Perpetually Nauseous

Winning at all costs devalues everything.

Is the state I’ve been in since the election results were announced.

I’ve been here before.

Back in my paintball playing days there was a handful of teams that decided that “winning” was more important than anything else.  More important than the game, more important than the sport, more important than the rules, more important than ethics, morals or truth.

Paintball is a difficult game to officiate accurately and fairly, especially in those days when we played it in the woods.  More often than not, the only thing keeping a player and their team honest was a strong sense of self-worth and a belief in a code of honor.

There are not, apparently, a lot of people in this world who maintain that code when no one is watching them.

These teams would cheat to win and would then use their winnings (and the evidence of their win) to increase their influence over the sport, which enabled them to cheat in ever more effective ways:  I won’t bore with the details other than a couple of examples:  at one event the entire reffing staff was made up of one of these teams bench warmers – players motivated to show their loyalty in order to get a place on the first string; at another event, they were allowed to see the team line-ups prior to submitting their rosters, and were therefore able to cherry pick those rosters to great effect; at still another event they wore multiple layers of clothing and had actually practiced “speed disrobing” so they could remove clothing with marks on them.

The bag of tricks was endless, but that’s not the point.

I’d get nauseous before an event if and when I saw these teams on my team’s draw, because I faced a moral dilemma:  we knew those guys were going to cheat in any way they needed to in order to win against us.  We’d seen it when we’d played them before, we’d seen it when our team officiated events, we’d seen it from the sidelines watching games.

We knew that they would continue to use their “success” to perpetuate this approach to the game – nothing matters but the win – and we’d watched this attitude slowly creep its way through the sport, corrupting everything it touched – equipment, rules, events – everything.

My dilemma was this:  many players on my team wanted to counter in kind.  We knew we were a better team than those others.  We’d proved it to them and to ourselves on plenty of occasions and their response was even more cheating.  Not better training, or better tactics or (legal) equipment improvements.  And yet they were the ones getting the sponsorship dollars because they were able to append “winner” to a string of major events.

I did everything I could, short of introducing institutionalized cheating to our mix.  I negotiated with sponsors, I talked to event promoters, I worked on the rules (wrote most of them in fact) and even got a professional sports officiating organization to agree to add paintball to the sports that their members covered.

All to no avail, because by that time the “cheating teams” influence had grown to encompass the upper echelons of the sport.  Unaffiliated, professional officiating was NOT something the sport would ever engage with, for some stupid reasons (money) I can’t remember the details of now.

Eventually the pressure from my teammates approached the breaking point.  I either had to allow them to use the tools they thought necessary in order to stand a chance of winning, or watch the team fall apart.

In my final season of competitive play, I mistakenly acquiesced.  Players were released to “do what they needed to do to minimize the effect of cheating” and I worked endlessly at developing legal tactics that attempted to neutralize cheating.

To no avail in the long run, except a deep and bitter resentment of a sport that I helped to create and popularize.

Here’s the point.  That idea of “winning at all costs” corrupts everything it touches.  I’ve seen it happen before and I’m seeing it happen, again.

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