Johnny Football, Britney Spears & Hope

5 Feb


Football news out of Cleveland is seldom good, but rarely is it quite this tragic.

Not only has QB Johnny Manziel found himself on the on the wrong side of the law yet again, but come March he’ll be cut from the team.  His agent has dropped him, and he’s suddenly viewed as too toxic even for perpetual second-chance vending machine Jerry Jones.

Sadly these are the least of his worries.

Reports out today indicate Johnny has repeatedly refused his parents attempts to check him into rehab and that as his substance abuse and legal issues mount, he’s isolated, lost and alone.

Even as his parents fear for his life— America collectively yawns.

While the TMZs of the world document just how “off the rails” things have gotten for Manziel, snarky internet sites relish his failures, recount his missteps and celebrate his downfall.

Why all the disdain?

Because Johnny Football came from money, played with attitude and unapologetically went down a path of self-promotion and hype.  To us he’s worse than a never was, he’s a coulda been.  A spoiled rich kid with all the talent in the world content to throw it all away.

And while much of that may be true, I think it is important to remember that he’s also a 23-year-old man with a chronic disease.  How much of his behavior is symptomatic of his chemical dependency and what mental issues may be lying beneath, we may never know.   But I think he deserves some slack, concern and empathy.

Would we dismiss, mock and ridicule someone with any other life-threatening health condition?  Of course we wouldn’t and therein lies the rub with chemical dependency.

For far too many of us, it is viewed largely the same way as obesity.  A lifestyle condition wrought by the overindulgent who just need to get it together and quit self-sabotaging.

The Manziel situation reminds me a lot of Britney Spears.

It wasn’t too long ago that anything you say about Manziel could similarly have been said about Spears.  Young and successful with all of the resources in the world she too had everything going for her.  Yet she too had issues with substance abuse, legal troubles and poor choices that negatively impacted her health, family and life.

The same level of disdain and shaming accompanied her downfall as we are seeing with Manziel today.  Only guess what?  You haven’t heard anything bizarre from Britney lately.  That’s because in 2008 a conservatorship was established placing her father and attorney in charge of her affairs.

She got clean and got help.  The conservatorship essentially declared her incompetent to manage her own life.  It was an incredibly bold, time-intensive and difficult legal move, but one that ultimately saved her life.   She’s now working, paying taxes, managing her condition and most importantly a mother to her children.

Am I saying that Manziel needs a conservatorship or that his situation is exactly the same as Spears’?

Absolutely not, but what I am saying is that there is hope and people need options, not shaming.  Something clearly needs to change for Johnny Football or the next story we hear could be about his untimely death.

What I am asking is that all of us to cut him a little slack along the way and recognize this for what it is– consequences manifesting from a chronic disease.  He may seem arrogant and act entitled.  Just remember, he’s also sick.

Instead of becoming spectators who shake our heads and tsk-tsk the poor choices he’s made, we should instead become advocates for treatment and pray that our children never go down a similar path.

The Super Bowl of Entitlement

3 Feb

If you truly love college football today is a dark day.

It is the one day a year your favorite sport makes you embarrassed to call yourself a fan.   All across the country seventeen-year-old boys will sit in front of rows of baseball caps while thousands of 40-something men breathlessly stream it all over the internet, desperately hoping the kid picks up the right cap and declares his allegiance to their favorite team.

National Signing Day

Far from the lone cause of entitled “student” athletes, National Signing Day remains its Super Bowl.  It is the culmination of a recruitment process that has lasted years, all rolled into a giant ego stroke– one that incents worse and worse behavior for the adults involved.

The kids aren’t to blame.  They are only playing out their string, taking the attention they are given and often adding their own drama.  They know they are a big deal because they’ve been repeatedly told they are a big deal.  It is no different than how many of us would have handled it at that age.

How can we expect our athletes to remain grounded, work hard off the field and understand the concept of team when for years it has all been about them?  Parents re-engineering their lives to get to every single game, AAU coaches and hangers-on telling them how great they are, coaches cow-towing, begging and even camping out at their house just to get their attention?

Don’t blame the kids when it is the adults who should know better.

Just like so many things in youth sports, we’ve taken something fun and corrupted it, marketed it and wrecked it.  Fans now routinely tweet cheers and jeers at kids they’ve never met.  Entire cottage industries have sprung up to measure, rate and rank 9th graders in a never-ending race to the bottom.

And for what?  A mere pittance of these kids will go pro. The net result for the rest will be a college graduation rate that lags 20 -40% behind other incoming freshmen, injuries and a life that peaked in college.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful things about team sports and many student athletes go on to amazing lives with opportunities they never would have otherwise had.  But overall are college athletics a positive?  More to the point, is power five conference football a positive?

Do we need…

  • 41 bowl games?
  • To pay stipends to players?
  • Seasons that last 15- games long?
  • College games on Wednesday Night?
  • Head Coaches who make $7 million and assistants making two?

I’m beginning to wonder.

It is often said that money is the root of all evil.  That quote actually gets it wrong.  It is the “love of money” that the bible warns us about.  That love is also the one common thread through all of this.

 “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” – 1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NLT)

Harbaugh, Ragnar, Spite & Forgiveness

4 Jan

Do not be deceived…a man reaps what he sows.

So says the Epistle to the Galatians… and more recently Jim Harbaugh on twitter.

What has the Michigan head football coach so up in arms that he’s quoting scripture?

The firing of his replacement as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Tomsula.  Harbaugh is dancing on the proverbial grave of the first year coach.  The tweet seeming to legitimize stories from a year ago that Tomsula was in fact the architect of Harbaugh’s ouster.  At the time Tomsula was serving as a defensive line coach for the team and reportedly used influence with the CEO to sabotage Harbaugh.

In other NFL news former Vikings mascot Ragnar had some sour grapes of his own to feast upon.  After the mascot’s calls for a raise earlier this year fell on deaf ears at the Vikings organization, he was let go.

His response?  He took to Fox television to publicly scorn his former employer, tossing a pair of horns into the snow and donning a Cheesehead.  On the eve of the biggest border battle in years he even upped the ante by throwing in a “go pack go” at the end, just to rub it in.

Ragnar- Traitor

Seemingly unrelated incidents, but oh so directly related.  In both we see examples of disappointment turned into anger which morphed into spite.

Now you may think both of these incidents are childish and dumb, and you’d be right.  And in the grand scheme of things neither matter, but I submit that they also highlight a larger trend.  For too many of us today our success is only dictated by our opponent’s failures as our egos demand vengeance for every perceived wrong.

Spend five minutes on social media, or read the comments following an online news story for 1,000s of examples.  At the heart of this is ego.  Ego that leads us to scorn forgiveness.

The bible talks a lot about forgiveness, a concept that frequently only gets lip service today.  People don’t buy into it because to society forgiveness is an outdated notion that leads adherents to become doormats and enable others to take advantage of them.

I think the biblical mandate for forgiveness is much different.  It isn’t about opening ourselves up for more abuse, but about removing past abuse’s hold on us.

The nuance may seem small, and in petty examples like these insignificant.  But when you think of all of the hurt that is out there it still serves as a reminder of how we are called to deal with it.  Scores of people are facing much more than lost jobs or hurt pride.   If every last one of them seeks vengeance the result will quickly spiral out of control.

We’re all both the hero and villain at times in life.  Taking time to forgive your villains may take years, but the point is that the effort is worth it.  Taking the high road and offering forgiveness may be difficult, but to a true believer it is also non-negotiable.

Chip Kelly, Zeke and Losing with Class

23 Nov

Chip Kelly

Ezekiel Elliot and Chip Kelly both lost football games this past weekend, and they both came to the same conclusion about exactly why.

They were out-coached.

The nuance comes when you consider their roles.  Elliot is a junior tailback for Ohio State and shared his thoughts in a post-game interview.  He went to essentially quit on his team by announcing he was heading to the NFL despite having two games left and another year of eligibility.

Kelly, head coach and GM of the Philadelphia Eagles, made his comments at a similar press conference but in a moment of introspection, accountability and honesty.  He then re-committed to fixing the problem.

  • Is this an object lesson in maturity?  Maybe
  • A bad day for someone not used to adversity?  Probably

But I think the real lessons for the rest of us reach well beyond the gridiron.  How do we as parents raise kids in the “me” generation to be more Chip Kelly and less like Ezekial Elliot?

We do it by instilling in our kids three key things Chip Kelly’s generation understood well.

  • Humble yourself and know your role
    Sadly in 2015 entitled children and their enabling parents have missed this lesson. A teacher takes your child to task and your first inclination is to go fight the battle with that teacher on your child’s behalf.  An official makes a poor call and you berate, then blame them for your team’s loss.  Previous generations supported the teachers, coaches and other leaders and expected the same from their children.
  • Win with class, lose with honor
    Supporting your children is great, but somewhere on the bullet train to self-esteem we whiffed. Your job as a parent isn’t to become your child’s best friend and cheerleader, it is to prepare them for life outside your home.  This means coping skills.  Blaming others and a lack of empathy are natural inclinations but your job is to help your child un-learn them and adapt.  Keep them humble in defeat and gracious in failure.  Model the same (something this author needs to always remember)
  • Team above self
    Teach your kids that role-playing in sports and life is inevitable.  A sixth man can be just as valuable as a starter.  You can’t always be the star or  take the game-winning shot.  If your coach wants you to focus on defense, you accept it and do your best.  If you coach buries you on the bench you accept the playing time you get and work harder at practice.  Teach your child to put a chip on their shoulder and be willing to earn it the hard way.  Expect adversity and adapt.

And all of this may seem intuitive to the point of being not even worth mentioning.  But I completely disagree.  As a nation we are raising way more Ezekial Elliots than Chip Kellys.  And it is our job as parents is to ask why.


The King of all Sports: What Our Love of Football says about us

30 Oct

Football. Quit crying and get in the game.

Football is the unquestioned king of all sports by any measure.  Monday Night match ups with snoozer teams routinely outdraw playoff games in other sports.  It would seem football can do no wrong.  But why?

The three reasons say as much about society as they do about sport

Delayed Gratification

The reality of the rigors of playing such a brutal game are that they can’t have more than one game a week, or stretch a season past 20 games (even with playoffs).  In a world where other sports require 162 game seasons just to set up the postseason, this is a differentiator.  Not only must we savor every game, but every game matters.

This less-is-more model fuels our passion, excites our off-season and truly makes us earn it.  In the digital age, few things in life are on these terms.

Our Weenie Culture has yet to Corrupt it

Football represents one of the last places on earth where physical contact in the realm of sport is not only allowed but revered.  This is in stark contrast to today’s reality, where my kids aren’t even allowed to play dodge ball in school and Bully Prevention Week is an actual thing.  Our children are encouraged to be victims and go fetal at the first sign of trouble. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and in football our victim culture just found one.

Next Man Up

This past week Texans QB Ryan Mallet was released by the Texans.  His crimes?  A pouting spell on the sideline, a missed flight and a general bad attitude.  Can you imagine if Ryan Mallet had a white collar desk job?  Similar behavior might force an HR meeting and in about 18 months with proper documentation he might be fired.


In the NFL you produce or you leave.  Your value is the total and complete sum of one thing– your ability to produce in your next game.  Tim Tebow and Michael Sam didn’t lose their jobs because of politics– they simply couldn’t cut it.  Talent trumps all on the gridiron.  Players must climb a depth chart, differentiate themselves, behave in the locker room or turn in their playbook and head home.  The sport is a true meritocracy–  something previous generations took for granted as a hallmark of a successful society.


These three factors and others like them make the NFL and football in general, great.  One wonders if the same core principles were applied to the world outside of sport if we’d see similar upticks.

Sadly we’ll never find out.


The Longest Yard: From Good to Great

24 Sep

We live in an era where performance evaluations and development plans are anything but real.

Particularly in corporate America, authentic feedback and evaluation are rarely sought and even less frequently delivered.   It is far easier to maintain the status quo, celebrate successes and gloss over opportunities to get better.  This is even more pronounced the higher you rise in an organization.

That is what makes recent occurrences in Iowa City all the more remarkable.

Seventeen years into a job, the most powerful CEO in the state of Iowa has chosen introspection over obstinacy and is doggedly pursuing great after a long career of very good.

Consider the recipe for the first 16 years of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure.

  • Bend but don’t break defense.
  • Game management at the QB position
  • Punting on 4th and short from midfield
  • A constant quest to live to fight another day

In summary it was risk averse football.  Playing not to lose, rather than fighting to win.  It was a formula that worked very well for all those years, and yet in Ferentz’s own words, it had to change.

“It’s a new me. It’s as simple as this.  You just get back to everybody that left the stadium back there in November, everybody, players, coaches, every fan that we have, and we have the best fans in the world, everybody left saying, hmm, you know. Really?”

— Kirk Ferentz

And so Ferentz and his coaching staff took a long hard look at themselves.  They met as a group, they talked as individuals, engaged their critics and put everything on the table to define areas for change and growth.

The results are clear.  The team is taking calculated risks, breaking long-held tendencies and trusting in personnel.  Most importantly, they are having fun again.

There is a lesson in there for the rest of us.

  • Where is our blind spot?
  • What is keeping us from moving from very good to great?
  • What tendency do we need to break?

There is no magic formula.  Growth requires an open heart, a team of honest stakeholders, a willingness for feedback, and a lot of hard work.

Given those however, the results can be significant.



The Evolution of the Snark Economy

16 Sep

Finally it is here.  You’ll soon be able to sass people with a single click.

Sort of.

Facebook, desperate for headlines and bowing to public demand will be adding a “dislike” button to their popular social networking app.

Dislike Button

Mark Zuckerberg claims the button will allow users to “like” things that they relate to but don’t really like, i.e. death, a natural disaster, and others.  But I think we know where users will take it.

Soon the political and social battles that flood your timeline will be even more vicious and angry.

  • Bernie Sanders wants to raise tax rates to 80%– dislike this post to stop him!
  • Trump wants to deport all Mexicans- dislike and send him a message!

The dislike button is less a disease, and more of a symptom of where our culture has been headed for some time.  America evolved from agrarian economy to an industrial economy long ago and more recently to an information-based economy.  I think our next move may be to the snark economy.

Entire shows on cable are devoted to playing clips of celebs and others and ridiculing them.  Internet mishaps regularly “go viral” and you can read any of the comments following any news story online to see rampant vitriol and venom.  Everyone has an opinion and they can’t wait to share it as they lampoon their perceived enemies.

We like to mock and ridicule, but why?

Perhaps it is the natural backlash to the exponential growth of political correctness, the cowardice of anonymity or maybe just good old- fashioned narcissism.  Regardless, ridiculing failure seems to be our entertainment du jour.

And lest you think I’m the social commentator tsk tsk-ing everyone else from my high horse, nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve certainly partaken.  And you know what, I haven’t found it remotely satisfying.

So the energy you see on this forum (going forward) and hopefully elsewhere in my life will shift gears and stay permanently on the bullet train to positivity.  Oh I’m sure the Hawkeyes, the election and definitely the Vikings will pull me into a morass of negativity from time to time, but I’ll do my best to stay above board.

Optimism is learned, and you must fake it ‘til you make it.

It’s high time I got with the program.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 129 other followers