MAXWELL: Yes, I’m a sore loser and proud of it

1/24/2001 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Guess who uttered the following cryptic words: “It’s a lot of fun winning. It hurts to lose.” The speaker was none other than Republican Bob Dole, conceding the 1996 presidential election to incumbent Bill Clinton. Dole, a combat-wounded World War II veteran, understood the significance of victory over defeat.

I use Dole’s unsentimental words to reply to naive, right-wing letter writers who accuse me, along with my colleague Diane Roberts and others, of being sore losers. In short, we refuse to accept their guy, the gray-matter-challenged George W. Bush.

Of course, I am a sore loser. Always have been. Hell, I am a former United States Marine who was trained to win at all costs. Our battle-scarred drill instructors taught us that our job was “to give the enemy the best chance he ever had to die.”

America is a great nation for several reasons, the main one being that we win. In fact, we enter each new venture with an agenda to win. Rarely do we lose anything as a nation. And when we happen to lose _ a la Vietnam _ we bitch and moan, bitch and moan.

Even more, we hate losers. Listen to what Knute Kenneth Rockne told Wisconsin basketball coach Walter Meanwell in the 1920s: “Show me a good and gracious loser, and I’ll show you a failure.”

Back to Vietnam. That debacle will be stuck in our collective craw forever because the world’s mightiest military, which includes my beloved Marine Corps, failed to beat Ho Chi Minh’s ragtag jungle warriors. Why do you think that Vietnam veterans are our most wounded breed, why they still feel rejected by their fellow citizens, why the nation itself cannot come to terms with it? Because we have had to endure raw defeat.

In that same vein, one of the worst single images of the U.S. military during the last 50 years was the CNN footage showing the bodies of our soldiers being dragged through the dusty streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. This event, along with the deaths of 18 other soldiers who died in the bungled attempt to capture militia leader Mohammed Farrah Aidid, was the ultimate defeat. We pulled out of that African nation without any real accomplishment. And, by the way, we remain ambivalent about the Gulf War because we did not destroy Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard.

My point? Winning _ not losing _ is an essential part of our national character. Why do you think that our culture is infused with sports and military allusions? Because victory is the raison d’etat. Winning is the elixir of life.

While teaching at Kennedy-King College in Chicago during the 1970s, I coached football part time. I asked my players if they were in the game for the love of it, or if they were in it to win. Frankly, I did not care for those who showed up for the love of the game. I wanted boys dying to win. And win we did. If I were coaching today, I would recruit young men who live to win.

Back to the readers who complain about my post-election sour grapes. This is the stupidity and hypocrisy of their complaint: All of them are Clinton haters who spent the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency being sore losers. The GOP wing of the U.S. Congress, moreover, spent every day of Clinton’s White House years hating the guy, never accepting his victory. They were such soreheads that they tried to bring down the administration.

Now they want me, Diane and others who supported Al Gore to suddenly be “good and gracious losers.”

No way. I hate to lose. I get an attitude when I lose. I get mad and want to fight. I am your Woody Hayes in the newsroom.

Of all the sore-loser insults I have received, none has been more galling than those from die-hard Southerners who continue to fight the American Civil War (the War of Northern Aggression) 136 years after Robert E. Lee threw down the flag. Their mantra: “Forget Hell!” How dare they call me a sore loser.

They so refuse to accept defeat that many regularly dress up in hot woolen get-ups, go into the woods and fight select battles over and over. When I pointed out this fact to one sorehead a few days ago, he argued that the Civil War was different, that he and his peckerwood ilk were merely maintaining a crucial part of the South’s history.

“Are you acknowledging defeat?” I demanded.

His reply was so angry, convoluted and tortured, I cannot even paraphrase it.

He insists, however, that I am a sore loser because I believe that George W. did not really win Florida. Anyway, if you intend to insult me, you will not do it by calling me a sore loser. Hell, I proudly acknowledge that I am. And always will be.