I was sitting in Starbucks this morning, the day after Lane Kiffin announced that he was leaving after one year at Tennessee to become head football coach at USC. Just as I began to write this piece, Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair walked through the front door. I do not know Coach Blair, but I was prompted to walk up to him and shake his hand to say thanks for what he brings to the table here. He is a fantastic recruiter, and there is no question that he is a salesman. But he has brought a stability and an integrity to the women’s basketball program that makes it easy to be a fan.
As I chatted with him, he mentioned that we are all struggling with ethical issues in our own lives, and that he had brought up a number of examples at a Lions Club speech the day before. I agree. But there is something deep in a person’s character that leads to a pattern of behavior. Certainly we all fall short of what we want to be. And a single failure can have disproportionate results in our lives. But it seems worthwhile to seek out the kinds of relationships that will give us the ability to live consistently, to make good choices as frequently as possible. And, as a society, it is worth our while to have the kinds of values that reward those who live this kind of life.
But, to be honest, we value far too many vacuous things as a society. Which brings me back to Lane Kiffin. The love of sports is deeply ingrained in me. But in so many ways, sports, particularly big-time intercollegiate sports, has abandoned virtue for success. And it results in fans and alumni who reward people like Lane Kiffin.
One of my favorite C. S. Lewis quotes about the importance of teaching virtue comes from The Abolition of Man: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” This must be the feeling in Knoxville this morning. One minute you are mocking Urban Meyer and Florida and thumbing your nose at the NCAA, and the next minute the head mocker is headed for Southern California. But these are chances to look inward at what we have become as fans.
I am no more a fan of the somber grinders like Alabama’s Nick Saban than I am of the Lane Kiffins of the world. His is another example of rewarding success, and success alone. Does anyone look like he’s enjoying what he does less than Nick Saban? His Gatorade dousing after the national championship game was perhaps the most painful celebration event I have ever witnessed. He seemed as likely to punch his players as to embrace them. I respect the fact that he did neither. But I cannot imagine having my son play for someone so humorless, so consumed by his work that he can’t even publicly enjoy reaching the pinnacle most coaches can only dream of achieving.
I am trying to teach my children, and my students, to embrace the types of values that make them the parents, spouses, and friends that can sustain a civil society in the next generation. Sports gives me a regular chance to examine my own heart, whether I am having a running conversation with a referee at a basketball game or critically evaluating my children’s performance. I do not claim to have the right balance. Competition reveals character more than it creates it.
But when I see the good in sports, I want to make sure that I say something publicly. Gary Blair, the consummate salesman, offered me tickets for the game tonight. I turned them down—this time. For once, all I wanted to say was, “Thank you.”
Along the same lines:
From rivals.com: “13-year-old ‘commits’ to USC, and pancakes for breakfast“
Great article. Kiffen steps it up again with his latest recruitment. Integrity and honor are bookends sorely lacking in today’s sports world.
Thanks and congratulations on what I think is your inaugural post! After being part (vicariously and one in person) of some highly competitive events (bowl games, super bowl, competition between the college students and older men at a men’s retreat), I remember another CS Lewis comment in which he says (in my words) that the heart of competition is based in pride–it is not enough to be good–we want to be better than someone else! (You can find this in Mere Christianity in the chapter on “The Greatest Sin.”)
That is not to say that I am not a competitive person myself–my competitive juices get going as much as anyone when I am playing or watching a game. But . . . if success or winning is the only important thing, then at the end of the day, the response will quickly be, “Is that all there is?” I like a comment made about Mike Holmgren recently, “For the 6-5 hulk of a man with a gentle, embracing glow about him, it’s family and faith, friends and then football, in that order.” Found this in a post on getreligion.org. Refreshing perspective from the “winning is everything” attitude of Vince Lombardi that most of us have bought into. Maybe, just maybe for Nick Saban (and I know nothing about the guy), winning the national championship was not the most important thing in the world?
Keep up the good work.
Thanks for your comment–well-spoken. You may be right about Nick Saban, but the pattern of his career would reflect that he is more likely a driven guy than one who doesn’t think winning the national championship is the most important thing in the world. Tony Dungy, the Colts’ former coach, reflects to me a competitive spirit within a balanced life, at least as far as I can see. I think Nick Saban is a disciplined guy, and he builds discipline, and he gets results. I respect that a lot. He just comes across as joyless. If the goal of discipline is championships, then enjoy the championship when you win it.
Competition is really only necessary in zero-sum games, and focus on zero-sum games tends to make you proud. It also tends to make you shortsighted. But it seems possible to compete humbly. I’m just not very good at it.
Life is not a zero-sum game, where if one gets more, the other gets less. I derive tremendous benefit and blessing in my life from helping my students succeed, something I feel confident you have experienced a lot as well. But I still want to be the very best Auditing and Accounting Ethics professor I can be, which probably puts me in direct competition with others.
Interesting thoughts, David. Thanks for stimulating my thinking.
Maybe it depends on who is our audience. If we have an audience of one, perhaps that changes things?
Well said. But even when you have an audience of one, there is a certain standard established by that audience of one that you are trying to live up to. I think that brings out many of the same tendencies that competition does, though perhaps it shouldn’t.
With my dad being a coach and basically being raised on the baseball field, this post speaks to the core of my heart.
From the day I was born, I have seen the good and the bad that can come from such a competitive atmosphere. I played
three sports of my own in high school, and I adamantly believe that they played a huge part in shaping me into the
person I have become, not always to my benefit.
Although I am a little biased, I have to say that my dad has changed my entire outlook on how I view sports. Sure, some
parents get WAY too involved with their kids, who then do all they can to prove their worth and force themselves to
live up to not only their own expectations but those of their peers and their parents. That was never the case for my
dad. Yes, he wanted (and still wants) to be successful on the field, but he knows there is a deeper meaning to putting
on that uniform every day. Several people around the community have often praised him for how he creates men out of
boys. He goes into every season with the same hope: to make a difference. Yet his commitment has helped build a
successful program, complete with a state championship. He has shown me that you don’t always have to swap virtue
for success, you can have both.
However, I believe that the competition and the desire for success that comes from playing sports is one of the
strongpoints from the game. True, I definitely don’t agree with how some professional and college coaches yearn for
nothing but wins so they can get a fatter paycheck. I do think the drive to win (or just improve) puts a spark in
children to go for something bigger than themselves at even a young age. I also believe that what I learned on the
court made me become a better student because I never wanted to give a lousy effort on my work. It also made me want
to go to respectful college and pursue something that I think I would be good at but that’s also a highly-respected
career, and I am thankful every day for the decisions I have made.
I would say that you are lucky to have the Dad you have, ddlove.
I enjoyed your article and perspective as a whole, but I am particularly interested in one idea – “competition reveals character more than it creates it.” I think this can certainly be true in many cases and perhaps more so than I would like to believe. I do, however, think competition may reveal more than just character. We are products of our environments, largely following the examples of those we are closest to. I have seen where certain forms of competition (mostly athletic) cause otherwise very rational, kind people to act in ways that were not very becoming. In some cases I don’t believe their character in other areas is flawed and hence revealed by athletics, but instead they are just acting in the only manner in which they know how under the circumstances – that which they were raised.
I want to touch on the point of Nick Saben. I grew up playing baseball on the best teams in the national traveling the country. We played every single weekend for almost six years straight and became easily one of the top ten teams in the nation. Many dads/coaches that I played for could not enjoy victories. I remember one national tournament in Tulsa we actually won the national championship and those particular dads/coaches were so excited but only for a day. They scheduled a practice two days after we got back to Houston and were yelling at us to focus. I was probably 13 at the time, and I remember all the kids looking at each other saying I don’t know what we have to do for them to get off our backs and let us have some fun.
My dad would get so mad at all the other parents and would tell them that we need to have fun or we would get burnt out. Which is exactly what happened to me. I played for my high school team, but quit select baseball when I got to high school. A lot of my friends and players on other teams that I was better than at the time have been drafted by professional teams and have been very successful playing in college. I often wonder what I could have become if I did not get burnt out and kept enjoying playing the great game.
“Competition reveals character more than it creates it.” I couldn’t agree more, and unfortunately it usually shows the ugly side of people that most like to keep hidden. There is nothing like playing sports, or a board game like Monopoly that brings out a fierce desire to win in people. I still remember the first time I played Monopoly with some of my friends in college. I played with my best girl friend, an architecture major, and my best male friend, a psychology major. It is important to know our majors because it helped to layout how the game was played. Me, a business major, was all about gaining the most money (well, we all were, but I was more business like about it). I facilitated trades, or I should say I tried to. My psychology major friend decided he was not going to let me win, at any cost. He knew it was what I wanted and refused to let me have it. My architecture friend got caught in the middle of the fight. I’ll say that it was the first, and last time I will ever play monopoly with my best friend. His inability to trade properties, despite being more than generous ruined the game for everyone involved. When should you draw the line from taking a friendly game of Monopoly to a shouting match declaring you will never play another board game together. Is winning really that important that it almost cost a friendship? While we all agreed to never play Monopoly together again, I think the real ethical issue at hand is, when playing Monopoly do you trade so everyone has a fair chance at winning, or do you go to own one of every property on the board so no one can win?