way of showing the other guy you weren’t about to knife him. 

Rules like that were an attempt by humans to avoid the rule of the jungle whereby the meanest, most ruthless, hungriest one wins. (Although, when you think about it, we’re the only animal that kills other animals for pleasure.)

Our culture has had basic rules about how we treat each other for, well (again), ever. 

But there’s always been something of a dichotomy. 

We teach our children not to lie or cheat or steal, the Golden Rule, the importance of shared sacrifice for the higher good, that kind of thing. We teach them about George Washington and the cherry tree, about Abraham Lincoln walking miles to return a few pennies, about Roosevelt smiling through polio.

Some people call that the American Character, a culture of shared values that settled the west, fostered the Industrial Revolution, launched us back across the pond in WWI and again in WWII, and into world leadership.

But then there were the likes of Carnegie and Rockefeller and Henry Ford. 

In 1919 Henry Ford got wind that the the Dodge Brothers, who provided engines and transmissions for his cars, wanted to start their own car company, using dividends from their Ford stock as startup money.  Ford promptly stopped paying dividends. When the Dodge brothers sued, he claimed he was increasing shareholder value – and won.

From then on, increasing shareholder value has been the shield companies, from Exxon to Marlboro, from Big Pharma to Big Tech, have used to take advantage of consumers, suppliers, and employees. 

Some people call that unchecked Capitalism. 

Over time we’ve always kept Capitalism in check with laws reflecting our shared values. Teddy Roosevelt put a lid on Standard Oil and J.P.Morgan monopolies with the Sherman Anti-trust Act in 1901; it held for years. Judge Harold Green did the same thing with AT&T in 1982. 

We’ve kept authoritarians in check with the Constitution, from Andrew Jackson to Huey Long to Richard Nixon.

(My kids did that to me by turning 21)

In the last 50 years or so, though, the ethic of lying, cheating and stealing has begun to overpower personal integrity. Legal lying is rampant in advertising, not to mention politics. Cheating is sweeping through the educational system, not to mention  business.

Stealing is part of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and headed for Main Street.Google sells us services then steals our data and sells it. Wall Street bends the tax code to its benefit. Chain stores with 40% and 60% off sales are chasing Mom and Pops from Main Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

We’re out of balance, America. Trump is not an aberration. He’s the hood ornament. We’re shedding the rules of civility and fairness that brought us here.

Six year olds are right to ask, “what’s a poor sport?”. The real concern is how we answer.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)