It is Not a Crime to Win

This is not one of my typical crime and justice columns. This one comes from a personal place.

I love the television show Jeopardy. I adore host Alex Trebek and I watch the program whenever I can.  . So, when the contestant, James Holzhauer, recently started racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then reached more than $1.6 million before a two-week hiatus, I was spellbound!  Holzhauer is on his way to, perhaps, beating the all-time Jeopardy champ, Ken Jennings, who took home more than $2.5 million in 2004.  I can’t wait to see if that record is broken.         But then I started reading the criticism.  From the Washington Post’s Charles Lane, “I have just one question: Do you not see that this guy is a menace?”

Variety’s TV critic Daniel D’Addario wrote, “He’s become such a dominant force that a historic run has come to seem, as television, boring … Holzhauer’s run is a thrilling achievement, and deadly dull television.”

The Buffalo News columnist Jeff Simon was even more blunt, “I can’t wait for James Holzhauer to lose. I don’t care how many records he ultimately sets for winning money on “Jeopardy” – or for how quickly sets them all – he is, to me, absolutely no fun to watch.”

What is wrong with these people?  It is not a crime to win. It is a crime if you cheat and win.  Holzhauer’s success is based solely on two incredible talents. His intelligence in an astoundingly broad array of topics and his fantastically fast reflexes which assure he is almost always first to buzz in to give the right answer.  Instead of recognizing his talents the killjoys focus on Holzhauer’s occupation (he’s a professional gambler) or his smile (too wide, displaying too many teeth, they say) or the robotic way in which he delivers his answers.

Think Holzhauer Cares About the Haters?

Why do some people hate a winner?  Excelling at something is a good thing we should applaud. It keeps people out of trouble if they are focused on positive endeavors. Hey, watching someone on television win more than a million bucks might even inspire a young person to put down their phone or abandon their video game. They might come to see the wisdom in pursuing higher education and the joy of a tough competition well played.

Those criticizing this Jeopardy champ remind me of little league parents who insist everyone must get a trophy even if they didn’t win. They can’t stand one person excelling over all others. Oh, they say they want to help build esteem among the losers, but I think, deep down, they may be more intent on diluting the accomplishment of the champion.  It’s like those who constantly put down the historically competitive New York Yankees or the New England Patriots.

D’Addario via Twitter

Interesting to note, I discovered that the curmudgeons from both the Washington Post and Variety are former Jeopardy contestants. D’Addario lists himself as a “semifinalist on Jeopardy’s College Championship” (no year mentioned) which means he was unable to achieve what Holzhauer has.  Lane admits he came in dead last while competing on Jeopardy in September 1991.

By the way, Lane is a graduate of both Yale and Harvard and I’m betting his parents sent him to those schools with the idea that his high-priced education would help him become a winner in the game of life.  So, its baffling that he would write of Holzhauer, “The only thing more troubling, as a commentary on American culture, than his grinning, relentless march to victory … is that millions celebrate it.”

Lane via Facebook

When did winning a good, wholesome brain game become a thing NOT to celebrate? In what universe is a person who studies hard, applies himself or herself, and conquers a lofty goal a “menace?” Am I missing something here or am right on the money when I say we’ve become a nation populated by nasty naysayers who find glee picking apart those who do well?

I don’t like the trend. It reeks of rank jealousy and that’s never a pretty character trait.

In the old days, contestants on Jeopardy were rather unexciting. In recent years some real dynamos have appeared.  The bearded and quirky Austin Rogers, a New York bartender who doesn’t own a TV and mugged for the camera, took home $411,000.  The brilliant Julia Collins from Illinois showed American girls that being smart pays off. After winning 20 straight games she took home $428,000. A guy from LA named Buzzy Cohen was a delight to watch as he won $164, 603. He thanked his grandfather “Papa Louie” for the set of encyclopedias that sparked his love of learning.

Look, there’s enough evil, crime and ignorance in the world. I know because its my job to follow it. For a half-hour, six days a week, can’t we set aside the snarky comments and root for some really smart and accomplished people? I vote yes.

PS. All the best to Alex Trebek and his battle against pancreatic cancer.



  1. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    Reader Anne Harris Davidson writes:

    Your “Crime and Justice” op-ed, “Hey, America, when did it become a crime to win?” (which I read on page A15 of today’s Albuquerque Journal) was spot on. Bravo!

    The only thing that I might have changed was its title; I might have used, “Hey, America, when did it become a crime to be brainy?”

    Thank you,

    Ann Harris DAVIDSON

  2. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Reader Rocky Grodner writes:

    Thanks for your editorial on Jeopardy and James Holzhauer. I agree. I hope he continues winning and surpasses Ken Jennings. Why is it bad to be smart and show it?

    Rocky Grodner

  3. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Reader Irv Diamond writes:

    Well said!!!

  4. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Reader David McCulloch writes:

    i don’t watch Jeopardy, but i completely agree with your column in this morning’s paper, “Hey, America, when did it become a crime to win?”

    it’s interesting that you picked up on it with Jeopardy. In general, it’s been going on for some time now. When I grew up, it was an honorable goal to go to school, get a good paying job, and be able to have a comfortable life and support your family, and maybe even put away some money for retirement and emergencies.

    Now, people who have done exactly that are the bad guys. they have too much money, and it’s now a crime. they have “won” in the game of life, and should be admired, and emulated. instead, they are being labeled as the bad guys, with urges from the public to tax them and take away what they have struggled to achieve over their entire lifetimes.

    so, along with your question of “when did it become a crime to win?”, i would add, “when did it become a crime to be successful?”, which is more or less the same thing.

    i’m seeing a disturbing trend in America today. Not only is it a crime to win, but any incentives to win, or be successful, are being removed. People who attend college emerge with massive student loan debt. How did that happen? For certain, a lot of extremely bright and talented people are reconsidering going for bachelors and post-graduate degrees. I know doctors with $500,000 in student loan debt, pharmacists with $300,000 in debt. it’s a financial punishment to go into the health care field anymore.

    the political talk, mostly from the radical left, has many people wondering why they should work at all. I see “help wanted” and “now accepting applications” everywhere i go these days. yet the political promises are for free housing, free health care, free food for everyone, and the “rich” (ie, the winners, the successful people) should pay for it all. I worked in health care myself. In high school, i didn’t party or do drugs. i hated school, but i stuck with it and got decent grades. same in college. i didn’t join fraternities. I went to school while working part time. I got a masters while working full time, and going to school and studying another 20 hours a week. i have 20 years of education, thousands of hours of homework and studying. I remember when i finished my masters degree, and suddenly had all this time (and extra money) that i didn’t have before. I went fishing for the first time in 2 years. I was able to start doing more things with my family. but my degree resulted in a raise in salary, which was carried on for the rest of my career, and upon which my retirement pension is calculated.

    I remember living off of Ramen noodles and beans, living in a dumpy apartment in a bad neighborhood, so i could save money and get ahead. for special occasions, i would buy a can of Hormel Chili and hot dogs. today i can afford a steak dinner. if i’d been buying steak dinners in those days, i suspect i’d still be in that same dumpy apartment.

    I worked in health care since i was 20 years old, and retired from the VA after 30 years. While there, i invested the maximum amount into the retirement plan so i would be comfortable when i retired. I knew people who never saved a dime. they were buying the newest cars, bigger houses. I’ve retired, and they are still working. and they complain that social security doesn’t leave them enough to live on. they never saved a penny.

    and yet, the news is filled with the homeless people, the old folks eating dog food, people living in their cars. while i feel sorry for them, i can’t help but think of the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper i grew up with: the Ant who was busy all day long, and the grasshopper who loafed around and had a good time. when winter came, the ant went into his burrow safe and snug, and the grasshopper walked away in the show, with his shawl pulled over his shoulders (it was a cartoon book), shivering and hungry. the Moral of the story was obvious: work hard and save for the tough times ahead. I wonder what that story would look like now? Probably the other insects would criticize the ant for having so much and not giving half of it to the poor grasshopper, who has nothing. that’s fair, right?

    the people who want something for nothing have no idea of how it’s going to be paid for, except by taking the earnings of the rich. i paid many, many thousands of dollars for the things i have: a home, a car, a boat. I worked many thousands of hours going to school, and working full time since the age of 16. Why do the other insects think the grasshopper should get whatever he wants, even though he never worked for it? why would they think the obvious source of supply for the grasshopper should be the ant, who worked all day, every day, to gather and save?

    why is it a crime to win?

    thanks for your column. I don’t always agree with what you say, but i always read it. You always give me something to think about.

    Best Wishes,
    David McCulloch

  5. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    Reader Joyce Hagenow writes:

    Well said. Thank you for your column about the winning player. It is exciting to watch the him mow through the questions and go “”all in” on the doubles. Thank you.

  6. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Reader Kevin McKeown writes:

    A progressive/socialist friend of mine despises James H. He wants him removed from the show.

    Calls James smug, snotty, and conceited.

    Paul tells me that nobody deserves so much easy money.

    Paul’s reason for why we need socialism? Too many people are busting their butts and only scraping by. While others are making money hand over fist for doing little. “We need to even the playing field.”

    My friends J and M, a married couple with Master’s degrees in engineering and computer technology, invested $50,000 in Bitcoin, in 2012. Back then, they were average income middle class.

    She (M) won’t say what they are worth now, except to say their holdings are 8 figures long. I suspect $200,000,000, the way they talk. They did little to acquire this wealth. They mined Bitcoins using lightning fast internet.

    Now, Alex Jacob won the tournament of champions recently. He admitted to being a “money exchanger.” That is, a currency gambler on the commodity exchange. No one criticized him.

    Kevin McKeown

  7. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Reader Hedy Hatchell writes:

    Thank you for your op-ed in todays Albuquerque Journal about Jeopardy and James Holzhauer.
    It’s been the most fun watching it in awhile. I too love Alex Trebek and my family knows do not call me between 6-6:30.
    Some of the comments I’ve read are so ridiculous…such as he (James) is too greedy. Truthfully, I always like the contestants that are a little out of the box. Sometimes the contestants, although smart are boring.

    Loved Buzzy and Austin and what I also like about James is he never says “Let’s make it a true daily double Alex”.
    That’s probably silly but it just makes for the fun watching James.

    The Washington Post and Variety are so off the mark. I came from a family (not sports) but music,academics and have made mistakes and given poor performances. But my parents always made my sister’s and I know trying harder is the way to live our life.

    My best wishes also for Alex and it’s amazing how he is doing this show every night and going through treatment.

    One more note I think in the beginning Alex really wasn’t sure about James. Not his intellect but his way of playing.

    It’s probably a good thing he uses bookies in Vegas because they would not let him play the tables because if anyone would be a card counter it would be him. My dad loved Las Vegas and he would get a kick out of James.

    Hedy Hatchell

  8. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Reader Ruth Detmer writes:

    Thank you for today’s column! Very good points! When did we become a nation of “haters”? So sad!

    NM Granny

  9. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Reader Roger Larsen writes:

    Good day, Diane,

    I so enjoyed your column about James Holzhauer this morning. Spot on. To me, your observations confirm what I have felt and believed for a few years now: journalism is not perfect and, because it is created by fallible human beings, the product of journalism has become tainted with personal belief and opinion. I have been a keen observer of the deterioration of journalism, especially over the past few years, having been close to it for more than 40 years in broadcasting, advertising and marketing. As a proud independent voter, with a journalism degree, I don’t mind saying the degradation is a reaction to our less than perfect President, but I have never seen a perfect one, either. But by allowing opinion and, much worse, editorial “news” to become tainted with opinion does journalism no favors. It simply lowers the credibility to the level of the President they fairly despise. Does no one else notice the nuanced reporting topics and language? I think freedom of the press means protection from government for reporting facts. It truly seems to me now that freedom appears to mean to media outlets the freedom to slant information based on emotional and political attachments. Painfully sad. Journalism, as a result, is doing itself no favors. I cringe, and I know it is only a matter of time before journalism, as we have known it, will no longer exist. As you have done today, your bully pulpit can be a credible warning shot across the journalism bow to right itself or risk being sunk into the unenviable underworld of tabloid hell. Best of luck to you to help save journalism.

    Roger Larsen

  10. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Reader Jami Shaver writes:

    Bravo on your editorial today! My name is Jami Shaver, special education teacher on the Isleta Pueblo Reservation in New Mexico. I, also have been disgusted with the negative commentary re: James Holzhauer’s abilities on my favorite game show. My students and I discuss Jeopardy sometimes and we also sent get well cards to Alex Trebek a few months ago.
    I am disappointed with what seems to be a trend in American society in poor sportsmanship (shall I say?) where even parents act horribly at their children’s sports games and actually get into physical fights if they don’t agree with each other or a referee’s call during the game. What type of example are they displaying for their children? This is so sad and obviously, takes the fun out of the game.
    I realize that you cannot read every email you receive.
    Just wanted to say thank you very much.


    Jami Shaver

  11. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Reader Elizabeth Lauer writes:

    Dear Ms. Dimond,

    Brava for your article. It is stunning to read the nonsense from nay-saying columnists.

    I have been enjoying James Holzauer’s run on Jeopardy!, and a few days ago, out of curiosity, I clicked on a website that purported to consist of assessments of his prowess. I quickly learned what was really shocking: at least 80% of what was written that comprised wildly improbable stories of cheating, of a large conspiracy as an explanation of the contestant’s winning ways. Oy.

    As bad as the inexplicable crabbing from a few newspaper writers that you cite (I doubt that their words are going to produce many converts), I think that this dark fantasizing is even worse.

    Elizabeth Lauer

  12. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Reader Tim Kraft writes:

    Your column on ‘Jeopardy’ and Holzhauer is, indeed, right on the money. This whole phenomenon reminds me of a close friend (who happens to be a bookie) who once told me, “always remember, the less you bet the more you lose when you win.”

    This contestant, J.H., understands that principle perfectly, as well as doing his homework and studying the system. More power to him. Great column!

    Tim Kraft, Albuquerque, NM.

  13. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Reader Dolores Repik writes:

    Thank you, Diane, for your article on James Holzhauer – he is a winner and should be admired by all!!

    I, myself, am in awe of this very intelligent, aggressive and passionate man (who obviously can’t care less what people think)… like you, I have to ask, “how can he be a menace?” – wish we all had maybe half of his brain! And he sends b-day wishes to family & friends through his bets… love that!

    The game is not about personality or looks… so, to you “nasty naysayers”… take a walk and, please, don’t watch the show!

    Dolores Repik

  14. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Reader Daniel Simone writes:

    It’s about jealousy and enviousness. Unfortunately, many people believe and rely on media critics as if their opinions are infallible and should be taken for granted. The fact of the matter is that columnists and journalists are not supreme sages. I’ve read film reviews, and when I watched those movies I came away thinking that perhaps the reviewer must’ve confused one film with another. The same applies to Broadway shows, book reviews, and restaurant critics. There are journalists who host personal sour grapes, and thus their point of views are tainted.

  15. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Reader Timothy Evans writes:

    Agreed. Fortune can come to anyone. Im happy for anyone happy.

  16. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Reader David Atwood writes:

    I call it the “BeeGees Effect”. Many people loved them until they achieved mega-stardom, then they seemed to enjoy wishing they would fail. What gives with that? Is it the great equalizer of the ego?

  17. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Reader Janet Lee Carpenter writes:

    Jealousy. // “People Pick On Others Because They Have Fragile Egos”

  18. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Reader Nancy Hertzog writes:

    Low self esteem!

  19. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    Reader Martha Frankel writes:

    It’s the pie theory. If your piece is big mine must be small.
    Or because people are nasty fucks. One or the other.

  20. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    Reader Nancy Spieker Robel writes:

    It is sad we can’t seem to congratulate individual winners! Sign of the times? I’m just in awe of this guy. I just feel sorry for the poor contestants pitted against him. He also uses an unconventional and deadly psychological strategy. Clearing the board from the bottom up.

  21. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    Reader Marilyn Salzman writes:

    I have been a Jeopardy junkie for a very long time. I tivo every episode. James must be a savant of some type. To have that ability for instant recall of such a wide range of subjects is just awesome. Genius or not? I wish him the best of everything in the future. Thanks James for being yourself. I hope you break $2 million when games resume next week. Good luck.

  22. Diane Dimond on May 13, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Reader Chris Wilkinson writes:

    Lord he about made my heart stop the other day with that $18 prize margine.. I think he’s a joy to watch..

  23. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Reader Joya Colucci writes:

    Lord I love this guy!!

  24. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Reader Lorrie Sarafin writes:

    Because America really supports underdogs until they get to the top – then they smear them and destroy them. Happens every time.

  25. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Reader Rich Gordon writes:

    I’ve always felt it’s better to have aspirations than to trash those who are successful.

  26. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Reader Jeff Davis writes:

    Jealousy is not a fashionable cloak.

  27. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Reader Penny Gummo writes:

    I don’t hate him, he is so much better than the other contestants its not entertaining for me. I just don’t like to see it be so one-sided.

  28. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Reader Kent Ingram writes:

    Love this article! There are elements in society out there who view any competition as anathema. I think they’re the kind who go through life so terribly afraid they’ll lose, they don’t even put themselves in the game, period. Then, to make themselves feel better, they gripe at not only those who won, but at EVERYBODY who bothered to enter the fray. Sad state of affairs, but I’m still rooting for Holzhauer!

  29. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Reader Joe Woehnker writes:

    Great article today on the Jeopardy winner, Holzhauer. I’ll never understand why people cannot celebrate others successes. We would do better as a human race if we could all encourage and celebrate one another’s positive accomplishments.

    I enjoy your writings! Keep up the positive flow! ~Joe

  30. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Reader Karen Gravel@KarenGravel writes:

    I love this kid… I hope he goes on to beat Ken Jennings record…

  31. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Reader nikki norton@nikkinorton2 writes:

    It is sad that people always hate when other people are happy or are successful instead of being happy for them! What an awful jealous world we’ve become!

  32. Diane Dimond on May 14, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Reader Margaret Eby writes:

    I just read your column about James Holzhauer, and I totally agree with you! All this negative sniping goes hand-in-hand with the bullying that you see on social media! Celebrating an intellectual achievement seems rare enough in our world—-can’t we just be happy for someone doing well at somthing besides sports?! The negative critics just sound like jealous, bitter losers. Thanks for addressing this. I, too love Jeopardy and am happy if I can answer a few questions. I would love to see my grandkids cheering him on instead of honing their reflexes on video games. By the way, always love your column.

  33. Diane Dimond on May 15, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    Reader Chuck Straub writes:

    Amen Amen Amen.

    This guy is unreal and unless it is proven that he is somehow cheating he should be admired not ostracized. As an Indians fan I have to admit a rather enormous dislike of the Yankees but give James his due. I will continue to root for his quest to be #1. Thank you for a fun op ed!

  34. Diane Dimond on May 15, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    Reader Kathy Muresan writes:

    Hi Diane….my husband and I read your column today regarding James Holzhauer on Jeopardy and we couldn’t agree with you more. We love this guy! He is smart..entertaining and we cant wait to see how far he goes with his success. Those two guys who are sour grapes about him are way off base but …. I guess we are all entitled to our own opinion. Maybe it’s just a case of brain envy. You seem to be a very fair….good person. Thank you for your editorial. And….I like his toothy smile!

  35. Diane Dimond on May 19, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Reader Calleigh O’Leary writes:

    Well written Diane!….A lot of jealousy out there!….sad but true…..

  36. Diane Dimond on May 19, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Reader Sweeney writes:

    For every game you can imagine there is some one who can play it to perfection.. That fact is what it is, and as always the question is: What does it mean.. Is it time to change the game??? Tough.. He is the champ.. Send him home with a trophy, and find some one new player.. The only game I want to change is Washington.. You have a whole school of bottom feeders in an increasingly shallow pond.. I understand they are each fighting for their survival, hoping to be the last fish alive in a brutal sun, but their behavior, their survival seems to threaten my own.. How broke can we be before we are broken??? How many good people must we kill for virtues we no longer enjoy.. Do we have democracy, liberty, truth, or Justice.. Is it necessary for the bottom feeders to endanger my own welfare to enjoy theirs.. Their game is not my game.. We both want to survive, but their survival is contrary to my own.. We should wash Washington into the sea before they make enemies of the world.. I have to live here.. We have to live here, and the love of the world is a better defense that all the bombs in existence..

  37. Diane Dimond on May 20, 2019 at 9:48 am

    Reader Jim Reynolds writes:

    As always, your realistic and open-minded perspective, your pragmatism, and your never-ending subscription to the philosophy of pop singer Aaron Neville who sang “Tell It Like It Is” with fairness & openess make you the iconic journalist that you are.

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