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.
Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she had surgery to remove some of her reproductive organs since she was at risk of developing cancer came as a surprise to most of us. Is this particular action reflected in the Code? The Code says, “I will… be a positive influence in my community and world.” There are many times when we can choose to make a difference, or remain silent and do nothing. Angelina Jolie did not have to reveal this personal information. So, why did she do it? She said: “…There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally. … It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.”
She did it to encourage us and others who may be facing this or other similar challenges to deal with them rather than avoid them. We may not have the power of Angelina Jolie, but rather than remain silent, we can encourage and support those we know who face difficult challenges, whatever their origin may be.
Kentucky is the focus of the NCAA tournament this year. Coach Calipari has been most successful in recruiting high school basketball players – primarily, it seems because of the assurance they will be able to play one year for him and then move on to the NBA. Is that okay? Pat Summitt, one of the greatest coaches of all time, graduated an astounding 100% of her players. How was she able to do that? What if college scholarships were for four years, so that if an athlete dropped out, or flunked out, the college would lose that scholarship for the remaining years? Athletes going to college with no intention of graduating does not just make a sham of college sports, but a mockery of the colleges and universities and the educational purposes for which they exist. What do you think? Who is responsible – the Coach, the Athletic Director, the college President, the NCAA? Do you care?
This week Johnny Morris began walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail – from Georgia to Maine, which should take about four months. He’s doing it to raise money for a nonprofit called MemoryCare, which offers high-quality, affordable care for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. MemoryCare was founded by his mother, Dr. Margaret Noel in 2000, and has grown to a staff of 18 and serves about 1,000 patients. Johnny has seen the impact this local nonprofit makes in western North Carolina and wanted to join his mother’s efforts in a tangible way. The Code says, “I will give of my time, skill, and money as I am able for the betterment of my community and world.” Both Dr. Noel and Johnny are making an impact in their corner of the world – what can you do in yours? Is there something your team can do? What is going on in your community that needs your support?
We all know that administrators cheated in putting together the Jackie Robinson West Little League team. And we all know that the Code says “I will play within the letter and spirit of the rules of my sport.” In this case there is a larger point: the team bears the name of Jackie Robinson. Robinson is known as one of the great moral leaders in US history. To bear his name is to bear the responsibility to be worthy of that name. To bring shame and dishonor to the team is to have his name associated with that shame and dishonor. We are always playing not just for ourselves and our teammates – we are responsible for the reputation of the team whose name we bear. Ask your team: What does it mean to you to be a member of our team? What does the name mean to you? Are you proud of that name? How can you honor those who have worn your team’s uniform in the past by the way you play?
The world of sports suffered a loss with the news of the death of Dean Smith; his life deserves a moment of reflection. As the basketball coach at University of North Carolina from 1961-1997 his teams won numerous ACC titles, and two national championships. The simplest way to communicate his meaning to the game is to recognize that he was one of the original five members of the National Basketball Hall of Fame, the others being Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, John Wooden and Dr. James Naismith.
More important than his greatness as a coach was his greatness as a human being. Larry Brown said, “He was the most decent man I ever knew.” Smith was a leader in desegregation in Chapel Hill and recruited the first black athlete at UNC. He was outspoken in his opposition to the war in Vietnam, to the death penalty, and nuclear weapons. In hearing of his death, Michael Jordan said, “Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to [Smith’s wife] Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”
What words would you most want said about you when you die? When others are talking about Dean Smith, they talk not about what a great coach he was, but what a great human being he was. His legacy is that which we hope for everyone in sports, and that is of “Winning More Than The Game.”
“I will compete within the spirit and letter of the rules of my sport.”
Someone cheated. So far, no one knows who deflated the balls of the New England Patriots, but it was done. The rules are clear, and a violation of the rules is cheating. It’s not gamesmanship, it’s cheating.
Meanwhile, in Australia, Rafael Nadal was desperately trying to win: it was 6-5 in the fifth set against American Tim Smyczek. As Nadal tossed the ball to serve a spectator screamed out, and the serve was no good. Rather than have Nadal then serve his second serve, Smyczek held up play and held up two fingers – the tennis sign that he wanted to let Nadal have his first serve over. The referee yielded to the wish, and Nadal proceeded to serve, and eventually to win the game. After four hours of play, when Nadal prevailed in the end, the first thing he said after the win was a word of praise for the good sportsmanship Tim had demonstrated.
There is a difference between the “letter” of the rules and the “spirit” of the rules. Good sportsmanship means living by that higher standard. When footballs are deflated, it is not just the rules that are broken; it is the integrity of the game that is at stake. When we live by the spirit of the rules, we will inevitably represent the best in ourselves and in the game we love. What are some ways the rules are compromised in your sport? What do you think about it?