Ben Hietanen

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This quote by UCLA football coach Red Sanders is perhaps the most famous quote about competitiveness. Competition is a huge part of life from job interviews to athletics.

Many athletes have shown they will do just about anything to win, including putting their lives at risk by taking harmful performance enhancing drugs. Athletes aren’t the only ones either; top business executives have shown they will do anything to win. Just look at Enron, where greedy executives’ decisions cost thousands of people their jobs.

Sports have been accused of not being about fun and loving the game anymore. Many say that sports have become all about winning, at any cost. Even at the lowest levels of sports, many parents have preached “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” more than “just have fun.” Many children are brought up believing that winning is more important than having fun or even enjoying the sport they are playing.

I was playing indoor soccer in middle school and we were playing in the league championship against a vastly superior team that killed us during the regular season. The coach on the other team already made individual championship trophies before the game for his team and showed them off to us before we started playing.

Our coach told us before the game to just have fun and not to worry about the final score. We beat the other team 8-2, making their championship trophies as good as a doorstop. The other team had too much pressure put on them by their coach, who had the “winning is the only thing” mentality beaten into his team. The sad thing is that there are examples of parents and coaches pushing younger athlete’s way to hard to win at all costs.

J.P. Hayes is a no name on the PGA Tour, golf’s most prestigious league. Every year the PGA has a qualifying competition, known as Q-School, for everyone outside of the top 150 players in the world. Q-School is one of the most competitive and brutal events in sports with thousands of players vying for only twenty five spots.

Most professional golfers never can make it through Q-School and achieve their dreams on the tour. Hayes, who finished 176th in the world the year before, was well on his way to qualifying for the tour again after another good round.

After the round, however, he noticed that he accidently had used an illegal golf ball. Hayes could have not said anything and no one would have noticed this mistake. Hayes, however, turned himself in, disqualifying himself from the event and giving up a great chance of making it back on the PGA for the 2009 season. Hayes told reporters that he turned himself in to honor the integrity of the game.

Hayes decision should be applauded in a world where winning has become “the only thing.” Now I know golf is just a sport, but to Hayes it is what he does for a living. And while Hayes isn’t playing for food to survive, he isn’t exactly on Tiger Wood’s quest to become the first sports billionaire. He not only gave up playing the money and fame of the PGA Tour, he gave up playing the game he loves at its highest level. Could you see a top CEO doing the same today?

Golf is known as a “gentleman’s game,” where players call penalties on themselves. The fact that Hayes put the games integrity ahead of himself should be bigger than a back page story, especially when the media is overflowing with the same rehashed scandals.

In my marketing class once we were given a hypothetical situation about our boss black mailing us and asked whether you would quit your job because of it. The teacher told us to raise our hand if we would quit the job. A lot of people said they would quit their job, but some would not. Then the teacher tells you that you are paying for your kids to go to college and more people’s hands went down. Eventually after a couple of scenarios everyone’s hand was down.

I would be a hypocrite if I told you that I live my life by always making decisions the same way Hayes did. The example in class showed that everyone’s breaking point is different. It just seems today that too many people can’t justify their breaking points the same way. Athletes justify steroid use by saying everyone else does it. Top businessmen justify shady dealings by saying they were just thinking of the stockholders best interests.

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” may apply more today than it did when it was first said almost 60 years ago. Famous golfer Bobby Jones was praised after issuing himself a 2-stroke penalty during a playoff in the 1925 U.S. Open. Jones responded by saying that, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

Most people would say they would do the same thing if they were put in Hayes’ shoes, but saying is different than doing. Stories like Hayes’ show there are plenty of people with integrity left in the world, even if they don’t get the headlines.