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Personal essays

Winning - Essay from Newsletter 73

Adjusting the headline


When I was studying for my qualifying exams, Professor Hajek reminded me that I wasn’t competing with anyone but myself.

Some things are like that.

A driver’s test, for example.

We each need to pass the test but my passing doesn’t impact your chances in any way.

We can both pass and both get driver’s licenses.

The olympic games are different.

At the end of the competition, one person gets the gold, another gets the silver, and another gets the bronze.

The Headline

Maggie and I watched a fair amount of the olympics this year - or at least as much as we could on free over-the-air tv.

We have various streaming services and our television has a digital antenna so that we can receive local signals. We haven’t had cable for five years and I mostly don’t miss it.

It would have been nice to have had USA so we could have watched the Olympic Rugby games but we watched a lot of the swimming, diving, gymnastics, and track events.

I don’t remember one event from another, but there was one swimming even where the two american women swum their hearts out. One of them had the best time of her career and came in second. She was clearly happy with her performance and immediately reached over to the next lane to hug and congratulate the Australian woman who beat her.

She was pleased with her performance and knew what it had taken to beat her. She had the proper respect and appreciation for the woman who won the gold.

You write the headline. Did she win silver or did she lose to an Australian?

The headline we write is so important.

The Bronze

The US Women’s soccer team won the bronze medal at this year’s olympics.

The headline the right is promoting is that “being woke” cost them the gold medal.

In fact, the former president rooted against the team and celebrated their loss.

I can’t imagine doing either - but…

But the team lost to Canada and wokeness was not a factor.

The men’s team didn’t even qualify.

In the Wall Street Journal write-up defender Becky Sauerbrunn said they likely didn’t deserve the gold and got as far as they did because of the depth of the team.

Write the headline.

Is it, US Women’s soccer returns to the medal stage (they didn’t medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics), or is it US Women’s soccer loses and settles for bronze.

Why do so many headlines focus on what we don’t achieve?


The former president’s rant about the US Women’s team points to something ugly about us.

For many of us, it is less important that we win than that someone else loses.

In her book “The Sum of Us”, Heather McGhee talks of a time when there were thousands of public grand-resort style community swimming pools.

But then there were law suits that argued if all of our tax dollars are supporting these pools then all of us should be able to use these pools.

Rather than desegregate the pools, communities filled them in.

It was more important that black residents not enjoy these pools and the parks they were in than that the white residents continue to enjoy them.

More important that “they” lose than that “we” win.

McGhee argues that this is a difference between how the two sides of the political debate see things and why it’s a hard chasm to cross.

One side sees it as a zero sum game. If minorities get more then “real Americans” get less.

The side I sit on sees it as a rising tide floats all boats. If we make sure that people who need more get more, then we all benefit.

What’s vexing to those on the side I sit on is that in order to make sure that “those people” don’t get more, the other side seems to ignore that the people who are benefiting are those who don’t need more. Those who already have more than they can spend in a lifetime. And that benefits none of us.


There’s a story from 1936 of the men’s pole vault competition. Earle Meadows cleared a bar that others had failed and took the gold.

One American and two Japanese competed in a “jump off” to see who would get the remaining medals. In the first trial the American failed and the two Japanese succeeded. That meant that either Shuhei Nishida or Sueo Oe would get silver and the other bronze.

They refused to continue to compete. They wanted to share the second place medal.

The olympic games are different.

At the end of the competition, one person gets the gold, another gets the silver, and another gets the bronze.

As The Independent tells it “Their request (to share the silver) was rejected. Someone had to take bronze and someone silver. The Japanese team was told to make its own decision about who should claim second place and who third. After lengthy discussion, it was agreed that Nishida, who had vaulted 4.25 at his first attempt, should take precedence over Oe, who had needed two attempts at that height.”

When the athletes returned to Japan they had their medals cut in half and fused together so each had a medal that was half silver and half bronze. The so-called “Friendship medals.”

A couple of weeks ago I linked to a video of the men’s high jump from this year’s olympics.

The top two competitors continued to leap bar after bar until they both failed at the same height.

Something has changed in recent years - now the olympic games are different.

The competitors decided to leave it at that and the judges allowed them to share the gold medal.

They jumped higher than any others in the world.

It was more important to each that they both be winners than that either man rose above the other.

That’s a headline I love.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 73. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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