When defenders of competitive sports assert that sports “build character,” especially team sports (amateur or professional), they’re referring only to the positive traits: discipline, perseverance, sacrifice (for the team), ambition, playing through pain and adversity, pride, accomplishment, sportsmanship, cooperation, racial tolerance, respect for authority, loyalty, high self-esteem (winner), humility, etc.
But then there are the negative traits, ones we like to think of as exceptions to the rule: selfishness, arrogance, egotism, cheating, willingness to break the rules, use of performance-enhancing drugs, “machoism” (God’s gift to women), greed, feelings of inadequacy (failure, not good enough), lost self-esteem (loser), homophobia, racial prejudice, etc.
Since negative traits can be as much a part of an athlete’s character as positive traits are, then wouldn’t the character that’s built by sports have to include all traits, both positive and negative? The claim that competition brings out the best is a half-truth and so a profound cultural myth since competition inevitably brings out the worst as well. When Lombardi says, “Winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” He’s only half right — in competitive sports, true; in life, sick.