Everyone Loves an Underdog

By | February 27, 2020

[February 27, 2020]  My family was glued to the television as we watched the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeat the Soviet Union team in the semifinals at the 1980 Winter Games.  My brother and I were cheering for “our” hockey team.  We didn’t know anything about ice hockey (being from the Deep South) but that didn’t matter.  We all love an underdog; win or lose, we are on their side.

“The American dream is everybody has a chance, and if you find that the underdogs don’t have a chance, it kinda pokes holes in that dream.” – Ed Ayers, American historian

Part of the American dream is that everyone has a fair chance to succeed, and anyone who doesn’t, we can somehow relate to them.  Historian Ed Ayers had it right when he made this quote.  Dr. Ayers sees something that all of us have inside us, and that is an inherent understanding of fairness and fair play.

People hate cheating, and we don’t like it when a cheater wins, or the game is somehow unfair.  These ideals align with our American Core Values, and I wrote a three-part series a few years ago (the series can be found here, here, and here.)  While there may be vast political differences among Americans or between people across many cultures, one thing that remains constant is that we all identify with and love the underdog.

I’m reminded of a rafting race on the Ruhr River in what was West Germany back in 1975.  Near the city of Lünen, the German Army sponsored a major rafting competition that pitted their Special Forces1 teams against all comers, civilian and military.  My Army unit entered seven Privates (I was among them) to show that we were participants but had no possibility of winning.  After the race, everyone was shocked to hear that our pitiful rafting team had won.  We were the epitome of an underdog team.

Stories abound of underdogs like that of Cinderella in The Little Glass Slipper, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the Tortoise in The Tortoise and the Hare, and in the many “rags to riches” accounts of famous people like Charles Dickens (writer), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Walt Disney (cartoonist), and Oprah Winfrey (television personality).  These are what Dr. Jordan Peterson would call meta-stories, those narratives that have risen to the top to capture everyday shared experiences, knowledge, and meaning of a grand idea or purpose.

Underdogs have a special place in our hearts.  From stories to real-life experience, we have all seen the underdogs win and lose.  They have become symbols of our lives and the desire to impart fairness and honor upon them.


  1. Kommando Spezialkräfte – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kommando_Spezialkräfte
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Everyone Loves an Underdog

  1. Jerome Smith

    Gen. Satterfield, I went back to again read your series on American Core Values and found them interesting and, also, educational. I agree with what you have to say here. But I will add that maybe some of the ‘underdog’ status we give is derived from our history as an underdog nation. Just a thought.

  2. Max Foster

    Anyone been watching the US Presidential news over the past few days? Bernie Sanders is going all out to maintain his support for communist dictatorships. On the one hand, he tells us these dictatorships are doing “a lot of good things” and yet he “condemns” anything they do that keeps their citizens down. Wow, a bunch of words that don’t really mean much.

    1. Georgie B.

      Bernie Sanders is a sure loser against Donald Trump. Why we even bother to worry about him is beyond me.

    2. Bryan Lee

      Ha Ha. Sanders is Communist, pure and simple. Just listen to what he says.

      1. lydia

        Yeah, but too many people – especially young people – are sucked in by the thought of getting free stuff. They are no longer taught that adopting responsibility is what makes us satisfied with our lives.

  3. apache2

    Underdogs that are there because of a lack of fairness give us all something to root for.

  4. Wendy Holmes

    I listened to Dr. Jordan Peterson on YouTube and found him fascinating with plenty of great storytelling ability and rational thinking. I suggest that all of us go to YouTube and listen to him talk. Also, read the comments below about what he says and see how he has inspired others to drag themselves up from the pit of chaos to the enlightenment. Believe me, you will thank me for it.

    1. JT Patterson

      Yes, Dr. JP is an exceptional man who has made his mark by making sense of the world. According to him, the world is full of chaos and humans overcome that chaos by developing social interactions that evolve into hierarchies. Like meta stories, there are meta hierarchies that help us achieve more than we would have if left alone by ourselves. Listen and learn.

      1. Xerxes I

        Level-headed professor JoPeterson. I never thought I’d compliment a college professor again after I hear about all the evil things they are doing to restrict free speech, lie about the efforts of our political leaders, and warp the minds of our young. Dr. Peterson is a breath of fresh air.

  5. Crazy Dude

    Hi everyone, another educational and entertaining blog post from Gen. Satterfield. I never heard of meta-stories before or the concept he is writing about but I wonder where I veered off the track and never heard of it. Certainly, I learned a lot today. I’ll be passing it along to others and looking at what “meta stories” I can find that are out there in real life.

    1. Darwin Lippe

      I recommend “The Ass and the Lap Dog.” One of my favorites from childhood.

    1. Lady Hawk

      I recommend Aesop’s Fables – timeless stories with a moral. https://aesopsfables.org/ This website has 258 fables. I highly recommend this site because how well it is organized. Simple and effective.

  6. Randy Goodman

    You can find many meta-stories in the Bible. Maybe that is why the Bible is the most read book in the world.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Yes, I agree with you Randy and it also teaches us lessons that meta-stories certainly do.

  7. Fred Weber

    According to John Stephens and Robyn McCallum, a metanarrative (or meta-story) “is a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and xplains knowledge and experience” – a story about a story, encompassing and explaining other “little stories” within conceptual models that assemble the “little stories” into a whole. Postmodern narratives will often deliberately disturb the formulaic expectations such cultural codes provide, pointing thereby to a possible revision of the social code.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Good explanation Fred for the concept of the underdog. Yes, that is a metanarrative or metastory. Whenever we read or see one in play, we immediately are attracted to it. Don’t forget Pinocchio who is just a wooden puppet and hopes to, one day, “Be a real boy.”

    2. Nick Lighthouse

      Excellent. This article caught me a little off guard. I was expecting something else but what a great surprise.

  8. Scotty Bush

    Really nice article on ‘underdogs.’ I’m also reminded of the kids’ television cartoon UNDERDOG. He is a great dog that makes us believe in him while he takes on the bad guys and cuts down on crime.

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