It has been revealed that the University of North Carolina gave grades to over a thousand athletes over a twenty year period for courses they did not attend or do any significant work in. This is a great embarrassment to a University that has prided itself on its academics. What does the Code say about this? The Code says, “I will compete within the spirit and the letter or the rules of my sport.” What UNC has said to its athletes by this practice is, “If you can get around the academic requirements, it’s okay.” It’s not just the “letter of the law” but the “spirit” that is in play. If you are taught that it’s okay to get around the rules/requirements/expectations in one area of your life, why wouldn’t you do it in other areas as well? Ask your team to think about the rules or expectations they are tempted to try to get around. How does it reflect on them? How does it reflect on their team, their school, their family? Who is being cheated the most?
There are few, if any, football fans who are not familiar with JJ Watt – the greatest defensive player in football today who plays for the Houston Texans. We just learned about a YouTube entry, taped by a parent at a local practice (which explains the quality). It’s worth listening to because in only two minutes he tells the kids in his neighborhood: 1. Have fun, 2. Work hard – that’s what it takes, 3. Listen to your parents, teachers, etc., 3. Take the right road, not the wrong road, 4. Work hard, and 5. Dream. It’s hard to say more in two minutes!
If you can, play this video on your laptop for your team: http://youtu.be/3nFpDNEKDNY
How is this like the Code? There are many correct answers to that question, but JJ spent more time talking about effort than anything else. Why? Probably because what has made him the greatest player in the NFL is not talent, but effort. Ask the members of your team: what are your goals as a player and as a person? You may not be able to be an all-Pro player, but there is nothing stopping you from being an All –Pro person.
With all the bad news associated with football recently, we would do well to remember the many positive influences it has had on countless players and coaches through the years. The College Football Hall of Fame just opened in Atlanta, and while it celebrates the athletic achievements of many, it would not be possible to honor all those whose experience in the sport led them to be far better citizens than they would have with that influence. Share a few stories with your team about the football players whose stories you know who have made the greatest difference in the lives of others. Then, remind them of these words of Vince Lombardi – and maybe post them on your locker room wall:
“Character is the integration of habits of conduct superimposed on temperament. It is the will exercised on disposition, thought, emotion and action. Will is the character in action. … The character, rather than education, is man’s greatest need and man’s greatest safeguard, because character is higher than intellect. While it is true the difference between men is in energy, the strong will, in the settled purpose and in the invincible determination, the new leadership is in sacrifice, it is in self-denial, it is in love and loyalty, it is in fearlessness, it is in humility, and it is in the perfectly disciplined will. This gentlemen, is the distinction between great and little men.” (or women!)
Ray Rice and Jameis Winston have brought to the forefront a number of issues. The crisis facing American sports is not one of talent, but of character. (And this is true in more than sports.) The fundamental truths of right and wrong, or good and bad, are being re-written by many of the players, coaches, administrators, and yes, Roger Goodell. Truth or right are being usurped by money or value to the team. What is happening is what a famous historian called “a failure of nerve” by those in leadership. The failure of nerve is of those in authority to teach and demand good character from their players – the kind of character reflected in the Code for Living. When Bear Bryant heard that Joe Namath had had a few sips of beer at a local diner, he suspended him for the final game of the year, and for the Sugar Bowl which followed. Joe was not drunk, nor was he arrested – he had simply broken training rules. It begins with youth coaches, continues with high school coaches, college and professional – coaches and administrators. The failure is not in the stars, as Shakespeare said, but in ourselves. What are your standards? How are you doing? How can you do better?
Many universities face increasing stories and cases of rape and violence against women; the NFL is being exposed for its apparent nonchalance toward domestic violence in more than one form. Part of the NFL solution is to bring in some experts “to help lead and shape the NFL’s policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.” Telling people what behaviors will not be tolerated, and all the things you may not do, may be necessary in an emergency, but this is not the best way to proceed. The better way is to teach players what TO do, rather than what not what NOT to do. That better way is to teach players to learn the value and dignity of every human being, and to treat every person with respect. This is a challenge for everyone: to give the same respect we would want to be given to us. Learning to respect the other, especially those with whom we differ, is called “growing up.” The Code says, “I will respect the dignity of every human being and will not be abusive or dehumanizing of another either as an athlete or as a fan.” It’s incumbent on parents, coaches, teachers, and athletes to do more than model respect; character must be taught, just as we teach young people to say “please” and “thank you.”
Devon Still hasn’t been able to pay much attention to football since his four year old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with stage four cancer. He did nothing in the off season to prepare for this season, and his mind was not on football, so the Bengals cut Still from the team. Surprisingly, they signed him to the practice squad – so he could continue to receive medical benefits and a salary to help pay for the expenses. In a time of continuing negative stories, the Bengals are to be commended for doing a good thing. The Code says, “I will give of my time, skills and money…for the betterment of my community…” and “I will be a positive role model…” It’s refreshing to see a team doing these things. Can you think of some other instances when an individual or team did more than was expected to help out or make a situation better?
Everyone has loved and been amazed by the success of the ALS ice water bucket challenge. And what a great thing it is: people having fun and doing a lot of good at the same time! The Code says, “I will give of my time, skills and money as I am able for the betterment of my community and world.” Here’s a challenge: how can your team have fun and at the same time raise money and awareness for a good cause? What is a need within your school or your community and how can you make a difference?
What’s different about the Little League World Series? So many people become hooked on it every year, but why is that? Discuss that with your team, and see what answers they come up with. We think that one reason is because the players are kids, and it’s all about fun. Yes, there is competition and heartbreak for many when they lose, but for the fans it’s all about watching young athletes having fun by playing a game. Why is it that we don’t watch all sports with the same attitude? So, what is your attitude about the games you play, and the games you watch? What about your teammates – how do you think they view the games they play and watch? Are you having fun? Are you winning more than the game?
Everyone has been shocked to learn that Robin Williams took his own life. Most of us did not know that he suffered from depression, a serious illness. Many of his friends are probably thinking that they should have “done something.” What does the Code have to say about this? The Code says, “I will be a positive influence on the other relationships on the team.” Part of what this means is that we will take responsibility to do what we can to help other members of the team. Usually this may mean stepping in when two players don’t get along, or whenever there are issues between members of the team. But, it can also mean having the courage to “be a friend” to anyone in time of need. Do you have any friends who are going through a difficult time personally? How can you be a better friend to them?
The NCAA is constantly discussing ways of paying or not paying its athletes. It will apparently vote to allow the five wealthiest conferences “autonomy” in determining their rules. The reason for this is that the NCAA has lost sight of the purpose of college: to get an education. It began sliding down this slippery slope when the idea of an “athletic scholarship” first came into being. The idea that a college would give a person a scholarship to play sports was thought of as a noble idea: to enable a person to get an education who would otherwise not be able to afford it. Of course the athletes would have to do the normal academic work! Despite many individual exceptions, the athletes’ course of study in most major universities is now a joke – all you have to do is listen to their use of language when interviewed to understand this. Latrell Sprewell, the latest professional athlete to go broke (despite turning down a $21 million dollar contract at one point “because I have to feed my family”) is an example of an athlete who obviously missed out on an education while at the University of Alabama. The $100 million he did earn is gone. The Code says “I will develop my skills to the best of my ability.” The “skills” referred to are not just athletic – they are academic as well. Until coaches and administrators make education the top priority for all their athletes, they are failing them, their institution and themselves. Where is your school, your coach, your league in this debate?