The Virtue of Humility


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. 
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.
Philippians 2:3

I once asked the philosopher Michael Novak which of his 45 books was his favorite. It was not one he was known for, such as The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism or Business as a Calling. With an impish smile, he let slip that his favorite ‘child’ was The Joy of Sports; End Zones, Bases, Baskets, Balls, and the Consecration of the American Spirit, written back in 1976.

Yes, I teach in a business school, but Sports is my favorite too. Novak argues that sports competition — and the resulting victories and losses — is one of the greatest life teachers. He quoted Albert Camus, “Sport was the main occupation of all of us, and continued to be mine for a long time. That is where I had my only lessons in ethics.” 

Read the entire article: Victory and Humility,

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19 Responses

  1. Austin Moxham says:

    Professor Yoest,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article about the importance of humility in the context of sports and how upholding good moral character or in the case of sports “good sportsmanship” and being humble is the way to living a virtuous and ethical life. While winning and becoming successful is the primary goal not just in sports but in business and life, those who achieve stardom and accomplish their professional goals should be proud of themselves and celebrate their hard work, but they should not think of themselves as immortal and act haughty in the faces of their competitors. A truly victorious athlete or individual is the one who does not win for the sake of winning but cherishes the work they dedicated to achieving success as well as embodies the spirit or central mission surrounding their actions both on and off the field. As mentioned in the article, Eric Liddel did not run just to be the best and to win the Olympic medal but because it brought him spiritual pleasure and he viewed his victories as a way to honor God. In other words, those athletes that risk it all and bring home the championship for their team not only embrace the moment of victory and know how much they deserve the success they have accomplished, but are also focused on the sole purpose of why they play their sports. Additionally, those individuals who make it big are good-humored and take pride in their accomplishments but they also exemplify humility and maintain good moral character by acknowledging their competitors and colleagues and the steadfast effort they contribute toward achieving their own successes. Essentially, those who are humble know their self-worth but selflessly adopt a modest opinion of themselves and their abilities to regard those of others with greater importance. Demonstrating humility means placing the needs of others before your own and contributing to the betterment of others while also accepting honors and accomplishments without excessive pride or viewing yourself as more deserving than others. This is the “good sportsmanship” in sports where the winning team does not kick the other team while they are down and make them feel less about themselves but instead recognizes their determination in competition and demonstrates a willingness to help them become better so they too can raise the trophy one day just as Long offered advice to Owens in the Olympics.

  2. Isabel Rodriguez says:

    I found this article quite interesting; it evoked a desire to truly understand the importance of character that can be learned through proper sportsmanship. Anyone can be a leader or champion on a sports team if enough hard work and practice are put in, however, it takes an individual who is humble and grateful for the opportunity to play with their team and succeed in the game to build a strong character. Many crucial and applicable characteristics can be learned through proper sportsmanship, athletes need to learn how to get along with their teammates no matter how different they may be. This is a skill that can be learned on the field and applied in the workplace; many employees must learn how to cooperate with co-workers in order to share success that will benefit the boss and organization as a whole. Without humility, I believe it is difficult for a true team to form. Team members, as well as the leader, must remember to be aware of their capabilities while remaining humble and acknowledging other’s talents. As the article indicates, sports and competition will test the human spirit; through this test, it is crucial that the individual is able to work cohesively and learn valuable lessons that will only lead themselves and their team to shared success.

  3. James Verby says:

    Rapinoe is the clearest example of someone who has no sense of humility. As a champion for the CUA swim team, I am always horribly nervous standing on that podium. I feel as if I don’t deserve to be there, the flashing of cameras and the shaking of officials” hands, its all very worrying. This can be related to business practice where humility can be an effective face to put on for potential partners. Humility makes the business virtuous because its success does not inflate its ego or controls its existence . I have seen so many people in sports have such an inflated ego that no one would even want to practice with them. This is also the same with businesses, a business that flouts its success all the time is not one I want to be a part of because they care for little else other than their success. There is not room for ego in sportsmanship or business practice, a humble athlete or business will be more successful and happy.

  4. Matt Long says:

    Sports have shown human spirit and dedication since the early Roman ages. Chariot races were added to the Olympics in 680 BC. The Olympics are performed worldwide with global competitions of all nationalities. They are the meeting of athletes throughout the world. We should remember that we are all ambassadors of our country. Sports should help diverse social connections and not hinder them. As discussed in The Stream, Rapinoe caused headlines with her curses against Trump. This only fueled the fire between already turbulent political parties. Keep politics out of sports. Sports are supposed to reduce anxiety and stress, not make things worse. On another note, sports are about the spirit of teamwork and the building of camaraderie. This enables people to work well together. Participation and collaboration toward a unified mission and common goal are positive factors in sports and the business world.

  5. Thomas says:

    Through out sports and life humility is a key part into the character of the person. I boxed for many years and the sport of boxing has always had a braggadocios stars rise to fame. It is not until they are on the canvas that they realize how much that talk means. In the instance of this article someone like Rapinoe is going into this with a mindset that she has done it all on her own, like a boxer. Forgetting that there is an entire team and support group behind her. For her as the team leader should hold herself to a higher standard and be a model not only for her teammates, but also all of the people watching. Having a high ego can only get you so far in life. In reference to business it is the same concept. Constantly bragging and boasting about what you have done will only show the ugly side of you which will lead to less and less work because people will not want to do task with you. Having a sense of humility and staying humble will get you further than bragging.

  6. Anisabella Sikaffy says:

    Sports is a powerful and unifying force in our civilization. Not only does it build character, but it is a discipline that, as Novak would say, “teach religious qualities of heart and soul”. It teaches each and every one of us the value of humility and reflects the reality of our being through all the wins and losses. Although Novak has many works that are more highly esteemed, his piece on The Joy of Sports is a favorite. I believe that the reason for his favoritism on this work is the true reflection of humankind. The interrelations of sportsmanship, politics, character, and humility in sports help us grasp a better understanding of how our civilization interacts with one another. He mentions how many times, although many would argue, luck plays a role in how any competition will turn out. I believe this is true, as sometimes luck is just something that can’t be controlled. It is sometimes up to fate to decide what any event turnout will be. Skill is important, but the unpredictability of luck is an inevitable factor. Overall, it is true that although having skills is impressive, athletes and spectators need not to forget that humility should not be lost at any moment. It is the most important and humanizing part of sports, it is what makes it an honorable tradition, and losing humility in it degrades the art and beauty of it.

  7. Maysen Ellitt says:

    I think that sportsmanship is a very disregarded part of the sport. No matter how talented or dominating the athlete could be, sportsmanship is the most key factor of being a good athlete. It takes so much patience, work, and composure to rely on sportsmanship not only to collaborate with the team but also the opponents. By creating an environment of hostility and bitterness, there is no room for success or for improvement on the part of other athletes. They may feel pressured and intimidated. First and foremost, a sport is a sport. It must be a competitive place but also a place of comfort and growth for those who may not have the same hostile idea of winning as others. As a college athlete, there is a strong difference between healthy hate and toxic hate. Teams and athletes can “hate” other teams but realize that after the game is over that life has changed and people move on. Unhealthy “hates” dwindle on the past and continue to take a loss or win personally despite the skills and facts shown in the game. This reflects extremely poorly on their character. They much grow and continue to be a better person. Not every person will be like that. So, emotions are surely going to play a large impact in the game and its aftermath.

  8. Joe Spalding says:

    As this is a business class, it was difficult to see how talking about sports relates to business. We have discussed Completed Staff Work and the role it has in the professional world. My parents both knew Michael Novak and admired his teachings. I am not a sports person, so reading this article took some effort. I had trouble with some of the analogies, but it seemed pretty sensible. The fact is – everyone wants fame and recognition. This applies in all areas. However, the recognition should not be expected and, or needed. To be humble means to forego that desire, doing everything without any expectations. In the business world, people with authority typically recognize those, who just do their job. They promote them for their character. If you work hard, you will be noticed

  9. The article begins by stating that the philosopher, Michael Novak, views sports as one of the greatest life teachers, and reveals that is where Novak learned about ethics. Any and every sport contains a set of rules that those playing must follow, which creates humility. The article then made connection to the U.S Women’s National Soccer Team, who won the 2015, 2019 World Cup and 2012 Olympics. By Megan Rapinoe saying “I deserve this!” may seem that she is not demonstrating humility, instead is demonstrating arrogance. It is important to note that humility is not something that one is all the time, as Novak states that no one dares to be too arrogant for too long.
    The article continues to discuss sportsmanship and character. Sportsmanship is not only related to sports, but is the easiest example to use. Sportsmanship is demonstrated in all sorts of competitive environments such as politics and in the workplace when it comes to group projects. Having sportsmanship is when an individual treats others fair and generously. Character is what defines a person. For instance, humility and sportsmanship can develop one’s character. Both of these skills are ones that also play a role in the workplace.

  10. Omar Alakeel says:

    I’ve always drawn similarities between sports and competition in general. I think “what would a soccer player do?” and the player would be different each time depending on the situation itself, I would look at player who are known to show sportsmanship in situations that I think needed that and competitiveness in situations that I needed to go the extra mile or rise above the rest. These three factors are deemed to be not only important in sports but in business as well as the article says, but I think that sometimes people in the business world forget about the competition aspect of business and focus more on the business aspect of business, if that makes sense. Focusing on doing the job no matter what, no matter if the right thing to do or not, but the focus on being successful at the cost of others has led to becoming lost in it and not being the good competitor a person should be, the example of Rapinoe is a perfect example of being lost in the success, unfortunately many other athletes these days seem to be the same, but there are still those who value the importance of competition and understand that not only they’re playing from themselves or the team but everyone that is watching, and being a good role model is important for the generations to come.

  11. Chris Talamini-Kelemen says:

    The most successful athletes in history are the most humble, if you’re measuring success correctly. Competing well in sports requires hard work and support from others; it is never a result of natural intuition. Athletes would be wise to accept humility in their successes as a player, and use the attention towards them to shine light at others who helped them along the way, such as coaches, teammates, friends, and family. To recognize one’s value and worth and be proud of one’s accomplishments is acceptable; to credit only oneself for one’s achievements is short-sighted.

    In this matter, I disagree with Novak. If Rapinoe was using her platform to argue against sweatshops in China, no one would mind. However, since she chooses to use her platform to support political positions she aligns with, those who disagree with her criticize her. Rapinoe may not be humble, and she may not have the greatest sportsmanship, but she uses her platform to support something she’s passionate about. Every single person is given a platform, and if we don’t use our platforms to help pursue the changes we wish to see in the world, then we are wasting the tools that are given to us. Sometimes, I disagree with what someone says, but I will always respect someone more for advocating for their values and remaining consistent in them; to do otherwise is cowardly.

  12. Isabella Lay says:

    There is a lot to say about those who participate in sports. They are athletic, the image of health. Most are great at collaborating in groups and every has that team mentality of working together to reach a common goal. All of these traits are important, but none more so than that of the underlying ethics in the sport. Between each play, athletes show their true colors by how they enact with each other and their opponents. It’s not enough to think you that you deserve fame and praise. You have to realize that the sport isn’t just about you, it’s about all participating, and showing them the same respect you want shown onto you. Sports build character. I’m sure we’ve all grown up hearing about someone who exemplified good sportsmanship. They are praised because they recognize the efforts of all, and are more focused on building up the team than only themselves. The same can be said about those who live out the philosophy of Completed Staff Work. They are not only working to better themselves, but better their company as a whole. Those who are able to appropriately execute Completed Staff Work are the same individuals who seek praise in silence, and are the most humble of them all. They are the ones that even when hiding in the shadows, stand out the greatest.

  13. Tyler Raftery says:

    The best competitors in history are the most unassuming in case you’re estimating achievement effectively. Contending great in sports requires difficult work and backing from others; it is never an aftereffect of characteristic instinct. Competitors would be astute to acknowledge lowliness in their victories as a player and utilize the consideration towards them to focus light on other people who helped them in roles, like mentors, partners, companions, and family. To perceive one’s worth and worth and be pleased with one’s achievements is adequate; to credit just oneself for one’s accomplishments is childish. The article keeps on examining sportsmanship and character. Sportsmanship isn’t simply identified with sports yet is the least demanding guide to utilize. Sportsmanship is shown in a wide range of cutthroat conditions like governmental issues and in the working environment with regards to bunch projects. Having sportsmanship is the point at which an individual treats others reasonably and liberally. Character is the thing that characterizes an individual. For example, modesty and sportsmanship can build up one’s character. Both of these abilities are ones that likewise assume a part in the working environment.

  14. Abby Jackson says:

    I think that this article made several good points about the relationship between humility, sportsmanship, and sports. I also want to point out that I have very little experience regarding the world of sports, especially soccer. I think the first thing in this article that I disagree with is the ideas put forward regarding the anthem at sporting events – and how, by not singing the anthem, athletes tie together sports with politics. However, it seems as though if not singing the anthem is political, I can’t understand why it wouldn’t be a comparable action TO say the anthem. Both positions juxtapose each other and listen to the song respectfully, anyway. Also, I had some difficulty understanding the reference to Rapinoe “kicking a hapless opponent” and the included video, that clearly showed her scoring the goal, running far away from any other player on the ground, diving to the ground, and kicking her leg up in celebration. Despite that, I know there is a lot of controversy about the way the American team celebrates and certain comments they’ve made after specific wins and losses. My perspective on the matter seems to be much more forgiving to the individual who, while of course representing their country, are representing lifetimes of work, sweat, and tears that helped them reach goals like the World Cup and no matter how much a team is winning by, they deserve to relish in the excitement of such a feat. In the same way, I think that the silver and bronze winners should share in the glory of the game. My relationship with sports also seems to be different, as I do see them as a test of the human spirit, but they are also supposed to be about comradery, teamwork, effort, skill, and more. So, when a team or an individual wins a game, representative of the years of work they put in to get where they are, they deserve to celebrate. Athletes are not figureheads of a country that represent the entire population, they are real people who love a sport and have set aside their entire lives to play it and win.

  15. Mohammad alajmi says:

    I love this article because it shares knowledge about some of the greatest lessons of life. The first one is to be conscious and alert about the certainty of finality in every aspect of life. While healthy competition must be encouraged and enjoyed, one must not forget the centrality of the painful punishment and humiliation if one is arrogant about his achievements. The difference between the state of healthy competition and arrogance leaves a little gap that is filled excellently by the state of humility. Just like death, the end of a career of a professional sportsman is a certainty that cannot be denied. The end of a career may come from bad luck, overage, or fierce competitors. The reason which causes an end to a career is important because it is a reflection of how a player performed in the field and how his behaviour and attitude was towards the game and other people.
    While it is good to appear powerful and merciless to disgraceful opponents, most high-standard healthy competitions include good players in the advanced rounds of play. All disgraceful players end up losing in the first rounds or do not qualify for the competition. The remaining good players deserve to be respected, honoured, and embraced by the sporting community, including players, in a good manner.

  16. Amanda Johnson says:

    I thought this article highlighted an important aspect of humility by discussing it in the context of sports. Competition brings out so much emotion. The wins and losses will evoke a level of emotion that is difficult to get out of people otherwise. People care about winning and people care about competing. That is why sports can be a true test of one’s humility. Are you able to maintain your humility in the heat of the emotions that a sport brings out of you? This article sheds light on an athlete that does not seem to maintain her humility throughout the wins and losses, Meghan Rapinoe. Instead of carrying herself with a sense of humbleness, she carries herself with arrogance. She allows politic to enter her sport and affect her behavior. This concept will continue to apply far beyond our careers in sports. Competition doesn’t stop when sports do. We will have plenty of competition throughout our careers. It will be telling of our character to see how we carry ourselves when that competition becomes fierce. Do we maintain our humility throughout, or do we allow our arrogance to consume us? This will ultimately affect how we are valued as an employee. Staff who can stay true to their best self no matter the circumstances will be the most sought after and appreciated employees.

  17. I truly enjoyed this article because it’s the perfect example of what humility truly is. Celebrating a victory is not about being arrogant and stating that it’s because you deserve it. Victory is about accepting that it took a team to get to the goal. Arrogance can be the worst enemy for someone as you a too full of yourselves because you are better than anyone else. Sports are the perfect example of humility as you have to be humble and have sportsmanship to win the game.

  18. Dominic Decker says:

    This article is a great read for anyone studying business for many reasons. If you think about it, business and sports have a lot in common. Each company can be thought of as a team, and the staff inside the company are like the players. The different companies are “playing” against each other to be the best. This sense of competition can be beneficial or detrimental. Competition can bring out the absolute worst in people. What should outweigh the temptations of competition is sportsmanship and business ethics. Sportsmanship and business ethics are similar in how one achieves success. The goal of sportsmanship is not to win but to play with humility, honor, respect, and one’s best efforts. The goal of business ethics is to generate value and profit through virtue. The article shows that Megan Rapinoe may not fully grasp the idea of sportsmanship. While she worked hard for many years on and off the field, when she finally accomplished her goal she took a negative route. She lacked humility, sportsmanship, and character. When businesses act in this way, it blemishes their brand and decreases customer value. It is vital that companies establish and maintain ethical practices and not let competition and profit drive their business.

  19. Emily Lynn says:

    This article showcases the attitudes and characteristics of a good leader, while drawing from an example of a poor leader. In sports, it can be easy to let your ego overrule yourself when it comes to an accomplishment, especially if the stakes are high. As seen in the example with the US Women’s National Soccer Team, emotions, particularly selfish ones, tend to take control in the moments after victory, and during celebrations. While it is valid to enjoy the accomplishment, there is a certain extent to which too much enjoyment could be a bad thing. When celebrating a victory, leaders – in sports or business – should be cognizant of their emotions, and continue to lead with humility, sportsmanship, and character. These virtues are extremely important to taking success gracefully. Leaders should be humble about their victories, and always extend sportsmanlike behavior, both to those on their team as well as to others who they may have been in competition with. Overall, leaders should be respectful in their victories, and not boast their success. It is easy for pride to take over, but it is imperative that success is taken with humility. In business, this is important, because it could lead to negative consequences in the future, such as losing deals or being involved with ethical scandals.

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