We played a five versus five tournament at training last night. With the rest of the season postponed until the spring, we don’t have any games to prepare for, so training has been mostly technical activities and small games to goal. After the fall season was over in college, we often would do the same thing. There were always a couple weeks we could still train before the break for Christmas. Sometimes it can be hard to be motivated to go to training during this time without anything really to prepare for, but even still, there are some games that put a fire in your belly regardless of how burned out you are feeling towards playing. This is five versus five, or 5v5, as it is commonly known amongst us soccer players. At TCU, a few girls and I realized early on that 5v5 does this to us. Maybe it is the combination of this game with ultra-competitiveness and a fierce hatred of losing. Then, on top of this highly combustible combination, there are players you just can’t stand losing to because you know how much they hate losing and want desperately to hand it to them for pride’s sake, and they know how much you hate losing and make sure you feel it when you do. Whatever the circumstances may be, it was clear to all of us after many times playing with and against each other that 5v5 brings out the worst in us.
For the record, let me just say I didn’t lose the 5v5 tournament at training. My team actually only lost one game, so our point total was the highest. The game we lost was the last, which makes me cringe, but I quickly got over my frustration when the trophy (a box of musli bars i.e. granola bars but better) was handed to us. We took a picture with it, of course, and I got my fair share of bragging in before everyone left for the night. I think being a fierce competitor automatically comes with a bit of jawing. But that may just be me. I can’t help but love the smack talk. The downside of this is when you do lose and those who were eagerly waiting for this moment have the chance to rub it in, they make the most of it. And I’ll admit I am the foremost of sore losers. Talking big leaves major space for losing big. I just happen to think its worth it.
I always knew losing in 5v5 brings out the worst in me because its obvious. There is no hiding the fury. No denying the silent car rides back home after training. The disgust is palpable. It comes off like an aroma. It seems ridiculous to get so upset over something like a game in a training session, relatively harmless and insignificant to pretty much anything else. I know this but can’t always help it. In the moment, losing just feels like the most dreaded outcome. David’s slingshot crippling the beastly pride of Goliath. However, it occurred to me after the victory high wore off the other night that winning 5v5, too, can bring out the worst in me.
Its not so much the playful banter or competitiveness itself that is alarming to me. I think those things are a part of playing sport at an elite level. It’s the drunkenness, rather. Its how different I become. How not me. Or is it me? I am drunk but somehow acutely aware it is me. This is an enslaved version of myself.
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. [Galatians 5:13-15]
Winning can be an opportunity for the flesh when I make it about me. When it becomes about serving my interests. This is the opposite of love. Love offers freedom in the servitude of others. We get this twisted. I don’t believe Paul or the Law is talking about loving self as self-care. Loving self means letting ourselves go from our grasp and resting in our identity in the light of the Lord. This, too, is how we are to see others.
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…There was the true Light, even the Light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world knew Him not. [John 1:4-5;9-10]
Like any addiction, winning can bind us to ourselves. Bind us to the praise and admiration of others. The sport version of alcoholism. Winningism. I am a winoholic. Could you look at my soccer career and attribute how far I have come or the level I have reached from being this way? Probably partly for sure. So no harm done then, right? What’s the big deal?
The thing is the opportunity for the flesh exists at the same level of the freedom we are called to. The Jewish scholars went to great lengths of themselves to know every described detail of the Mosaic Law, down to the very punctuation, and yet, the whole Law is fulfilled in one word. Love. Studying the commandments of God can bring about the freest of loves or the bitterest of legalisms. St. Paul says, “do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” The Law calls us to freedom, but we turn it into bondage. In this way, at the same level of drunkenness from winning is an incredible potential for goodness and humility. I turn the goodness and humility into drunkenness. Both exist in the same space because both exist in the same space within me. I sometimes must push my body to distressing discomfort in the effort to win. It is here the crux of the choice between freedom and bondage exists. Do I deem it only worthwhile to suffer at these limits if I can at least gain some satisfaction from taunting and rubbing in my victory once I reach it? If I can at least gain some recognition and esteem in the face of my opponent? Or is it enough just to bear the suffering as part of my love? As part of the gift of being able to play the game and the enjoyment of competing at the highest level?
“What is wrong with you? What’s wrong with all of you? Since when is winning not enough, playing hard not enough? No, you have to humiliate your opponents. Taunt’em after every score.”[Coach Carter to players]
Winning brings out the worst in me when it turns into something more than it ought to be. When it becomes about my pride instead of my love. If we pay attention, our design as individuals and the things we love tell us quite a bit about our humanity.
In “The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” Will frees Jack Sparrow from prison to help him find Elizabeth, the woman he has always loved. Will is the stand-up guy. A humble blacksmith without a blemish on his resume. Jack, however, is a cursed pirate who drinks far too much rum and acts solely on his own interests. This is the stereotype of all pirates. Drunks. Thieves. Adhering to freedom as the ability to do whatever you want just because you want it. The opposite of noble men. Before Will springs Jack from prison, Jack mentions Will’s father. Will believes his father died when he was little and that he was an honest merchant sailor. Jack, however, knows the truth. He was a pirate, but Will doesn’t know this or want to accept it. He cannot reconcile how his father could be a good man and a pirate. He is ashamed to be the son of a drunk and a thief. To have this vile blood running through his veins. Jack presents Will with this consideration…
“Now while you’re just hanging there, pay attention. The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. You can accept your father was a pirate and a good man or you can’t.”Jack Sparrow
In the pursuit to save Elizabeth, Will finds out much about himself. It is his love of Elizabeth that takes him to the far reaches of his humanity. That brings out the worst and best in him. Something the safety and comfort of his blacksmith shop could not do. He learns how a man can be good and a pirate. He sees both in himself. He accepts a pirate could be a good man and a good man, a pirate.
At the end of the movie, Jack again is in the custody of the officials of Port Royal, of which the law condemns all pirates to death. Will is in the audience attending the hanging. Just before Jack is suspended to his fate, Will throws his sword for Jack to stand on and frees him from the rope. There are too many guards to take on, and the two are quickly surrounded. Commodore Norrington, who has had many interactions with Will and Jack at this point in the story, and, though he doesn’t admit it, also struggles with the same stereotype-busting reality that a pirate can be a good man. His character represents the result of the “noble” path Will could have chosen. And Jack, the opposite. He says to Will…
“You forget your place Turner.”
“It’s right here, between you and Jack.”
Will stands in the balance of being a good man and a pirate. Commodore Norrington is bound to the law that says just being a pirate, Jack is guilty and deserving death. Will, having spent time with Jack and getting to know him, sees how a pirate can also be a good man. He attempts to rescue Jack from his hanging not because he is convinced he will succeed but rather so the hangman earns “two boots instead of one.” So the hangman will die with the dignity he deserves as a man. With recognition of the light inside of him as well as the dark. Will determined this was worth putting his life on the line for. He determined loving Jack as himself meant revealing and protecting the light he had come to know within Jack.
Since the night of the 5v5 tournament in training, a lot has happened in the world of politics. I was waiting in line to check-out at Walgreens, and there was a magazine with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the cover. With the picture of the new President and Vice President elect, the title read something like it is time for America to unite. As I have spoken about already, I did not support the Democratic candidates this election. The sore loser within me started to brew negative feelings and hurt pride as I looked at this magazine. “Oh, so y’all think you can unite America?”
Before I let the sore loser answer my question, I realized where I was. I was at the crux of freedom and bondage. Humility and drunkenness. Serving my own interests or truly loving and letting love be worth losing my own life to protect to light within all of us. I was between Jack and Commodore Norrington. I could adhere to the stereotypical party lines and do my Republican duty to wish ill will on the opposition. To condemn them for their sins as Democrats. Or I could accept the reality of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s humanity. I could see them not as opposition at all. I could accept they are good men and pirates. Politicians and people. Just as I am.
Let me throw my sword to help them stand. To give them two boots instead of one.
“I hope y’all do.”