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  • Reverend James Squire

Next Woman Up

There has been considerable conversations and interviews about Simone Biles’ mental health and withdrawing from the gymnastics competition. If this is news to anyone at the moment, you must be living as a hermit. I am glad that people have realized how dangerous it would have been for Biles to continue. Gymnastics is one of those sports that if you are not mentally in the game, it could result in serious injury. Simone Biles seems to have lost her way when she is in the air. That is very different than a distance runner being slowed down because of pressure. There is no imminent threat to their physical well-being.

I want to honor what Simone Biles did. At the same time another hero of the moment seemed initially to have gotten lost in the hype about Simone’s withdrawal. I wish people would have paid more or at least equal attention to what Suni Lee accomplished when she stepped up to take Ms. Biles place and win the gold medal. That kind of gesture of praise was indicated. There was not one word of the pressure she was feeling. She did what was expected of her and what she had trained for over the years. In addition, she has been marred by injuries, lost relatives to Covid-19 and grappled with a horrific accident that left her father paralyzed.

Think about what it was like to be her over the years of receiving little or no press during the Olympic hype. I am always impressed by those who can take a back seat to someone and then rise to the occasion. It is a different and profound sense of pressure, and it is thrilling to watch.

We are a society that obsesses over celebrity often forgetting about those people who have to train just as hard and be ready to take over if needed. Suni Lee did that big time. I have sat on the bench when playing football. You are in a constant state of readiness which is a different kind of pressure. The same is true for a relief pitcher who is called into the game.

Randy Pausch tells a great story in his video/book called the Last lecture where he literally gives his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon as he is dying of cancer. The lecture is really about childhood dreams. Third string players on his football team knew that they would be called in just for one play each game. When that one player on the third string is put in for one play, God help the opponent who he has to tackle or block him. Each player gives it everything that each player has. His teammates loved to watch these guys when they were put in the game. You are getting your shot so be ready. They have the pleasure of seeing someone give 100+ percent.

What is really significant about the “next man up” phenomenon is that you get very little glory in a supporting role. That person who must deliver when called upon is just as important as a first stringer. Smart teams and fans know this.

Right now, we are seeing this in the political realm. Vice President Kamala Harris has had some rough sailing. She has a low approval rating and there is frequent speculation about bad feelings among her staff. The complaint is that she hasn’t demonstrated leadership. Being Vice President is probably the most difficult position in politics. You have to be informed and ready, but you are always riding in the back seat. President Johnson writes about this in very moving terms when he was called forward to take over after President Kennedy’s assassination. He was scared to death at first and then rose to the occasion. Kamala Harris hasn’t exactly had an easy agenda to accomplish as she is responsible for getting out the vote and for immigration reform, two of the most difficult assignments. Like Suni Lee, she doesn’t get a lot of great press, but she does her job and never complains. Most important she is ready when needed.

One of my great sport’s memories at EA was when our basketball team was playing a tough team. The opposing team was elbowing and physically threatening our team. There was a popular student who was on our football team who was big and tough. He was the 6th or 7th man in the next man up scenario on the basketball team. The EA fans began chanting his name until it reached a crescendo. “Put ____in!” came the repeated cry. Finally, his number was called. He was more than ready. When he entered the game, the whole flow of the game changed as the opponent players’ bodies were flying every which way as they were bouncing off him as they thought they could intimidate him. He got off the bench, the next man up, who was celebrated by all for turning things around.

That is the kind of attention I hope that Suni Lee, Vice President Harris, and others on the bench of life deserve for they are just as important as the stars of the show. Lyndon Johnson, Vice President to President Kennedy, learned that lesson very quickly and with great courage.

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