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  • Reverend James Squire

Sports Could Make Washington Better

It is the time for the football playoffs and we are now in the heart of the college basketball season. Fans are watching the games with a focus on how each moment is played and seeing first-hand what constitutes success and failure by the actions of the players and coaches. First, attitude is everything. Jay Wright used that slogan to build a very successful basketball program at Villanova, a relatively small Augustinian school on the Mainline of Philadelphia. He also wrote a book by that title to summarize his working paradigm. He still enjoys immense popularity with the student body in his new role as an announcer. He is a friend. I am a fan because of his approach to life and sport. An attitude that is moral and “other centered” as Jay writes about and lived as a coach yields success, enjoyment, and the creation of a moral community. It gets any job done in an ethical way. Jay was concerned about his players and their development beyond the court. He focused more on who his players were and not what they could do.

Let’s contrast Jay Wright’s experience compared to that of the approval rating of Congress at 23%. If we follow a standard formula of logic, it stands to reason that if success is a product of attitude being everything, then Congress’ perceived lack of success is a product of an attitude that needs to be changed. In addition, if you are a coach of any sports team, you are accountable for every moment in every game played whereas Congress has little accountability except every so many years when they are voted in or out of office. That is too late! A coach with a success rate of 23% would not last long in any profession in the real world. That is true for the American worker as well. We need to include in politicians’ work a more regular accountability rather than at the time when they are campaigning to be elected again. We need to see growth and not entrenchment.

I worked in a large school community for many years. We had more accountability moments than you can imagine. There were frequent evaluations coupled with evaluations of our evaluations. If it moved and had a heartbeat, we would evaluate it! Evaluation could be our middle name, The Episcopal Evaluation Academy. All was done to produce growth in everyone. I made sure that the people that were accountable to me had the opportunity to evaluate me. The caveat was no person including me when evaluated should be surprised. We should be pushing one another to be better and giving each other feedback on how we were doing on an ongoing basis, not at the end of a term. What good is it then? Right now, no real feedback is received by members of any political party. What we do get frequently is a restatement of their political view which doesn’t change. They use the phrase, “We are consistent!” Consistency is not growth. It is entrenchment, and entrenchment is what becomes valued. It is couched in moral language. “I stand firm on my principles.” I would add, “Except when they don’t benefit me!”

What is the attitude that is needed in Congress? Here are two things that should be required. People aren’t sent to Congress for performance. We send them there to develop policy so conversation and debate is necessary. Joseph Joubert is a little-known French man of letters in the 18th century who wrote about moral issues. He is not exactly a household name but he wrote the following: “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” This is the reason that we have sent politicians to the Capitol, not to be attack dogs against members of the loyal opposition. Partisan politics creates division by having a policy and then fighting about it. Their rhetoric is just that. It is not working toward consensus that is essential as Joubert points out. For example, it is disconcerting that Matthew Gaetz held up the selection of the speaker of the house so that after each vote he could send out a fundraising piece to demonstrate that he is “standing up to others and he has not changed.” Based on what I saw, the House members should keep their day job and stay away from performances.

But let’s go to the heart of the mater. What kind of attitude is missing and needs to embraced?

What does ethics look like in real time regarding our politicians? It is caring for who they are and not what they are. Two recent examples reflect this point of view and they come from the world of sport. In recent weeks, a member of the Buffalo Bills Football Team, Damar Hamlin, was seriously injured in a high stakes game where his heart stopped as he was making a play. The evening after the Georgia Football Team celebrated their National Championship, they lost a member of the team, Devin Willock, and a staff member, Chandler LeCroy, in a car accident.

In expressing their grief, the coaches, teammates, and communities gave quick dispatch to what these people did. The bulk of the response focused on who they were as members of the human race. In fact, the professional players from both the Bills and the Bengals made a stand to not continue the game. There was something more important than winning this important contest. The Bills quickly went into caring mode about who the player was and his inner drive to help others. Georgia did the same thing when their athlete, Devin Willock, and staff member, Chandler LeCroy, were killed in a car cash after a celebration of the team’s achievement. The National Championship took a back seat. We learned what these two people were like off the playing field and who they were in their everyday lives. I wonder what a politician’s response would be to this kind of intense moment of life and death. Oh, actually we do know as we look at the Republican Party’s response to the insurrection. They focused very little on the who were injured or died and tried to rationalize and defend the indefensible and debated what had occurred.

There is an old saying in the education business that a student will not care about math until the student knows that the teacher cares about the him or her.

Attitude and accountability are everything. It could be the essence of why Nelson Mandala turned to sports in his words to describe the power of the game: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”

Could we replace sport with the word politics in Mandala’s important words? If not, why not? Attitude and evaluation are calling!

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