By Sean Ryan
Chairperson of the Board of Directors
The theater of war does not always provide clear definitions of winners and losers. On one hand, the American Revolution is taught as an important moment in the birth of the United States of America. Like then, we tip our caps to those who dedicate themselves to our freedom and way of life. On the other, war tends to imply casualties, and the loss of life points to the idea that nobody really “wins” in war.
War seems to have similarities to competition with the added addendum of attrition. Sacrifices are made in the name of the perceived greater good, sometimes invoking the idiom that we "lose the battle to win the war." In sports, we may see this in terms of the health of our athletes. A starting pitcher in baseball only plays once every five days due to the physical stress put on his arm. An entire football team may need a week for their bodies to recover after the physical exertion and stress on the gridiron. Perhaps this is the genesis of the analogy that relates competition to war, likening the dugout to a fox hole and one's teammates into the other members of the infantry.
However, this attrition points to the fact that the "losers" are not as clear cut as we may believe. Is it worth having a pitcher overextend himself to the point of injury just to win a game? He may help you win today, but then he can't help you win for a few weeks if he strains an oblique. Sure, you won and the other team lost, but did you truly win if the pitcher is then injured for some time?
Ukrainians are not the only victims in this situation with Russia. Businesses have universally cut ties with Russian owned businesses here in the United States. Several orchestras of various levels of ability and professionalism have cut Russian composers from their concert programs. International sports teams refuse to compete with Russian sports team. Even the International Olympic Committee has recommended that Russian teams and officials withdraw from Olympic contests. There is an attempt to universally cancel everything Russian in a show of solidarity with Ukraine. One wonders if people will boycott Russian salad dressing.
Certain sanctions make sense: they send a capitalist message that hurts Russia in the wallet. This may actually assist in the altruistic name of deescalating a war. But what does the boycott of certain Russian themes do in the name of actually stopping a war? It is the equivalent of the ice bucket challenge to fight ALS: pouring water on yourself does nothing to advance the research in finding a cure for a disease.
It is practically impossible (and arguably pointless) to try to cancel everything Russian for solidarity, especially when there is no connection to what is happening. Refusing to eat Russian salad dressing has nothing to do with supporting Ukraine during this conflict. Society's collective inability to separate these things is an epidemic with disastrous consequences, showcasing how the context of these decisions is exceptionally valuable.
Do we stop enjoying the canon of Harry Potter because J.K. Rowling has certain views on feminism? Do we no longer listen to Thriller due to Michael Jackson's past with children? Can we contextually separate the art from the artist, even while consciously comprehending something that could create moral dissonance?
If one player on our favorite baseball team commits a crime off the field, can we continue to root for our favorite team while disapproving of the actions of one player who wears the uniform?
Good sportsmanship comes with the admission that there are winners and losers, but it also comes with the understanding that attrition doesn't always aid us in our desire to win. Political opponents hurl smears and insults at each other during campaigns, then somehow return to being respectful colleagues once the election is over, claiming it is all part of "how you play the game." Did the winning candidate actually win if such a victory had to include abusive and brutal treatment from an opponent? It makes you wonder how hockey players on opposing teams can suddenly be friendly after fights have broken out consistently over the last sixty minutes on the ice.
War is rarely the answer, creating destructive divides that may ultimately achieve a task at the cost of many other things. But making decisions in the name of solidarity without the proper context may simply be pointless acts of poor sportsmanship.