Smile, though your heart is breaking

I got a familiar sensation when I was reading the article by esteemed colleague Gazbo titled “The Broncos’ decline is no laughing matter”.

That sensation I’ve had so many times before, reading and listening to similar opinions. It’s my automatic reaction whenever I encounter a line like this one in the article:

“You want to see your team hurting and upset after a loss, not joking around and laughing with the opposition’s players.”

And that reaction is: well… no. I don’t.

I have never wanted to see my team hurting and upset. I’ve never enjoyed watching sportspeople crumple in devastation or weep in frustration and despair. When I see a player crushed, I feel a pang of sympathy and hope that he or she won’t be suffering this misery much longer.

I don’t feel a sense of satisfaction. I don’t think to myself, “Good. This is as it should be”.

Payne Haas

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Frankly, when I see a defeated player smiling and laughing with an opponent, I find it quite uplifting. It’s a marvellous reminder of sport’s most beautiful element: that at the end of the day it’s just a game.

Professional sportspeople might train obsessively, compete ferociously, and crash and bash their opponents with oft-brutal vigour while the contest is hot, but when the whistle blows, it’s lovely to see the fiercest of foes expressing comradeship with each other.

The fact is, though during a game these people are mortal enemies, in a broader sense they are colleagues, fellow travellers in a tough job, and they have much more in common than they have differences. Fraternal feeling between them is not only natural, it’s commendable.

Now, those who take the position that there must be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the wake of defeat will say that a public demonstration of grief is necessary in order that loyal fans know that the players care as much about the game as we do.

To which I would say: seriously? You can’t know that they care unless they make a display of their disappointment?

After watching them go into battle for an hour and a half, you’re still unable to gauge whether commitment is present without checking out which direction their mouths are curving in?

I call nonsense. I believe it’s pretty rare for players to not give their all on the field in any case, but if they truly don’t care whether they win or lose, the way they play is going to be a much more telling indicator than whether they’re rending their garments post-whistle.


(Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

It’s an absurdity to think that a smile after the game is a reliable guide to a player’s inner feelings about what just went down anyway. You think it’s impossible for a man to share a joke with a friend while also suffering inner agony over his failure?

For that matter, you think it’s impossible for a man to make a show of how shattered he is – knowing it’s expected of him – while not actually being at all bothered? Come on, now.

We know players hate losing. We know it hurts. It hurts to lose even when you’re not a full-time professional athlete: for those whose hyper-developed competitive drive was a major factor in their rise to the top, the sting must be far worse.

Add to that the fact that extended periods of under-performance threaten not just their reputations, but their livelihoods and their families’ futures, and it seems pretty unlikely that there’s anyone running around the NRL thinking, “Meh, whatever”.

And when all is said and done, why should we take comfort in the misery of men who are, supposedly, on our side? Why is it good to see our men in distress? Why is it bad to see them smile? Why should we find the suggestion that a footballer might have a) friends on other teams; b) the ability to find morsels of happiness in unhappy times; c) a healthy sense of perspective, so offensive?

I gotta say, I just don’t get it. As far as I’m concerned, the more players smile and show friendship after losses – whether they’re from my team or any other – the better.

This world has enough sadness in it – we don’t need to invite any more.

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