As Fall approaches and our recreational TV time turns to football, I keep thinking about how our national discord reflects a misunderstanding of how traditional family structure contributes to national and domestic stability.
The NFL is currently running a promotion called 'Football Is Family.' I have written extensively on how I too believe the game of football is a metaphor for the family unit. But many people don't see it that way. In fact , early in the NFL ad campaign, broadcaster Bob Costas questioned the theme, offering that while watching men push each other around, or when the headlines tell us about football players acting boorishly, abusing women or doing drugs, most of us don't relate the NFL to family values.
OK, I get that, but my take is not about the players or even the game. It's about building a team, building respect and character and living life in a way that values the power of the unity of a team, or a family, in coping with the challenges of life. And how that same kind of effort is necessary when supporting our country and our unique democratic republic form of self determination.
It is about building Team USA. It's about putting the unique American idea of providing a humane, safe, civilized and supportive society front and center on the worldwide stage as an example of how freedom can work. Football, like life in America, is a place where effort and collaboration is rewarded. More often than not, the best team, or at least the team that plays together best, wins.
Coaches promote individual effort, hard work and self discipline. But they balance that with emphasis on understanding how every team has players with a variety of skills. No one player can play all of the positions, so each player needs to work with and support all of the other players to form a power that exceeds what any one player could ever achieve.
Every year during the preseason, head coaches will express their optimism that this year his team is ready to advance to the playoffs, maybe even the Superbowl. When the interviewer challenges that idea, the coach will always say, "we have the talent, but this year, I think we have the right attitude too."
Why is that so important?
Talent will only get you so far, but what separates the winners from all the others is that they have a mental edge; they play as a team; they support each other; they know they can win and they are certain they will win. US Olympic teams exude that kind of team unity and accomplishment. And they have historically dominated the Olympic Games.
Let's compare that football simile to our nation's political climate. Our nation's current Head Coach, Donald Trump has said, "We will start winning again. We will win, win, win. We will win so much, you will get sick of winning!"
After many years of leadership that reached across the field to congratulate opposing players, or who pointed out the weaknesses of our own team, or who put too many players in the wrong position for reasons other than fielding the best possible team, the new coach has taken a much more pragmatic approach. He has promised to put winning ahead of any personal or philosophical ambitions.
His positive attitude is the intangible element that all winners have. Some teams squander terrific talent because they just can't come together as a team. Other less talented teams over-perform; the 1969 Miracle Mets come to mind. They were the first Mets team to ever have a winning season and went on to beat a Baltimore Orioles team considered one of the most talented ever.
Their unifying theme? "You gotta believe!"
The United States of America has been on a losing streak. We haven't been very united since WWll. We have squandered our military resource advantages in wars in Vietnam, in Korea, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan.
America is still racked with racist guilt 50 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We have lost control of our natural resources, our national debt and our borders, and to a large degree, our self confidence. Some disenchanted and resentful protesters cause chaos in our streets and try to undermine our unity of spirit. But their solutions always involve taking something from one group and redistributing it to another. They would entrust decisions to some bureaucrat in Washington, assuming Americans in general are to intrinsically stupid, racist or sexist to make decisions without direction from more enlightened celebrities, activists or government operatives.
I will never forget the day JFK was shot; it was a kick in the groin. But we all rationalized it as the act of one sociopathic nutcase. Now we have a massive effort to dispose of a duly elected President. Should that occur, it would have a similar, but far scarier effect on our country because it would be the result of the minority turning against the majority. Something that has never happened in our country since the civil war.
America has become a dysfunctional family. America of 2017 is looking more and more like George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Can we get our mojo back?
It should be the goal of all of us to rebuild our national family, to recapture the true spirit of Americanism that helped elevate our grandparents from the great depression to the Greatest Generation in just a few decades. I contend that building a great team attitude is no different than building a great family, or for that matter, a great nation.
Granted, we had a war against fascism to bring us together in 1941. We were afraid that the Nazis, and the aggressive Japanese Imperialists, might take over the world and impose their racist totalitarian political theology on all of us. Now, we are confronted with a revisionist form of fascism, using guilt and intimidation to impose radical ideas of Egalitarian Collectivism and Politically Correct Group Think on all of us.
We are confronted with an army of death worshipping radical Islamic zombies who enjoy killing innocent bystanders, and radical socio-communist malcontents who enjoy seeing themselves in the headlines. And we have the misplaced, under-employed and disenfranchised workers (mostly men) who have no sense of family left; they have been abandoned and forgotten as the era of digital information and high-tech automation has destroyed their sense of self respect and leadership. Many have decided to form an alliance with dark forces ramping up their attacks on capitalism and our representative democratic form of government, preferring to find nirvana by imposing autocratic reforms on society that represent 'equality' and 'fairness' at the expense of individualism and self reliance.
The best football Head Coach of our lifetime is Bill Belichick. He said,“There is an old saying about the strength of the wolf is the pack, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. On a football team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.”
Isn't that what a family provides for its kids? Or a nation for its citizens? America is the Wolf and we are the Pack. But we have to embrace that concept, or it will wither and die.
A strong family can provide the platform and psychological support to go out into the world and to compete, to survive and to thrive. But our child rearing practices since the sixties has promoted too much individualism at the expense of unity. A vast number of Americans see their needs, their wants, their feelings as something sacrosanct. They show little or no empathy, and focus on winning attention as the solution to all of their anxieties.
Human beings take years to mature, to learn to operate autonomously, to be self sufficient. Having the love and support of a balanced family structure, or a strong and stable country, is critical to that learning curve. Ask the MVP, the Gold Medal Winner or the team owner after achieving the ultimate goal, and they will inevitably thank God, their parents and their teammates for their success.
So how does our sports entertainment industry reflect the disharmony in our national politic? There have been many examples of politics invading the sanctity of the playground. Remember Bob Costas lecturing the nation about gun control on Sunday Night Football after an NFL player was shot in a domestic murder-suicide? Or when the Saint Louis Rams trotted onto the field holding their hands up ( "Don't shoot!" ) to protest the police shooting in Ferguson Missouri?
It has become all too common for rich entertainers to hijack a high profile public media event for their own self aggrandizement. Certainly they think they are doing a good thing. But any coach will tell you. If you have an issue with how we do things, we will deal with it in the locker room. Never throw your teammates under the bus! Keep it in the family!
The recent headlines about Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for our National Anthem is indicative of the self indulgent, celebrity seeking and thoroughly selfish direction of too many young people. They are so self absorbed they are oblivious to the historical events that gave them the freedom to be selfish.
We have a new Head Coach in the White House. He is trying to pull the team together, talking about winning again. He is focused on turning our team's attention to our players, to our family, to our house. To proudly play as a team.
In politics that is called nationalism. In sports it is called teamwork. In a family, it is called love. All of it demands respect for the leader and every member of the family or team.
I call it 'Familyism.' And it is the elixir our country needs to get it's mojo back.
Belichick noted “Mental toughness is doing the right thing for the team when it’s not the best thing for you.” Most commonly, that is called sacrifice. Not the sacrifice of self identity, of rationality, or of empathy, but the concept of delayed gratification for the purpose of obtaining a greater result at a later time by working for and with each other.
Remember JFK, "Don't ask what your country can do for you. Ask what can you do for your country!" How soon we forget….having lived through the great national tragedy of the assassination of an American President, I can testify, prior to his death, John Kennedy had brought Americans together. He had projected a strong sense of leadership, telling the Soviet Union to remove their nuclear weapons from Cuba. He had formed the Peace Corps as a vehicle for young people to reach across borders, to extend a hand in friendship, and to tackle poverty and hatred.
He fostered the development of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and he cut taxes to spur economic growth, supporting the economic theory of 'rising tides float all boats'.
When Kennedy was killed, so was our sense of unity and mutual accomplishment. Since that day, our country has been racked by suspicion, anger, guilt and anxiety. As the proverbial Father Figure, Kennedy's death was the beginning of the end of America's family structure. We have been operating as a broken, single parent family ever since. Our Presidents since have been hamstrung by conflicting demands on our legislators, on inflexible and economically unsupportable entitlements and government assistance and a growing number of special interest goups.
Our Presidents have, for the past half century, been attempting to herd cats.
Do we Americans have the 'mental toughness' necessary to restore our national family? Will our nation have to completely implode before it comes to the realization that as a family we can help each other, but divided we will simply fade into history as another failed experiment in nation building?
Bill Belichick has proven, you don't have to agree with or love your Head Coach, but if you want to win, you need to accept the reality that there can only be one Leader of the Pack.