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Who's To Blame

July 20, 2011 - Al Stephenson
I was in Lynchburg, Virginia when the World Cup soccer final was played. I didn't get to see the entire game though I did watch much of it. The heavily favored women from the United States was taking on upstart Japan and the outcome seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Then the unthinkable happened. Japan pulled off the upset.

When a favored team loses a game - particularly the BIG GAME - the finger pointing starts almost immediately. For many, there has to be someone to blame. The coach, the officials or more likely a player or players. Someone didn't perform up to expectations and they need to be properly chastized. They will be ridiculed and blamed for the loss.

It's my considered opinion that this concept is bogus.

There are many factors as to why a given team loses a given game, not the least of which is that the other team probably played better. Imagine that. Athletes do not always perform at peak levels. Teams that seem to be superior do not always win games. If they did, we would not bother to watch. Looking for a culprit when things don't go well may be human nature, but maybe it's time to change our outlook. People need to get used to the idea that their team may not always win. OK, make that WILL not always win. Upsets happen as Man O' War can attest (check out the name of the only horse to beat the famed thoroughbred).

I'm reminded of the quote from former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh. It's worth repeating.

"Sure I would like to have a pitcher who throws strikes all the time, and sure I'd like to have a fielder who catches everything hit at him, and sure I'd like to have a hitter that gets a hit every time he comes to the plate. The problem is that I can't get the guy to put down his beer, come down out of the stands and do those things!"

Our expectations for our sports teams are usually way too high. Instead of looking to blame someone for the U.S. defeat, pehaps we should just congratulate the Japanese women. Maybe it was not such an upset after all. They did beat Germany and Sweden before taking down the USA. Maybe they won the game rather than we lost the game.

The one term that particularly galls me is the use of the word choke. There were many that suggested the U.S. women choked in the finale. That seems so unfair.

The view from my seat would suggest that the World Cup was interesting and full of action (as much as soccer permits). The U.S. women should be congratulated on a good run and the Japanese should be congratulated for a great run.

The favorite team does not always win. That's why they play the game!


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