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?
Ray Rice dragged his unconscious girlfriend from an elevator after having knocked her out, resulting in a charge not of assault, but of aggravated assault. Ray said, “Failure is not getting knocked down, failure is not getting back up.” In other words, he did not fail because he was learning from his mistake and trying to become a better person. Wrong. He failed. Yes, he failed: he knocked his girlfriend unconscious, a monstrous failure. The problem with using sports clichés (“failure is not…etc.”) is that it is an easy out; an easy way to gloss over the failure – to say “I may have made a mistake but since I’m sorry let’s forgive me right away and only suspend me for two games.” The punishment should fit the crime, in other words, which is why so many voices have been raised against the NFL. What do you think the appropriate punishment should be? What is the difference between taking steroids, gambling, or beating up your wife? What are the consequences on your team for various violations?
The question of whether the Washington Redskins should change their name has been simmering again in recent months. Supporters of the Redskin name like it and mean no disrespect by it; to them it simply means a “fierce competitiveness” which honors the Native American. The larger question is not how “I” feel about it – but whether we care (or should care) about how someone else feels about it; and then, am I willing to do something different if I find out that it hurts someone else – even though that is the opposite of my intention? Andrew Young, the African American former Congressman, Mayor of Atlanta, and UN Ambassador said that he understood that many white people viewed the Confederate flag as a symbol of regional pride, and that it had nothing to do with racism for them. The problem, of course, was that many others saw it differently. If your team’s nickname was the “Cannibals” (“We’ll eat you alive!”) or the “Bad Guys” (“We’ll kick your behind!”) – and you loved it – would you be willing to change it if you found it was offensive to others? Or, would you just tell them to understand that it’s not meant to offend, so get over it? Where do you draw the line on the Code’s “I will respect the dignity of every human being…?”
Even most Yankee fans will have to think a while before they can remember who was the shortstop before Derek Jeter. Jeter has been the face of the New York Yankees for as long as we can remember. The Yankees are a franchise that is disliked by many fans for the reasons we all know so well, but Jeter has earned the respect of all. As he is recognized at the All Star Game in his final appearance in this game, take a moment to ask three things: 1. Who are the players that you most respect, current and in the past? 2. Take a minute to go through the Code for Living – can you think of an example of how Jeter, or your favorite player lives out each of the tenets? 3. What do you think is the single most impressive thing about Jeter?
July 4th is the day we celebrate the Declaration of Independence and our birth as a nation. We were founded on the principle of Freedom – that each person is created free and equal before the law, that no one group has privileges that others do not have, and that no person or group can force its beliefs on others. But we also learned that we all have responsibilities as citizens. The concept of this nation is of that of a team: everyone works together for the good of the team.
The Code includes this section:
As a Member of Society
I will display caring and honorable behavior off the field and be a positive influence in my community and world.
I will give of my time, skills, and money as I am able for the betterment of my community and world.
How can your team help our country by making a difference? See what ideas your teammates have, and see if you can choose a special project to celebrate the 4th of July.
Many young athletes may not know Tony Gwynn, but it is important to remember him. Why? Because he was a great baseball player, but more importantly, because he was a great person. He went to college in San Diego, then played his entire career for the San Diego Padres. He was a great symbol, like Kirby Puckett in Minnesota, of an athlete who represented the highest personal and team values, a person loved and respected by all. A person who never sought the limelight, but cared for everyone and treated everyone the same. He was the embodiment of the Code for Living. Ask your team: who are the role models we see today who are like Tony? But Tony died of cancer from chewing tobacco. Why chewing tobacco has been such a part of the baseball culture we do not know. But Tony would want us all to learn from his mistake. What can we do to help eliminate tobacco products from our young people? What can we do to improve the care we take of our bodies?
The World Cup is another one of the great international sporting events. Like the Olympics, soccer is a sport which reaches across borders and can bridge differences of race, politics and other differences because it is one activity that is universally loved and shared.
The Code says, “I will display caring and honorable behavior off the field and be a positive influence in my community and world.” Is there a way in which your team can be a catalyst by encouraging a wide range of differing groups to come together to work on something for the “betterment” of your community?
The National Spelling Bee is a competition, but not a sport. New Yorker Sriram Hathwar, 14, and Texan Ansun Sujoe, 13, just tied for the title by spelling words we can’t pronounce, and have no clue as to their meaning. We wondered, how does this relate to the Code? There is nothing more central to any sport or competition than the self-discipline and the willingness to commit to long hours of sacrifice and hard work necessary for success. What is more remarkable are the countless, lonely hours these young men have to have given to looking at a dictionary and learning to spell – while most of their friends are playing sports or watching TV. While we prefer sports to dictionary study, we must admire and salute the effort made, and remember the Code says, “I will give my best effort…” If 13 and 14 year olds can do this, can’t we?
Caleb Johnson won the “American Idol” singing contest on television. It makes us wonder: who is your idol? All young people have their “idol” and adults continue to have people they admire and respect. Along the way to winning, Caleb said some things about disabled people that he regretted – some comments that failed to “respect the dignity of every person.” So, who is your idol? How would they measure up to the Code for Living? What would be their strongest points? Weakest?