Deflated footballs or inflated egos?
While the mass media’s answer is an obvious yes, I’d like to share a much different perspective; one that has nothing to do with footballs and everything to do with egos.
Regardless of whether or not you’re a football fan, it’s hard to escape the incredible hype that surrounds the Super Bowl. As an Arizona resident, Super Bowl hysteria was recently at an all-time high, given the fact that this year’s game was played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Aside from non-stop coverage of the numerous events leading up to the game, perhaps the biggest story was whether or not the New England Patriots had violated league rules by deflating several game balls used in the AFC Championship game, thus giving them an unfair advantage. Every major network dedicated a considerable amount of air time to what they collectively referred to as Deflategate.
As I watched some of the coverage, which quite frankly was comical at times, I thought to myself, “Perhaps the NFL should be more concerned with deflating players’ egos than they are with deflated footballs.”
As is often the case, it’s easy for organizations like the NFL to address behaviors (i.e. cheating) by attempting to fix them with various measures of punishment. Unfortunately, the results of this symptoms-based approach are often short term. It’s similar to chopping off a weed in your yard, only to see the weed grow again in just a few short weeks. In the case of cheating, or any other unacceptable behavior for that matter, the weed is the behavior. What then is the root of this behavior? I would argue that one of the biggest culprits is the over inflated egos of the players.
If we’re going to address the problem of overinflated egos in the NFL, the first question to ask is, “What (or who) is contributing to it?” While some would say it’s the exorbitant amount of money these players receive, I think it goes much deeper than that. In fact, I think it goes all the way back to when these players were in high school. That’s where the real ego inflation begins to ramp up.
Below are three cause-based approaches, each of which are a part of my Lenses of Leadership program, that every young athlete deserves to know and understand.
We need to teach high school football players what commitment really means.
Each year, thousands of high school players throughout the country declare what’s called a “verbal commitment” to play for a particular college. Ironically, it’s not really a commitment in the true sense of the word, because in many cases players change their minds when it comes to the day they officially commit. This is referred to as a flip.
When I teach students what it really means to commit, I always use the following definition –Commitment is doing what you said you would do, long after the feeling you had when you said it is gone. In other words, a true commitment is honoring your word. Sadly, college recruiters take full advantage of the soft nature of a verbal commitment and continue to lure players into believing that they should play for them.
How can we teach commitment, you might ask? Well, if emotions have a tendency to distract athletes from honoring a commitment, then we teach them emotional management.
We need to teach high school football players that they aren’t just taking their talents to college. They are also taking their character.
National Signing Day, which is the day that the players officially commit, is more like a dog and pony show than it is a signing day. With cameras in their faces and college football fans waiting on the edge of their seats to hear an announcement, players sit near a podium and stare down a handful of hats, which represent the schools that are still alive in the recruiting process. After selecting a hat, family and friends in the audience let out a collective roar and what comes next is proof of an inflated ego – “I’ve decided to take my talents to…”
You see, throughout their entire high school football career, the spotlight is not on their character, but rather on their talents. Just as a classroom teacher would assign a grade for a student, which measures academic ability, recruiting experts assign a grade for every player, which measures talent. Those players with the highest grades have their faces (and highlight tapes) plastered on numerous recruiting sites and their talents are front and center in the media.
For each of these young men, football will eventually come to an end. When this time comes, it will be their character, not their athletic ability, that will serve them well in a future beyond football.
How can we teach character, you might ask? Well, if character is ultimately rooted in our thoughts, then we teach them thought management.
We need to teach high school football players about the power of humility.
I’ve written in the past about Russell Wilson and the beautiful example he sets for younger players. True to form, following perhaps the most painful moment of his NFL career, an interception to seal his team’s fate in the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson jogged off the field with his head held high. He owned his mistake and praised God for another opportunity to return to the Super Bowl. The previous year he had won with dignity, this year he lost with humility.
I’m not sure what Russell Wilson’s high school signing looked like, but I can imagine that it would look something like this. No hats, no cameras, no entourage, just an announcement – “It is an honor and a privilege to receive my education and play college football for (fill in the blank).”
How can we teach humility, you might ask? Well, if humility is defined as maintaining a modest view of one’s own importance, then we teach them the value of team.
Deflated footballs in the NFL are nothing more than a symptom. If we continue to mask the symptoms, they will always rear their ugly head. If we begin to address the cause, however, the symptoms will eventually disappear.
I’d love to know your thoughts. What measures are you taking as a parent, teacher, or coach to ensure that character development is a critical component of one’s athletic journey?