For many athletes the summer provides an opportunity to work on a skill or to concentrate on one aspect of a sport. It’s also a good time to think about our own character development as individuals. Read over the Code again. Ask yourself: what is the one tenet that I need to work on most? Ask: What is one tenet that I think my team needs to work on? But don’t just think about it – determine some steps you can take, measurable steps, to work toward that goal. So, as you practice your skill, think about the other ways you are growing and improving as a person, a teammate, and a member of your community.
We’ve seen tennis, hockey and basketball championships won in the past few days. In what ways have you seen the Code reflected in each of these sports? Did you learn anything in watching the contests you watched? Either in winning or losing efforts, during play or after, what are the moments you remember that represented the best in sports? When Djokovic lost the French open, he spoke to the crowd a few minutes afterwards. Everyone knew he wanted to win to complete the Grand Slam. Speaking in French, the opening words he said to the crowd were certainly unexpected and so very gracious, “There are some things more important than winning, and one is when you have an opponent like Stan (Wawrinka).” What a tribute. What would your opponents say about you?
The only thing more shameful than the Pentagon paying the NFL millions of dollars to put on patriotic events at football games is the NFL accepting the money. This is so shameful that it is hard to know where to begin. Did the owners know this? Did they really need the money? Why was this all kept a secret? More than anything that we can think of this story represents a complete loss of any value other than money. The Code for Living says, “I will conduct myself with caring and honorable behavior…” Ask your team to discuss this issue and to list their thoughts. For what positive reasons would the Pentagon have wanted to pay for these patriotic events? Does this change your opinion?
FIFA, it now turns out, paid seven million dollars to the Irish soccer federation so they would not contest a bad call in a World Cup qualifying game. Again, is there any value other than money? Fearfully, this is probably only the beginning of the stories we will hear from FIFA.
It is tragic that the good, generous, caring and honorable lives led by the overwhelming majority of athletes and others involved in sports are so easily overshadowed by the actions of a few. These stories, however, point to the insidious evil of greed which has so overtaken our society, and of the need of those in positions of leadership to develop the character of those in their trust – as well as their own.
In talking about some of the racial challenges in Cleveland LeBron James recognized some of the opportunities that sports provide. He said:
“Sports in general, no matter what city it is, something that’s going through a city that’s very dramatic, traumatizing or anything of that case, I think sports is one of the biggest healers in helping a city out,” James said.
“Sports just does something to people, either if you’re a player, if you’re a fan, if you just have something that has anything to do with that city, you just feel a certain way about rooting for a team that you love that can get your mind off some of the hardships that may be going on throughout your life or in that particular time period. It just does that.”
The Code begins with “Because I am a role model and have the opportunity and responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others I commit to this Code.”
We may not often think of it, but a five year old playing soccer can bring joy to an aging grandparent, a high school game can be the one thing that brings a small rural town together on a regular basis, or Nelson Mandela can use a rugby team to unify his nation. What are other examples you can think of where sports have made a difference in your life or in others’?
The Code says, “I will take responsibility and appropriate actions when I fail…” There is no question that cheating occurred: 11 out of 12 footballs were deflated. Why not all 12? Because the kickers like their ball fully inflated. There is no question among reasonable people that Brady knew what happened – any good middle school athlete can tell if a football, basketball, or tennis ball is deflated. The biggest disgrace is that the owner has not taken responsibility for his team. Robert Kraft should say at a minimum: “Someone in our organization deflated the balls. This is regrettable, and so we will accept the consequences.” In the face of such denial of responsibility, rather than suspend Brady, do you think the NFL should have suspended the entire team – have the team forfeit one or more games? Should anyone on the Patriots ever admit that cheating occurred? Who do you think is most responsible? Should the equipment personnel who texted about deflating the balls be fired?
Maddy Buckley is an All American soccer player and a member of the Division III 2013 National Champion William Smith team. But more important to Maddy is the B+ she has written on the back of her hand every day since high school. It reminds her of a young man who died from leukemia and whose blood type was B Positive. She has written that to help her to remember to “be positive” every day, and to look for opportunities to make a difference. She has raised thousands for the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation, spearheaded her team Impact program (that partners young people with life threatening illnesses with teams), and led in numerous other community efforts. The Code says “I will give of my time, skills and money as I am able for the betterment of my community and world.” What is one way you would like to make your community or world better? Is it something that you can encourage your team to join in with you?
A few days ago a mail carrier landed his gyrocopter on Capitol lawn in Washington to “deliver some letters” to members of Congress. His letters had to do with his view of the need for campaign finance reform. However, it is against the law to fly any sort of plane in the restricted airspace around the Capitol, and so he was arrested. What would the Code say about this? The Code says “I will compete within the letter and spirit of the rules of my sport.” Obviously, breaking a law is different from breaking the rule of a game, but it does give us an opportunity to think about the importance of rules and laws. Ask your team: How important is it to you to play by the rules? Are there some rules that are important to you, and others that you think it’s okay to ignore? What would any sport be without rules? What about rules established by parents or coaches? Is it okay to break them?
Jordan Spieth has been garnering lots of praise this week for two reasons: first, because of his performance at the Masters, but equally for his performance as a person. One of the things we noticed was when his final round opponent, Justin Rose, had a difficult shot, and made a brilliant one, Jordan looked at him with a smile and gave him a thumbs up. What tenets of the Code do you think of first when you think of him? This is a good time to ask your players who the athletes are that they admire the most – in their sport, and in other sports as well. But more than that: what are the actual qualities that they like in these people that they admire. What tenets of the Code come up most?
Starbucks has announced that it will pay the college tuition of its employees. How is this like the Code? The Code says, “I will put team goals ahead of personal goals.” What is Starbucks’ “personal” goal as a business? It is to make money. But, Starbucks is not just coffee beans or executives; it is all the employees who make up the company. The company realizes that the goal for many members of its team is to get an education, and Starbucks wants to put the goal of the entire team ahead of its personal goal of profit. Have you ever heard of any other companies that do things for their “team” at the expense of their profits? What do you think of this? Is it a good idea?
As we approach Passover and Easter, it is good to reflect on the relationship between religion and the Code for Living. Our personal faith unites us to the One we perceive as God, and strengthens us to follow the moral purposes of our God. As our teams become more diverse, ABW seeks to strengthen everyone – of all faiths or no faith – to become better people, more the person that their faith encourages. The Code is not a substitute for religion. Instead, the Code provides a way of living, a source of unity, and most importantly, common ground for athletes and teams. It recognizes our failure to live up to our best selves at times, and challenges us to grow and become the best that is within us. We can all learn from each other – and from each other’s faiths.