Slow and Steady Wins the Race…But It Shouldn’t

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April 28, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

As much as we try to define ourselves by what we do, and what we like, it always seems like it’s the things that we don’t like, or the things that we hate, that most descriptively define who we are.  It’s much easier to define yourself by what you aren’t, or what you oppose because it’s not as scary as supporting something.  If you’re a Yankee fan, you’re as equally defined by that as you are for your opposition to the Red Sox.  Real Metallica fans will define themselves by their disdain for every Metallica album post 1988, and people who read indie comics make it a point of emphasis to tell you that they are opposed to mainstream superhero comics.  The things that we hate are just as important in defining who we are as are the things that we love.

When I look back on my own childhood, specifically the kind of kid I was growing up, the one thing that comes to mind is that I had way too many opinions about things that didn’t concern me.  By age six I was way too opinioned and set in my ways, as most of the things I hated back in 1997, I still hate almost 20 years later.  By the time I was in first grade, I realized that I severely disliked the following: Captain Planet, Joe Camel, the Florida Marlins, and Green Day.  Seeing something on TV or hearing a certain band and despising them is a really powerful moment of awakening.  One such moment, the earliest such moment I can remember happened in Kindergarten and it involved the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

We all know the story- The hare was faster, lead for most of the race, got lazy and slacked off, and then lost the race to the slower tortoise.  I’ve always had a problem with this fable to the point of personal offense.  The true lesson isn’t that slow and steady wins the race; it’s that if you’re good at something, anything less than 100% is unacceptable, lest some mediocre, and less deserving player unseats you.  It’s a really shitty lesson to tell kids, because you’re telling them that if they’re not perfect…all the time, someone who’s not as good as they are at something will always beat them.

The difference between the tortoise and the hare comes down to potential more than skill.  The hare is clearly more talented than the tortoise, but the hare never went as fast as it could have (and should have), while the tortoise completely filled it’s potential.  The tortoise had a lower potential threshold, but that threshold was still higher than the amount of potential that the hare reached, which is why the tortoise won.

What bothers me most about the adage is that it rewards mediocrity.  The tortoise didn’t win the race because it was faster or had more guile than the hare; the hare was just an arrogant prick.  The tortoise didn’t win the race so much as the hare lost it.  The better man, the one whose talent created a moral dessert, didn’t win, and that’s something that has never agreed with me.

When it comes to sports and competition, I operate under a very unrealistic and falsified sense of applied morality.  So long as the team that I root for, or a team that I despise, is not playing, I root for the team that I believe deserves to win more.  The team that deserves to win is the team that’s more talented.  I don’t believe in underdogs, because an underdog implies that there is such a wide disparity between opponents that it cheapens the competition.  The truth though, as everyone knows, is that there is no morality, nor any semblance of objective truths in sports.  More often than not it’s not the best team that wins, it’s the tortoise, the one who shouldn’t even be there in the first place who winds up coming in first place.

Sports are completely random; there’s no elitist guiding hand that rewards success or punishes mediocrity.  This past World Series proved that with the fourth best team in the American League facing off against the fifth best team in the National League.  Only eight of the previous 30 President’s Trophy winners went on to win the Stanley Cup.  In 1981 the Houston Rockets became the only team in NBA history to go to the NBA Finals with a losing record.[1]  There is no advantage or moral obligation favoring the better team; sports are chaotic and they don’t go according to plan as often as they should.  If they did, the Yankees would have way more championships than they already do, the Lakers would have won nine championships in a row from 1980-1988, and Marshawn Lynch would have ran the ball from the one-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX.

One of the most overlooked aspects of sports is that they provide stability.  That’s why baseball was so important after 9/11, it’s why everyone secretly wants the Yankees and the Lakers to dominate, and it’s why 100 year rivalries are just as fierce as they were when they were forged.  Upsets go against the grain and leave us feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.  No one gives a shit about the World Series anymore because too many bad teams keep going; the NBA was at a low point in the late 70s because the best teams were constantly absent from the Finals.  It’s fun to see David beat Goliath every once and a while, but most of the time we want to see Goliath kick the shit out of David.

Out of any champion in any sport, the 1997 Marlins make the least amount of sense.

I was six years old when the Marlins won the World Series in 1997, and that’s the first time in my life that I remember being dissatisfied.  It was my first firsthand experience of the tortoise winning the race.  When my dad told me that the Florida Marlins won the World Series, the first thing that went through my head was “Who the fuck are the Marlins?”.  At that point in time, my interest in baseball lasted for as long as the Yankees were in contention, but I knew who the good teams were: Braves, Mariners, Indians, etc.  These Marlins came out of nowhere; they were this shitty little franchise that got lucky and wound up beating three much better teams, only to return to mediocrity the very next year.  They weren’t the 1991 Atlanta Braves, or the 1996 New York Yankees, up-and-comers who wanted to stay at the top, the Marlins were content with being the tortoise; they had no aspirations greater than that, which in the realm of sports, is worse than gambling, illegal gun possession, and PED usage combined.  For me, the Florida Marlins will forever be the tortoise.

I never learned to understand why the hare could never win.  What’s the point of being the hare if you’re just going to lose to a tortoise?  It’s something that infuriated me as a five year old, and pangs me as an adult even though I’ve come to realize that the most horrifying aspect of the fable is also its truest revelation: For every hare out there, there will always be a tortoise.

[1] And they came within two games of winning a championship!


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