The Problem of Competition & the Documentary ‘Broke’

The Problem of Competition and the Documentary BrokeI really enjoy ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries. ‘Broke‘ is one of those documentaries. ESPNHere is a brief summary:

According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 60 percent of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders, saddled with medical problems, and naturally prone to showing off, many pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life. Drawing surprisingly vulnerable confessions from retired stars like Keith McCants, Bernie Kosar and Andre Rison, as well as Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association, this fascinating documentary digs into the psychology of men whose competitive nature can carry them to victory on the field and ruin off it.

This was interesting documentary on many levels but one thing really stood out to me.

Several of the athletes discussed their motivation for frivolously spending money was COMPETITION.

They couldn’t allow other teammates to look as if they had more money than they did (even if it were true). A teammate having a nicer car, more spending cash in their pocket, or better jewelry was an invitation to a competition. And it’s a competition that no athlete likes to lose. These competitive juices would also lead many athletes to compulsive gambling. Sometimes players would lose up to $20,000 on a plane ride playing cards. There is a segment in the documentary where Michael Jordan is featured. As you may know, Jordan is known for having gambling problems. His father is quoted as saying, “Michael doesn’t have a gambling problem, he has a competition problem.

This comment as well as what the athletes say drove their efforts leads me to a qualification. Competition is not the problem. Worldly or bad competition is the problem.

This distinction is one that important to make. Yet, I see this lack of distinction even by people I greatly respect, C.S. Lewis being one of them. In Mere Christianity he says:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”

C.S. Lewis is a great man, a mentor of mine from “afar.” I have read many of his books – several times. He is a fantastic writer, but I think he needs to add a word here.

“Once the element of worldly competition is gone, pride is gone.”

Without that addition and distinction between good and bad competition, the solution for Michael Jordan, or these athletes who spend all their money, or for you and me in our struggle with pride is the removal of competition.

At CSO, we think differently. We see a distinction between good and bad competition, a distinction we think very important. As such, competition is not bad. Competition is not the enemy and needs to be removed. Worldly or wrong competition is what needs to be removed.

Think of it this way. A composer writes a piece of music. Someone comes along and plays the notes in a different order or out of tune. The original score isn’t what is wrong. The way the person plays the music is what is wrong. To correct that person we don’t need to get rid of the music, we need to correct the way the person is playing the music.

Competition is like this. God built competition into the fabric or creation (see a Biblical view of competition). As God designed it, competition is supposed to be “striving with others.” We took that gift and distorted it to “striving against others.”

To use the musical metaphor, our competition today is largely “out of tune.” The solution isn’t getting rid of competition. The solution is getting people to “play the composition like it was originally composed.” People aren’t too competitive. (That is like saying someone is too musical.) People are too worldly or wrongly competitive.

We don’t need to get rid of competition. We need to redeem it. (See For the Love of the Game for more on redeeming competition and sports.)


Credit: Bob Schindler – The Executive Director of our sister ministry, Church Sports Outreach
Submitted by Ken Cross.
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