Monday, March 31st, 2014 – The Fourth Monday in Lent
True Wins and Losses
In the fall of 2008, my sons Nicholas and Martin both played football for St. Andrew’s Episcopal High School just north of Jackson, Mississippi. Nick was a senior; Martin a sophomore. The school, then sixty-one years old, always emphasized the quality of its academic education and the breadth of the overall St. Andrew’s experience, which included participation in extracurricular activities. We won more than our fair share of tennis matches and cross country events, but not football games. ‘Participating’ on the football team meant learning to lose, often and gracefully. Until that fall.
We found ourselves in the state semi-finals for the first time ever, playing a team from Walter Payton’s hometown, Columbia, Mississippi. It is hard to overemphasize the energy in the air that night. While most of the state is evangelical Christian, all of the state worships at the altar of high school football on Friday nights.
And we almost won.
When the clock hit zero and we were mere yards from victory, there were tears everywhere: players, coaches, parents, fellow students. Might have been a stray dog or two in the mix, sniffling. Spirits were crushed. And then, the coach brought the players around on one knee, helmets off, and began to speak.
After some preliminary remarks, the coach, a remarkable man of intelligence and perspective, apologized to the team. Apologized. Not is some general way to assuage the disappointment, but by saying this: “Boys, I apologize to you for letting you down in the last minute. I called the wrong plays. I guess I just got overwhelmed in the moment and didn’t use good judgment. You played too hard for me to have done that. I’m sorry. I should have done better.”
The coach was telling the truth. He seemed to have lost all football consciousness those last four plays. For all the countless things he did right all year, it was as if he decided to forget everything he knew about the game for four plays. Turns out, his play calling gaffes weren’t nearly the most important part of the night.
I like to win as much as the next person, but winning is not what I love about sports. What I love is that in a moment, the game, any game, can instantly shift from an ultimately meaningless win to a meaningful moment. Those players will always be wistful about losing. That’s natural. What is more memorable about that night is learning that now is always the right time to be vulnerable, honest, and accountable to the people you’re leading. Even when now is awkward and painful.
I knew that football coach well. I know his background and a good bit about his personal habits. I know that he learned that principle from Our Lord. I know that by immersing ourselves in the Lenten and Easter story, we can too.
Question for the day: Among the people we lead, including our families, what prevents us from being ourselves, being vulnerable?
– Christopher Powell