Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bring Back Dodgeball! Why "Too Big to Fail" Failed

“Whatza matter you big toe,” Danny incomprehensibly teased, egging me to wing the ball at him. His flaming red hair and daring blue eyes proved a compelling target. Danny wasn’t stupid – but neither was I. As all fourth graders knew, Danny caught every ball thrown his way. And in Dodgeball, that means you’re out, he wins. The cool lake breeze evaporated the sweat from my forehead as the sun beat abnormally hot that spring day on the elementary school playground. The recess bell moments away, I made my decision quickly.

With the deft eye of a future quarterback, my face feigned throwing the ball into Danny’s broad chest and stocky arms. He bought the ruse and, as I cocked my arm back, I could see his biceps tense. Kids usually thought if they threw the ball hard enough right at him, Danny wouldn’t catch it. Danny always caught it. With a snap release I flicked the ball directly at… his feet!

Stymied by the misdirection, Danny froze. The ball bounced harmlessly off his shoe. The bell rung. I had won.

* * * * *

Six years later, on the hardwood deck of the high school gym, I found myself in Danny’s shoes. Faced in an identical Mexican standoff, I stared at my opponent’s eyes like a preying defensive back. Prepared for anything, his launching of the ball for my lower leg did not surprise me. Its speed, however, did. I quickly slipped my feet behind me and fell forward, curling above and around the oncoming missile. I carefully watched the path of the fleshy projectile, first as it sailed beneath my torso, then as it shot under my quickly rising sneakers. I watched it all the way – at least until my teeth slammed into the unyielding floorboards.

My head ricocheted back, sans two front teeth. My classmates immediately surrounded my dazed body. The first thing I remember seeing were pieces of my shattered front teeth strewn across the shiny wax floor. When asked how I felt, I calmly but matter-of-factly answered, “We won.”

* * * * *

They don’t play Dodgeball in public schools anymore – and not just because kids can get physically injured. No, Dodgeball fell out of favor during the era where “self-esteem” became the mantra. “Don’t let Johnny lose, it’ll hurt his confidence.” “Let’s give everyone a trophy for participating.” “Just giving awards to winners might deflate the self-assurance of the losers.” “Better yet, let’s not have ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ at all, because, really, aren’t we all winners?” “Yes, society has certainly grown out of the ‘macho’ phase of testosterone.” “Why can’t we just all get along?”

And so, out went the virile excitement of Dodgeball and, with it, the grandeur of achievement, and in came the tepid feel-goodness of equality and the glorification of the victim. “Jane shouldn’t get too far ahead of the rest of the class.” “She don’t need help like those less bright, she’s smart enough to figure it out for herself.” “We can’t hold him accountable given his depraved background.”

We went from “defining deviancy down,” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan once declared, to the “dumbing down of America” as the Washington Times wrote last year.

One need look no farther than in the actions of our financial markets and those investors who had unrealistic expectations. We see it in the government forcing lenders to give money to borrowers who couldn’t afford to pay back those loans. We see it in the banks who didn’t envision losing and willingly gave money to borrowers who couldn’t afford to pay. We see this in the borrowers themselves who, fed on a steady diet of “self-esteem,” never assumed they could lose. Hadn’t any of these folks ever played Dodgeball?

Worse, we see it in the quixotic investors who believed in the fantastic returns claimed by Bernard Madoff’s apparently now obvious Ponzi scheme. What a perfect investment! Everybody wins, nobody loses!

Though I now sport a “White Bridge of Courage” from my childhood antics in the game of Dodgeball, that particular arena left important lessons: Life produces winners and losers; and, its corollary, sometimes, when something seems too good to be true, it really is too good to be true.

In truth, when you play the game called “real world” you either win or lose. Pretending this axiom no longer exists only leads to – well – what we’re reading in today’s headlines. The Founding Fathers understood this. The pioneers and cowboys embraced it. And we today must take a stand - nothing is too big to fail!

And if business "too big to fail" can fail, can't government "too big to fail" also fail?

(Sigh...) It's too bad we don't play Dodgeball anymore...


  1. Great job with the analogy of one of the main reasons our country is failing. In a book I am writing, one of the chapters touches on one of the missing pieces that made and kept America great. We have lost that competitive edge, that thirst for excellence. Today everyone gets a trophy in spite of their individual contribution.

  2. Well Don, you'll be glad to know that Dodgeball is making a comeback! Yep, I saw one of our own, a baby boomer, talking about it on FOX NEWS today. Leave it to us kids who could take that ball in the gut, to also stand up for our Freedoms and Liberties today! There's something to be said for growing up in communities where winning and losing was an everyday part of life. Irony of it still is...but, it's just swept under the rug. Like you said, Jane "slow down" and Dick, "you both won honey." It can be seen in the pundits 'feeling sorry' for Nancy Pelosi's inexcusable behavior today while layering lie over lie. You LOST Nancy...suck it up! This baby boomer isn't too keen on helping those that bought above their means either. I lost my dream home that we had planned for all our lives. Not because we overspent but, because of going from a 2 income family with 3 sons, to 1 income due to my poor health. No one was there to 'bail' us out! We did the responsible thing and downsized. And yes, it still hurts to this day but, that's life. We didn't lose or win in this situation. We took the difficult 'blow' to the gut and moved on with our lives. The game of Dodgeball taught us a lot about the game of life. Sometimes you dodge the ball, sometimes you get your target, and go down. But, in the end, although everyone is NOT a winner, it's what you take away with you in the collection of Life's Lessons Learned~
    American Warrior for The Constitution,
    for my grand children,
    Disa Albanese

  3. Great blog as usual.

    You know what analogy I have been thinking about lately? "The Bully" on the schoolyard.

    The bully who got a kick out of ridiculing the smart kids, the good kids, the kids who made the A's.....

    Now they are called "Comedians" or "Press Secretary"....

    But the game is the same...


  4. [through e-mail from cerebraldebris]

    Great post DP!

    I think dodgeball should be a mandatory part of the curriculum. There's nothing like having a rubber projectile pop you in the cheek like an overdue pimple! It's healthy. It forces you to compete. It forces you to use your mind and body. It makes you rethink strategy. It sparks one's natural desire to WIN!

    That's right, I said "win" dammit!

    Now what we've got are generations of metro-sexual wusses whose mommy or daddy couldn't stand the thought of little lord Fauntleroy *gasp* losing from time to time. More than that though, this epidemic of the wussification of America goes hand in hand with the slow but sure takeover of socialism in America. The Communist Manifesto itself states that communism will be achieved peacefully. One of those "peaceful" tactics is to create a class of people who know nothing except to hold their hand out. They are being dumbed down, wimped down and victimized down to the point of becoming absolute personal failures at true personal achievement.

    I have to wonder how much "confidence" one could possibly build without failure or success. How can someone know true confidence otherwise? I don't believe they can. I think that what they develop instead is a false confidence. A false sense of security about themselves.

    Then when failures really do happen to them, they know nothing more than to look to the government or someone else to bail them out, or to point the blame at. They know nothing
    of personal greatness. They no nothing of self worth. They have no true sense of achievement.

    A whole generation could have been a whole lot smarter if only they'd been allowed to the simplest of human learning- winning or losing for real.


  5. I loved dodge ball as a kid! They still play at the some schools in Northern California. :-)