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  • Jerome Kocher

23. Learn from Sports

The most popular American sports enterprise is the NFL, the National Football League. And like most loves in our lives, it gets the most criticism, from both sides. The “woke” left sports writers will be critical of the lack of racial diversity in management and coaching. The “righteous” traditionalists, like myself, are indignant over the NFL’s hypocritical virtue signaling of police brutality and BLM slogans. But even though I have stopped watching these millionaires lecture me on my racism and hatred, let me be objective, set aside my bias, and look at what the NFL can really teach us.

First, these thoughts are inspired by one of my mentors, Clay Travis from “Outkick the Coverage” in Nashville. So I give credit where credit is due. I share his insight I loved it, not only because it pulled me out of my own bias, but it rang true.

As Clay Travis says, “The great and radical notion of America is that any kid, born anywhere, could grow up and be the President of the United States. That doesn’t happen anywhere else, in the world really. And the same thing is true of athletics. It doesn’t matter what city you grew up in, what team you played for, the meritocracy of athletics is - You strap on your shoes, I’ll strap on mine, and whoever is the best wins, and to the victor goes the spoils. Competition begets excellence.”

In the big picture, the NFL, like all sports, represents the best principles of what America offers. It is based on a meritocracy that promotes excellence in performance. You don’t get on a team’s roster based on affirmative action, but rather based on your ability. The best players get to play. That’s what the fans want to see. Winners! This is true of sports in general. Work ethic and performance pays off, regardless of your background, whether your own father was an NFL player or in prison, you are judged by the content of your own play.

Look at the four highest paid quarterbacks in NFL history based on average income per year: Patrick Mahomes (45 million), Dak Prescott (40 million), Deshaun Watson (39 million), and Russel Wilson (35 million). Only two have won Super Bowls? So what do they have in common? Yes, they are all Black. Are some mixed race, yes. But so was Barack Obama who had a white mother.

Have these quarterbacks been elevated to success because of their skin color? No! Absolutely not! They have earned this based on the merit of their play. Capitalism and Meritocracy at its best. Reward excellence. There are no rankings for “participation trophies.” And this list doesn’t even include other Black quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Teddy Bridgewater, Dwayne Haskins or Cam Newton. So is the NFL really systemically racist and discriminatory?

Because of this meritocracy, the NFL has created more Black millionaires than any other industry. You could include the NBA in that category as well. There are no race quotas in order for a team to reflect the demographics of its fan base. Instead, it strives to reflect a desire to win, excel and be the best in your sport. It offers its fans the perennial hope of excellence, that they too are the best, by association. Of course, the word “fans” comes from fanatics, so I should not get carried away in hyperbole. But you get the point.

So what would socialism look like if implemented into professional sports? Equal income for all pro athletes. What would classroom achievements look like if based on equal grades, equal outcome for all. The achievers would learn not to produce. Why improve? There are no rewards.

It is so easy to criticize Capitalism. But no other system in the world has lifted more people out of poverty! And no other country promises more opportunity than the United States. Unfortunately today, in sports and in American life, people look to be victims. You are told you can’t win because of all the obstacles. You can’t succeed because of your background. This is fundamentally so wrong! It’s the antithesis of everything sports and America represents!

Clay continues, “ America needs to look more like sports . . . Our political system is broken. They want to slice and dice us all up based on our identity. Oh, you’re gay and Hispanic, you have to believe this. Oh, you are Black and straight, you have to believe this. Oh, you are White and transgender, you have to believe this. No! . . . Sports destroys all of those identities and puts us all together in a common grouping, pursuing excellence.”

Personally, I’m still not watching the NFL or NBA or MLB because I feel they betrayed me last year with hypocritical kneeling before the altar of “systemic racism” and “defunding the police.” They slept with someone else. But I’ll get over it eventually, especially since they’ve stopped that offensive display when fans turned them off. But for all its imperfections, sports can be a great role model.

Thank God for professional sports. They just may demonstrate the principles of our Founding Documents better than anything else.

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