Opinion

Resentment in sports, and politics

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The day before the Super Bowl this year, my oldest son — who is going to be 12 this month — and I were in the car, talking about the upcoming game. He mentioned to me that “nobody wanted the Patriots to win.”

Living in New England in the heart of Patriot territory, this confused me a bit. “What do you mean?” I asked him.

Apparently, most of the kids on a soccer team he plays on through the winter were unified in their hope that the Rams, not the Patriots, would win the Super Bowl.

Asked why, he said, “because they’re sick of them winning all the time.”

This is, of course, why most of the country was cheering for both the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, and then the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. They’re sick of the Patriots winning.

But that sentiment was so pervasive that even local kids were hoping that their team would lose? Really?

Apparently.

I’ll admit, this concept of hating someone, or a group of someones for being too successful bothers me, and it bothers me a lot. I understand disliking based on personalities you don’t like. I understand disliking based on actions that bother or offend you. I even understand disliking based on political affiliation, or past attendance at a college you don’t like. There are a lot of reasons that makes sense to me.

But being too successful?

Even his detractors seem to agree that Tom Brady is a really, really good person. He works harder than just about everyone, he’s smart, and he seems genuinely attentive and caring to his family. I’ve heard the same phrase repeated a thousand times in the last couple weeks, “Tom Brady seems like a genuinely great person, but I’m sick of him winning.”

Really? We are sick of achievement? We are sick of greatness?

Why, exactly?

Oh, because achievement isn’t egalitarian enough. Winners and losers should be more evenly distributed between more people, right? Other people should have a chance, right? Brady, Bill Belichick and company should just go away and let others have a shot at it, right?

You’ll note that the Rams rooting interest wasn’t that Los Angeles actually be the better team. It was just an inherent desire for them to win, even if they weren’t actually the better team. I remember hearing that sentiment for the first time in the 2007 season when America was rooting for the clearly, vastly inferior New York Giants over the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl.

So ultimately, what is this desire about? Resentment.

Great success and achievement, when constantly demonstrated by a small number of people, or an individual, sparks a hope that such greatness will abate, and decline. “It isn’t fair,” we say. “The same people shouldn’t succeed.”

But it should be cheered, and celebrated. We should in fact seek, and hope, for others to see such greatness and learn from it, adapt, and make themselves greater.

Recently, I’ve noticed that resentment and aggrievement are driving our politics more. The recent rise in American socialism, in particular, seems born of a sentiment that it is wrong that anyone succeed too much. That anyone achieve too much. That anyone has too much.

But another’s success does not prevent your own. Another’s wealth does not impoverish you.

We can have intelligent discussions about how much we tax, and how we regulate. That’s fine, and it is no secret that we will often disagree about what is wise, and what is fair.

But one thing that I do think we need to expunge from our society, and from any debates over public policy, are things like resentment and envy. They animate so much of what we feel about politics, and they shouldn’t.

If we truly are tired of the same people being successful, then we should seek to empower competition to help others be greater, not tear down that success.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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