For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks - not that you won or lost -
But how you played the game.

- Grantland Rice


INDIANAPOLIS – Hail to the victors, the undefeated among us: Frank O’Bannon, Julia and André Carson, Dan Coats, Mitch Daniels, Robert Orr, Lee Hamilton, Todd Young, Bob Knight’s 1976 Hoosiers, champions all in politics and sports.

In their time, they didn’t face the permanence of defeat and whether to accept such a fate.

There are other modern statesmen and women who have experienced the bitterness of defeat: Richard Lugar, Evan and Birch Bayh, Doc Bowen, Andy Jacobs Jr., Bill Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith, Dan Quayle, John Gregg and Pete Buttigieg. With their defeats, they accepted their fates in varying degrees of humility and grace. There are those like Mike Pence, John Brademas and Phil Sharp who would come back from the stings of multiple defeats to achieve the winner’s circle, the winning TV chyron.

In the coming weeks and months, Hoosier Republicans are going to face a choice: Whether to be willing to accept the fate designated by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters, or whether to sign on to the corrupt motives, cudgels and bargains of the autocratic former president Donald Trump, who lives by Roy Cohn’s credo of never accepting a defeat; of simply proclaiming victory in the face of empirical documented results and evidence.

The fate of the republic, the fragile American experience in democracy, may be hanging in the balance of these individual – yet collective – choices. If Americans no longer accept the legitimacy of victory and the verdict of defeat, the American democracy will wane and, perhaps, collapse.

But first in this edition, it’s time to explore the concepts of victory and defeat within the vivid Hoosier context.

Lessons from TigArena

I was a marching Tiger, a graduate of Peru High School. On any given wintry Friday or Saturday night, band director Jim Noble (father of famed IU opera baritone Timothy Noble) would march the band in full uniform onto the floor of TigArena, the depression era fieldhouse and home of the Peru Tigers. Jim Noble believed the National Anthem should always be presented in such a vaunted manner. On the western wall of the fieldhouse, high above the 3,500 massed fans, hung the Star-Spangled Banner. Just to the south of our flag was the Grantland Rice poem displayed prominently.

These rituals, words and functions had a profound impact on how this writer views his community, nation and the civic responsibilities thus entailed. One of the key takeaways from my prep experience was the responsibility to vote, which I did for the first time in 1976 at age 20. Implied was the notion of accepting the results.

Politics coincided with other schoolboy virtues and sayings: “Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.” In this Hoosier context, the notion of a “sore loser” was implicit. The sore loser and dirty player were never celebrated, but, instead, derided and cast away.

Our culture of champions

Each Memorial Day, a Hoosier schoolboy would be riveted to Paul Page on the radio, calling the Indianapolis 500. Every Hoosier boy had the Walter Mitty experience, imagining his joining the milk-splattered podium revisited by four-time champions A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves. There may have been tears from vanquished Scott Goodyear or Marco Andretti or after mili-second defeats, but they accepted their fates, perhaps while even realizing it was as close to victory as they would get. Perhaps there would be a tear shed in Gasoline Alley, but they never whined.

Indiana has a rich champion culture, beginning with Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne and extending through the decades of titleists: Jerry Sloan of the University of Evansville; Allen Bradfield at Vincennes University; Branch McCracken, Bob Knight, Doc Counsilman and and Jerry Yeagley at old IU; Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Lou Holtz and Muffet McGraw at ND; Carolyn Peck at Purdue; Slick Leonard with the Pacers and Lin Dunn with the Fever; Tony Dungy with the Colts; and Tony Hinkle at Butler.

There were Hoosier field generals who never won a national championship – Gene Keady, Jack Mollenkopf, Digger Phelps, Joe Tiller, John Pont and Bill Mallory – yet are held in trans-generational esteem for winning Big Ten titles, Rose Bowls and other historic victories such as the Fighting Irish ending coach Johnny Wooden’s UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.

In the sports context, it was Green Bay’s Vince Lombardi who enunciated a clarion American credo of the mid-20th Century: “Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.” But he could be more nuanced, at one point saying, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right. Winning is a habit.”

Our legendary coaches had varying takes on winning. Rockne once said, “Show me a gracious loser and I’ll show you a failure.”

Bob Knight explained, “Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.”

Colts QB Peyton Manning had these takes: “It’s not wanting to win that makes you a winner; it’s refusing to fail.” He also said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Larry Bird, who won three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics and runners-up at Indiana State and the Pacers, added, “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Distilled further, Bird once said, “I hate to lose more than I like to win.”

Former President Richard Nixon said, “You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing. But the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger out on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates.”

Author Robert Green Ingersoll had this take: “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”

Cheaters on the Hoosier doorstep

Growing up in Indiana, the specter of cheating to win was on our doorstep. This includes the most sensational scandal in the history of sports, the 1919 Black Sox. This was when the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, with both teams crisscrossing Indiana that October. The Black Sox scandal resulted in the creation of the MLB commissioner, with Delphi and Logansport native Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis taking the crucial position. He later suspended Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other Sox players for life.

In 1989, Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life for betting on his games, though he never placed a bet against his team.

In 1964, the NFL suspended Gary native Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions and former Notre Dame star Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers for gambling. Hornung wagered sums of $100 to $500 on dozens of contests between 1956 and 1961 (most often backing the Packers), and Karras $50 to $100 at least six times between 1958 and 1962. They were reinstated after 11 months.

“I did wrong,” Hornung said multiple times. “I should be penalized.” Karras added the suspension “may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. Pro athletes get lulled into thinking their sports careers will last the rest of their lives. You don’t know how much you miss something until you have it taken away.”

Scandal also permeated the Hoosier political scene, including the “Black Day” of the Indiana General Assembly in 1887 that prompted hallway violence in a feud between Gov. Isaac P. Gray and Lt. Gov. Robert S. Robertson. In 1924, Gov. Warren McCray was convicted of wire fraud and it was subsequently revealed that then-Secretary of State Ed Jackson (a future governor) had offered a $10,000 bribe on behalf of Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson in exchange for hiring Klansmen to fill public offices, including that of Marion County prosecutor.

Trump’s impact on Indiana

Indiana is a strong pro-Donald Trump state, established just weeks after Gov. Mike Pence’s mealy-mouthed endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primary where he won with 53% of the vote, a precursor to his 57% general election wins in 2016 and 2020. Trump would bring Gov. Pence onto his ticket.

In 2016, there was a merging of sports and politics as Trump barnstormed the state with Coaches Keady, Holtz and Knight (who took credit for convincing the Manhattan billionaire to seek the White House).

President Trump’s White House tenure was, to say the least, tumultuous. He openly feuded with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and ended his term by goading an insurrectionist mob at the U.S. Capitol to “hang Mike Pence” after he refused to follow the John Eastman memo revealed in Robert Woodward/Bob Costa’s new book “Peril,” and perform a literal coup d’etat to keep the 45th president in office.

Coats authored a Sept. 17, 2020, New York Times op-ed in which the former Indiana senator laid out the stakes: “Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive. Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.

“If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins,” Coats continued. “No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.”

Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan said in an op-ed last week, “Our constitutional crisis is already here.”

Kagan explains, “First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running. 

“Second,” Kagan continues, “Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the recent California recall contest.

“Meanwhile, the amateurish ‘stop the steal’ efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020,” Kagan said.

According to analysis by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, “1. Trump tried to pressure secretaries of state to not certify. 2. Trump tried to pressure state legislatures to overturn the results. 3. Trump tried to get the courts to overturn the results. 4. Trump tried to pressure Mike Pence to overturn the results. 5. When all else failed, Trump tried to get a mob to overturn the results.”

Look no further than the Arizona “audit” of Maricopa County released last Friday. This unprecedented act by Cyber Ninjas (which in normal times would have zero relevance), concluded that Joe Biden not only carried Arizona, but increased his vote total.

Trump’s reaction was out of the Roy Cohn playbook: “We won on the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said during a Sept. 25 “Save America” rally in Perry, Ga., referring to the ballot review ordered by Republicans in the Arizona state Senate.  “They had headlines that Biden wins in Arizona when they know it’s not true. He didn’t win in Arizona. He lost in Arizona based on the forensic audit.”

Trump’s statement is “complete nonsense,” said Benny White, a Republican and longtime volunteer data analyst for the Arizona Republican Party. “The official results are correct. He lost.”

That was the same conclusion that Arizona resident Dan Quayle offered to Vice President Pence in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Thus, in the weeks and months over the horizon, individual Republicans ranging from Gov. Holcomb, the Sens. Braun and Young, to the congressional delegation, to RNC members John Hammond III and Ann Hathaway, are going to be in a position to help determine the course of the Republican Party and the future of the American democracy.

Is it now “all’s fair in love and war?” Should our politics follow this idea?” Or should it be more of “it’s how you play the game”? 

In our past, the answer has been more along the lines of politics played honorably; election verdicts were implicitly followed.

Commissioner Landis laid out the stakes of corruption after taking the reins of baseball in 1920: “Baseball is something more than a game to an American boy; it is his training field for life’s work. Destroy his faith in its squareness and honesty and you have destroyed something more; you have planted suspicion of all things in his heart.”