Soccer, Politics, Life: Focus on the Goal

I enjoyed watching the final World Cup soccer tournament games partly because I didn’t particularly care about any of the remaining teams that were playing. Once you’re not distracted by the players or the teams, you can marvel at the endurance and acrobatics of what the world calls “the beautiful game.”

No one would suggest that local politics is a beautiful game, especially recently, but I’ve been watching the slugfest over sick leave in much the same way. I’m not particularly rooting for either side, allowing me to watch instead how the game is being played.

Businesses should find a way to pay employees who want to work but can’t. Employees who feel valued and trusted in this way might then be less likely to quit or lie or steal office supplies. Whether and how government should nudge employers toward that sort of enlightenment is an open question.

I don’t think restaurants should tell me their bathroom policies before they have shown me their menu, but that doesn’t mean I’d favor a government mandate. I’m content quietly refusing to patronize those establishments that think first about the pot in the back and second about the pot on the stove.

Workers can make choices about where they work, except when they can’t. Many need to keep the job they have — regardless of the company’s sick-leave policy — so maybe there’s a role for government to play. It’s a close call. I don’t know which side to root for.

Let’s return to soccer, if only because it’s a more pleasant topic.

Soccer still allows ties. If a tie must be broken, there’s a shoot-out — but only after an extended overtime period of regular play, and the final score still is recorded as the tie that it was. Sometimes things are just equal. There’s no getting around that.

A tie steadfastly refuses to exalt one team over another, lifting the sport itself above the teams that played. The institution of the game matters more than the teams on the field.

Many attribute to Vince Lombardi that winning or losing matters less than how you play the game. That quote has a longer, and deeper, history. Sportswriter Grantland Rice in 1908 was trying to make a larger point in Alumnus Football:

For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.

Being a good sport is a good life strategy. In Rice’s view, it’s also — or especially — a good afterlife strategy.

I fear many Americans love winning more than sport itself. One football coach likened a tie to “kissing your sister.” The University of Oregon’s 0-0 tie with Oregon State University in 1983 is commonly referred to as “the worst football game ever.” But maybe the game was good and the teams were bad!

As Brazil was being blown out by Germany last week, Brazilian fans began booing their own team. I want to believe at least some of those fans were faulting their team for disgracing “the beautiful game.”

In much the same way, Hayward Field fans recently booed the Arizona track team because their coaches had sidelined a local competitor based on a technical lane violation. They weren’t booing a win or a loss. They were displeased with how the game was played.

And so we must return to the tussle between our local governments.

A majority on the Eugene City Council wants to require businesses to pay their sick (non) workers. The Lane County Board of Commissioners said “count us out.” If there’s a local umbrage shortage, it’s because our legislative leaders have been taking more than their share.

This newspaper’s editorial board, attempting to referee the skirmish, lifted yellow cards to each side in turn, scolding each for overreach. The issue is no longer about paid sick-leave policies. It’s not even about whether such policies should be regulated. It’s now about who gets to tell which employers what.

Politics is a “beautiful game” only when leaders work together to get things done. Winning isn’t everything. It’s how you play the game.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column most Fridays for The Register-Guard and blogs