Forgiving the Chicago Cubs for Losing the 2003 National League Championship Series
It is the beginning of the baseball season, a time when no team is yet in last place. Hope springs eternal even for the futile. That is what makes early April so special as the baseball fan is allowed to have great expectations no matter which team is his or her favorite.
I read a recent blog in which one fan took great pains to explain which of the Chicago Cubs players he is forgiving for losing the 2003 National League Championship Series to the Florida Marlins. This exercise is occurring 9 years after the loss. He listed 5 players and gave detailed explanations of their underachievement as rationale for his forgiveness.
His forgiveness leads to three questions: Can we forgive athletes for losing? What if they were underperforming, which then led to losing? What if there were good intentions and yet they lost? Can this still be a moral wrong?
Let us take each question in turn. First, can we forgive players for losing? The question presupposes that certain behaviors are so reprehensible that they are deemed unjust regardless of intentions or other circumstances. And there are such behaviors: enslaving another person is an example. Yet, this cannot be the case for a sports loss because the game is set up deliberately so that one team loses. It is part of the game to which all agree, players, fans, everyone. The act of losing, therefore, is not unjust by itself.
Then, to our second question. Is underperformance unjust? Yes, we can think of certain instances in which underperformance is immoral. A mother who underperforms in feeding her infant, depriving the baby of much-needed nutrition, would seem to be behaving unjustly. Yet, our question centers on athletic performance, not on a failure to give crucial nutrients to an infant. In the context of athletics, underperformance by itself would not seem to constitute an affront—a disappointment, yes, but not an actual offense. There is no wrong, for example, in trying and underperforming in a sporting event. Thus, we cannot judge underperformance by itself without factoring in effort or intentions.
The third question centers on intentions. Can one forgive someone who has good intentions and fails? Yes, I suppose we can think of examples, such as a car driver who is not paying attention to the road, intends to drive well but fails, and runs into another car. The consequences of not paying attention are so great that good intentions here are not sufficient to exonerate the driver. Again, however, the example has taken us away from athletics. Surely, all of the Cubs were trying. This was not the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. The only consequence was losing. The outcome of losing, as we have already seen, is not an immoral act.
The act of losing in sports is not unjust and therefore is not a forgivable offense.
Underperformance by itself is not unjust in the context of sports. This is so if the athlete is trying.
Trying and failing is not unjust because the consequence, losing, is not unjust.
There is nothing to forgive here. The Cubs players did nothing wrong.