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Rooting for Underdogs

Ellen Levitt

Posted on March 28, 2022 13:54

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Underdogs have been in the news... why do we root for them?

I don't usually follow the NCAA basketball tournaments too carefully. "March Madness" is just part of the news chatter for me unless a NYC team manages to get into the top rankings. But this year, I was more interested because a somewhat local team was an unlikely entrant. 

St. Peter's University from Jersey City, New Jersey (close enough to NYC) was the "Cinderella story" of the season. Typically a low-ranked squad, the Peacocks somehow made it into the Sweet Sixteen of competing teams. Unfortunately, they lost to UNC on Sunday, March 27th. But they still made a huge impression on Americans, even those who are not big college hoops fans.

And why? Because they were the Underdogs. Rooting for underdogs is a feel-good scenario. I'm not mocking this; there is a history of cheering for the little guy, for the unexpected contender who just might go all the way to the top.

One of the earliest examples of cheering for the underdog is the biblical story of David and Goliath. Young David was able to vanquish the gigantic Goliath and helped the Jewish people secure a vital victory. Since those ancient times, there have been many other little guy versus big guy sagas. The birth of the United States, winning independence from Great Britain, is another major example.

But besides the feel-good tale of St. Peter's this week, there is the ongoing underdog situation in Eastern Europe. Ukraine is definitely the underdog versus Russia, scrappily fighting to survive against an overly aggressive world power. Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelensky, an unlikely president who had been known previously as an actor and comedian, is leading his embattled nation against the autocrat Vladimir Putin of Russia.

The majority of Americans and other people around the world are sympathetic to Zelensky and his Ukrainian nation, seeing Putin and his followers as the savage aggressors. The tenacity of Ukraine in the face of stark horrors is stirring and frightening. 

I'm not stating that the St. Peter's basketball story is on the same level of importance as the Ukraine invasion by Russia, but there are certainly parallels to be analyzed. And both these stories have occupied the media and thus the imaginations of many in the United States. 

So many people root for underdogs, whether it be a sports competition or a serious, global power situation. Will Ukraine fare better than the St. Peter's men's basketball team? Certainly, I hope so, although by getting this far in the NCAA Tournament, the basketball squad did achieve a great deal and helped publicize their school. Ukraine has a much more dire situation, with citizens killed and injured, infrastructure destroyed, and other nations around the world deeply impacted.

St. Peter's sports achievements show us that no one can take for granted an easy path to victory. Underdogs can prevail. Hopefully, Putin and his supporters realize this. Peace is a heckuva lot smarter and more beneficial than brutality.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on March 28, 2022 13:54

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