Digital art illustration of person looking at a glowing trophy standing on a winner's podium.
Design by Abby Schreck.

Take a moment and picture this: LeBron James never leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers, his boyhood team, never joins the Los Angeles Lakers, and, as a result, never comes home and wins the 2016 NBA Finals with the Cavs. That would make 2023 James’s 20th year in the NBA without a ring to his name. Sounds weird, right? I imagine the narrative surrounding his potential Greatest Of All Time status would be vastly different than what it is today.

That’s where Harry Kane, soccer’s golden boy and captain of England’s national soccer team, finds himself. One of the best in the world, he is stuck between staying loyal to his boyhood club and joining a team that can actually compete for big trophies. If recent reports are to be believed, it seems like he has chosen the former, sparking widespread debate among fans across the world, including some in Ann Arbor.

“I think you’ll appreciate this, professor,” I began, knowing full well that the gentleman who teaches my Writing 200 class is a Spurs fan, the team Kane plays for. “This image reminded me of Harry Kane and his lack of trophies.”

I heard a couple of sighs, maybe even a scoff. But mainly, I heard laughter. The consensus was unanimous: It was pretty embarrassing that Kane had nothing to show for his career. As many experts in the field have suggested, it shows a lack of ambition and hunger. It shows cowardice. 

Competition is the cornerstone upon which sport has been built, and is one of the primary reasons sport appeals to so many people. However, it does seem like with every passing generation, the emphasis on fun has increased, regardless of who wins or loses.

‘Winning and losing doesn’t matter, what matters is that you give it your best and have fun.’ That’s the kind of talk you’re likely to hear at a middle school sporting event, and it definitely splits opinions. For every person that thinks competition and loss build character and make children stronger, there is someone who believes that playing shouldn’t be about fighting and divisions, but instead about bringing people together.

Regardless of which side of this specific debate you fall on, we all know one thing: Winning excites people! This phenomenon is something that the mass media have latched on to for decades. An early example of this occurred in the mid-1900s when the USA and USSR contested the infamous “Space Race” — the quest to put a person on the moon. Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, the definitive end of the Space Race, were seen by millions across the world, a result of people asking one simple question: Who is going to win? 

In the years that have followed, turning everything from elections to court trials into a spectacle has served the media well. In doing so, a very simple, yet powerful, message is being delivered and ingrained into viewers’ mindsets: The result is all that matters.

This obsession with results often gets the better of us. History and legacy are the kinds of things that can make our heads turn, because with them comes a sense of immortality. Without even realizing it, our driving force turns from trying to push our limits and give it our best shot to wanting to be remembered forever. 

As I see it, there’s nothing wrong with going into something with the intention to win, and that’s what we should tell our kids when they’re playing in the playground or participating in a competition. However, it is equally important to teach them that no result is permanent — that this too shall pass. Though that phrase is almost exclusively used during bad times, it is a sound concept that applies even when things are looking good. Having the awareness to recognize that is crucial.

Maybe then, the younger generation will grow up with the understanding that the same idea stands true, not only in sports but in all aspects of life. Neither victory nor defeat is everlasting. After every failure, there’s an opportunity to make amends. After every success, there’s an opportunity to improve.

There is one potential exception to this idea, one competing priority when competing for the dopamine of victory: How are we making our competitors — many of whom worked just as hard as us — feel? No achievement can have the same lasting impact as kindness and generosity. The people who will be remembered have a lot more to them than their victories. Their character, even without the wins, stands alone — a representation of who they truly are. For those people, the wins aren’t the destination, they are just a step in the right direction.

Rushabh Shah is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at