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These guys want to win at all costs

One columnist wonders if some wannabe-athletes have taken that competitive edge too far in the financial world.

February 20, 2009|Robyn Norwood

You've heard the stories about professional athletes so competitive they can't bear to lose, even at pingpong.

But let's just say they didn't become professional athletes. Do you really want to work with anyone who isn't mature enough to shrug off being No. 2 at table tennis? And why is it, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins wonders, that so many of the culprits in the Wall Street mess seem to be frustrated former athletes?

"You know the type: the guy who slides with his spikes high in the company softball game," Jenkins writes. "Which raises the question of hyper-competitiveness, and whether it's really such a useful quality on surfaces other than dirt."

John Thain, the lavish-spending former head of Merrill Lynch, wrestled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Morgan Stanley's John J. Mack played football at Duke until he cracked a vertebra.

Bank of America boss Ken Lewis dreamed of playing football for Bear Bryant at Alabama until an injury ended his hopes and he studied at Georgia State instead.

They were athletes, but not top-tier, and their thwarted will to win found other outlets.

"Edward Bennett Williams called it 'contest living,' the unrelieved striving in which 'every effort is marked down at the end as a win or a loss,' " Jenkins writes. "In times of prosperity that kind of strut was called successful ambition, but as new frauds are revealed weekly and financial institutions turn to sand, it's fair to ask whether these super-motivated, aggressive risk-taker chief executives misapplied the notion of business as sport, and got too intoxicated with winning."

Trivia time

What might have been Bernard Madoff's athletic specialty? (Warning: Trick question.)

Football in February

This final basketball score in from the Big Ten on Wednesday: Penn State 38, Illinois 33.

"I think we thought we'd get it going and it never got going," Illinois guard Trent Meacham said.

Let the record note, the No. 18 Illini outscored their football counterparts by nine points. When the schools met on the gridiron last fall, Penn State won, 38-24.

Trivia answer

The $50-billion dash.

And finally

The Washington Nationals signed Dominican prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez in 2006 and gave him a $1.4-million signing bonus, believing he was 16 years old.

Turns out he was four years older than they thought, and has been identified as 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo.

That makes him a player to be named later -- and born earlier, too.

Nationals President Stan Kasten said this week if the minor leaguer joins the team in camp, he probably will go by the name Carlos Alvarez.

"I think those are the two he goes by. In fact, hold on, hold on -- he's got it right here on his passport," Kasten told the Washington Post as he looked at a copy of the documentation. "You've got to believe the passport, right?"


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