The events of 6 January 2021 at the US Capitol in Washington DC, when domestic terrorists laid siege to what should be a routine political process, were horrendous and disquieting, and one of the things that stood out to me was how often the word “unfair” was thrown about mob participants. Unfair was in reference to an election that, despite being carefully validated multiple times as being fair, produced an outcome unfavorable to the speaker.
I have to wonder if this concept of unfairness stems from how coaches model it for young athletes. Discussions about fairness always leads to anecdotes of bad calls, of how the referee was ruling against our team, how it was unfair to us. But for every team that receives a detrimental judgment, there must be an opposing team receiving an unusually beneficial outcome. The unfairness applies to both teams, but invariably, only the team with the detrimental outcome remembers it as being unfair. Coaches don’t discuss the unusually good fortune that comes at the misfortune of the opponent, even if it is, technically, unearned.
“Unfair” has thus become shorthand for frustration; an outcome can only be fair if it is in one’s favor. But as we teach our youth in sport, perhaps we need to move away from expectations of entitled “fairness”, to focus instead on stoic evaluation of controllable factors, and to extend empathy – to understand that benefiting from an injustice does not make it any more just.