If only winners had the dignity of losers

Early in life we're taught how to be good losers and good sports, not to cry when someone wins our marbles or beats us at softball.

On "Jeopardy" it's the losers who turn to the champion to shake his or her hand. Losers have a major role in competition's victory rituals, smiling graciously, stepping back to let the applause and glory fall on the victor, never giving any indication they are vengefully planning a rematch.

Today's losers - individuals and teams - always seem to behave well.

But the winner can be a troubling sight these days.

Individual football players perform solo victory dances in the end zone when they've scored a touchdown.

The spectators should be cheering, not the players, I find myself thinking.

Actors in the theater wait until the end to take their bows; they don't pause for applause after every soliloquy. Occasionally, opera singers are applauded following an especially noteworthy aria or scene, but it's the audience, not the star, who initiates the accolade.

Lately, I've been dismayed to notice a few quiz-show contestants raising fists in triumph, a phenomenon too frequently depicted on TV commercials.

Unfortunately, bad manners and poor sportsmanship witnessed again and again in our homes can become a norm endorsed by cultural authority.

Do we want to see spelling-bee champions clasping their hands overhead in an individual triumphant arch, not considering the feelings of the other orthographers?

Do we want to see our winning senators leaping at the podium, fists clenched in a sign of power?

Is the strange, destructive rite of an entire winning team diving into a heap on top of a pitcher or home-run hitter something we want our children's teams to emulate - co-ed or not?

Through example and role playing we have to teach our children - and ourselves - how to react when things go well.

Receiving a compliment is embarrassing for many. They need to practice the simple, gracious "thank you." And - for the rare occasion when more is needed - phrases such as "That means a lot, coming from you," "How kind of you to say that," or "I could not have done it alone."

After all, no one wins a race or piano competition or chess match without help.

A victory's not just the result of talent and practice, important as they are.

Coaches, teachers, teammates, family, and friends all give us a boost - and good opponents are necessary, too.

Perhaps amateur and professional teams could include lessons in proper etiquette for winners and losers along with batting practice, running laps, and sit-ups, so that the team and individuals will look good no matter what the outcome of the contest.

When winners are busy patting themselves on the back, how can someone shake their hand?

*Dorothy McLaughlin is haiku editor of Piedmont Literary Review. She lives in Somerset, N.J.

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