The first Thanksgiving, we all learned in school, was held between the Pilgrims and the native Americans. Today the use of the word “Redskin” is a political and social lightning rod, like the Confederate flag. Further, there are students at Princeton University who want to remove the name of President Woodrow Wilson from the graduate school of Diplomacy because he held clearly racist views. Is it possible to discuss our differences about these issues, or are they too political, too controversial? How can we examine them in a way that is open and fair? How can we treasure the freedoms and blessings we enjoy, and at the same time respect the voices that differ from ours? How do we respect the dignity of those who differ most from us? How can our teams face these controversies in a positive way and make a difference in our schools?
The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris have both stunned and united the civilized world. More than any other city, Paris symbolizes art, culture, intellect, beauty and all the values we associate with “civilization.” Historically, there are no greater rivals than England and France, and yet as those countries’ national teams came to play a soccer game at Wembley Stadium in London Tuesday, they found a stadium with its iconic arch in red, white, and blue, the three colors ringing the stadium, scores of signs and flags, the French motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” (fraternity: “brotherhood,” meaning “mutual friendship and support”) on the scoreboard, and finally, after the playing of the English national anthem, the whole stadium joined in singing the Marseillaise. Similar to President Bush and Mayor Giuliani at Ground Zero in New York, the moment was a symbol of the best of humanity standing together in the face of evil. In all we do in our work and our play, we seek to make the world a better place, for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world. At Wembley Stadium something far more important than a game was displayed. As athletes we always have a role to play, and together we can do our part to make this a better world.
There’s a lot of talk in politics today about having a “thick skin.” Generally speaking, a person with a “thick skin” is thought of as one who can take insults without difficulty. Some politicians and athletes are thought of as people with “thick skins” because they are insulted so much that they become accustomed to it. We disagree with the idea of “thick skins.” We believe that everyone is hurt by insults and verbal abuse. But we all react differently. Some people return nasty words with more nasty words. Some simply ignore the words either because they do not like confrontation, or because they do not believe that responding will achieve anything. Words, like sticks and stones, do hurt. The Code reminds us to respect the dignity of every person, and never to be abusive or dehumanizing to others. There is no place in sports for taunting, trash talking, or belittling others. What are the examples that you see the most? How do you react when people say things to you that are negative? What are the things you can do to help make a difference?
Kansas City Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez’s father died a few hours before the opening game of the World Series, but the family asked the Kansas City Royals not to give him the sad news until after the game so that he would be able to pitch the game as scheduled. This decision has generated a lot of discussion about whether the family did the right thing, whether the Royals did the right thing, and what the “right” thing to do should have been. What does the Code have to say about this?
The Code teaches us to respect others and to be a positive influence on the relationships on the team. It also says to put team goals ahead of personal goals. One way in which this is tested is when situations arise in which there is more than one “right” answer, when one tenet of the Code seems to be at odds with another. Sandy Koufax famously refused to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, for religious reasons. Many admired him for it; others thought it was the wrong decision because he was letting the team down. The Volquez family thought it was doing the right thing. While differences of opinion are natural, we think that in these cases the decision of the individual – Koufax or the Volquez family – should be respected. To respect the dignity of another is only difficult – and meaningful – when we disagree with decisions he or she makes.
Bill Snyder coach at Kansas State wrote the following note to TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin after Boykin led a comeback to defeat his K-State team: “Congratulations again Trevone. Proud of you as a Person & Leader as well as a great player. Admire your performance & poise in bringing your Team back to win our game. Success & good fortune. Please share my congratulations with your teammates. They were excellent in coming back in the 2nd half. Coach Snyder.”
Within the past month the Georgia Bulldog nation rallied around an Alabama player seriously injured and hospitalized in their hospital and the LSU nation responded generously to the South Carolina Gamecocks being forced by the floods to move their game to Baton Rouge.
“Class and Character” are some of the expected results of those who live by the Code. What are some other examples you have seen recently? Are you looking for ways that you can “win more than the game?”
The Detroit Lions were “robbed” of a victory over the Seattle Seahawks by a bad call by the referees. Does the Code have anything to say about this? First, it is important to know that many games are decided by bad calls. It happens in tennis, basketball, baseball, football – virtually every game with a referee can have a game decided by a bad call. It’s something that is inherent in every game – human error. There are those who want everything decided by cameras – every pitch in a baseball game, every play in a football game. But if you did that in football, for example, would you review every player on every play to be sure there was no holding or pushing anywhere? The Code says “I will conduct myself with honor…” and that is the answer. No matter how fair or unfair any game or call is, when we choose to play we are to conduct ourselves with honor. Learning to accept bad calls is one of the tough lessons in growing up.
The head of Volkswagen has admitted that the company intentionally installed a computer device which enabled some cars to cheat on the emissions during a test. We know the Code says “I will compete within the letter and the spirit of the rules of my sport.” We also know we are tempted to cheat, especially if we think we will not be caught. The importance of playing by the rules applies to all of life – whether it’s on a school test, when we’re driving a car, or when we’re at work. One of the problems with VW is that there were a number of people involved – and none of them spoke up. Our sense of self, of our honor, our ability to hold our heads up, is at stake with every choice we make. Character is not formed in a day or a moment, it is the result of all the little choices we make day after day. It’s important what other people think of us, but it’s more important what we think of ourselves. Are there examples of when others have cheated and you knew about it?
There is a lot of name calling going on in American politics these days. There is nothing more common throughout all of life than name calling. The truth is we all do some name calling. The Code reminds us of two things: that we will “respect the dignity of every person” and that we “will be a positive influence on the relationships on the team.” It is always difficult to respond to name calling, either we want to respond in a similar way, or we don’t want to make waves and so we do nothing. We can all think of times when we have done both. What are some ways you can be prepared to respond in a positive way when you hear name calling, and how can your response make a positive difference on the team?
September 11 is a day, like July 4, that Americans will always remember. For those who were living on September 11, 2001 they will remember the horror, the sadness, and the grief – but they will also remember the sense of national unity that grew out of it. One of the things we often see is how tragedy unites people, and brings together people who otherwise may have very different opinions of each other. September 11 was a classic example of evil and good. We still live in a world with both good and evil. ABW seeks to instill the values that are at the heart of our values as a people and a nation. In what ways can you and your team seek to make a positive difference in the face of evil? What are the faces of evil in your school or your community?
Justin Wilson was an IndyCar driver who was killed by flying debris at Pocono Raceway this past weekend. He will literally live on, however. He donated six vital organs to others which will change their lives. What a great example of making a difference in the lives of others – of those you will never know! And how easy it was – all any of us has to do is check “organ donor” when we renew our driver’s license. We all know the Code encourages us to give of our “time, skills and money as I am able for the betterment of my community and world.” We hope you will expand that to include the “skill” of checking the organ donor box. Discuss with your team how many are currently organ donors.