Wednesday, March 3, 2010

U.S.A. & THE VALOR OF DEFEAT

"No battle is ever won. They are not even fought. The Battlefield only reveals to man his own folly and despair and Victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools."-- Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury

An oft repeated cliche about professional sports is that the field holds no place for moral victory. To the winners belong the laurels. While the losers suffer everything from an ignominious oblivion to condescending pity and malicious ridicule. From its campaign hustings to its ball fields, for the defeated, America is unkind and lonely world. Ask anyone from Michael Dukakis to the bereaved of Donnie Moore.

It is important, for this reason to honor, the 2010 men's Olympic hockey team.

No, it will not offer the weary players any solace. Nor will it comfort the broken-hearted millions who plunged from elation to despair in that fleeting period on Sunday night separating silver and gold. Alas, miracles on ice may come but once a lifetime.

Yet we forget the likes of Zach Parise and Ryan Miller and Brian Burke at our peril. For in their defeat, they impart an invaluable wisdom found perhaps nowhere in America outside wars' graveyards and the novels of William Faulkner. It's the lesson the Greeks teach us in their tragedies, if not in their Olympics, about the splendor born of lost causes. It's the lesson that we often achieve our greatest glory not in the magnificence of our victories but in the mettle and tenacity with which we contest the odds and in the nobility and grandeur we attain, as a consequence, even in succumbing to defeat.

And for this lesson alone the 2010 team deserves an honored seat right alongside the 1980 team in the annals of this still fledgling, adolescent country's Olympic history.

After all, miracles of success breed instinctive awe and will earn lasting immortality all on their own. No act of conscious or conscience is needed to secure them their legacy. But America's Horatio Alger myth notwithstanding, the lot of most of us is a fate both more desperate and obscure.

And for us that know no glory, may USA 2010 live forever. We cherish you in quiet inspiration.

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