An Ode to Losing

Sophie Goethals_online

The camera has a penchant for finding the most broken player.

The one whose body gives out after 40 minutes of performing superhuman feats at the moment that the ball passes through the net to seal their doomed fate. The one who has poured so much into the game of basketball that they are physically broken by the final ominous swish.

While this is dramatized in games that go down to the wire, the pain and pleasure of defeat and victory are nonetheless present in every contest — wrapped up in every tale are two dichotomous stories of the victors and the vanquished  

It’s a sad reality of life: If someone is winning, someone else must consequently be losing. With all joy comes heartbreak — it’s something we all know. The NCAA Tournament just brings it into sharp relief.

The compact proximity of these two dichotomous emotions — the endless ecstacy of a win at the same time as the agonizing anguish of a loss —  is what has imprinted March Madness into our collective hearts.

As an audience, we are moved by both extremes presented, and, regardless of allegiancy and affiliation, we often feel the soul-wrenching post game tug-of-war between joy and sorrow.

It is easy to allow the excitement to win our hearts. The beauty in a buzzer-beater finish or an end-to-end layup is clear, and the outcomes of such clutch plays bring a throng of elation that is all-consuming.

We as an audience are thrilled by these moments every time, even as they impossibly occur throughout the tournament. Perhaps it’s because we as people like to believe that, even as the clock wanes with only a few seconds on it, there is still the potential of pulling off the impossible victory. Indeed, it is a signal that things are never truly over until they are over, even if all tenets of rationality would suggest otherwise.

What’s harder to appreciate — but what is ultimately a more robust and regenerative emotion — is the pain of loss. While it is easy to allow yourself to jump up and down along with the winning team, it is harder to give into the grief of those who have lost.

But doing so teaches us a more important lesson than effervescent joy ever could: There is more solidarity to be found among those who have been vanquished.

There is something beautiful about individuals whose hearts have just been broken picking each other up. There is something deeply human about allowing yourself to live in all-consuming sorrow with someone else and, in doing so, connecting within that shared woe in a way that will bind forever.

Yes, winning may allow us to share in happy memories — but losing allows us to live in a vulnerability with others that creates the most supreme connection possible.

Losses in the NCAA Tournament are some of the most soul-crushing ones that exist. They can serve as the destruction of dreams which have been fostered in the minds of athletes for countless years. It is akin to the heartbreak of young love or the misery of losing a family member. As such, though, they are some of the most memorable and impactful ones.

While winning teams may be remembered by some, it is often the close losses that are remembered in sharpest relief. Most people remember the pain of the 2010 Gordon Hayward half-court shot that nearly allowed Butler to upset Duke, because of the way in which it tugged at our heartstrings. We remember the 2005 Arizona team that let an 8-point lead slip with more than a minute to go, missing a buzzer-beater that would’ve earned them a win.

Most recently, we remember the 2016 national championship, where North Carolina hit a 3-pointer to force overtime with just 4.7 seconds left — only to have Villanova come back at the other end with a miracle shot of their own to snatch the title.

Perfection is beautiful in its purity, but near-perfection is all the more so because of the complexity of emotions that it brings. And nothing brings this into greater focus than March Madness.

Sophie Goethals covers men’s basketball and rugby. Contact her at [email protected]

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