Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sports don't build character ... They reveal it

The title of this post is a quote from the legendary John Wooden, and for my money, it is the absolute truth.

Coach Wooden was not only the "Wizard of Westwood," but he is a very intelligent man whose insight should not be overlooked nor pushed aside. One of the most amazing facts about him as a coach - at least I find this very fascinating, is that he did not study film or scout opponents. In Coach Wooden's mind, his teams did not need to worry about their opponents did or were going to do. As long as they executed his game plan, they should win. (Not sure why more coaches didn't try this philosophy. After all, Coach Wooden only won 10 NCAA National Championships.)

But what I must admire about Coach Wooden is the fact that he was a man of principle and high ordeals. He held everyone to the same standard, and all you have to do is look to Bill Walton to see that to be true.

I've heard it said often - especially now that I have children of my own, that it's good for kids to be involved in sports because it will help "build their character." But this line of thinking is wrong.

Coach Wooden is right when he said, "Sports don't build character. They reveal it."

Character is taught and nurtured at home, at school, in the quiet moments of life. Not in the heat of battle, which sports have become. Character is revealed at times when you have to make split-second decisions. It is not built when you have to react without thinking.

You show your true colors when facing a pressure-packed situation.

Case in point: University of Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes gouging (or attempting to gouge) the eyes of Georgia running back.

It doesn't matter that Georgia might or might not have been doing it to Florida players before. (No one caught them on film like Spikes was, and what did your mom used to say, "If everyone else jumped off the bridge, would you jump too?")

Spikes showed what kind of person he is in that moment. After all, what prompted him to poke the Georgia player in the eyes? I did not see anything leading up to that warranting such actions.

(By the way, what's most troubling to me about this incident and seems to be ignored by media types is the fact that Spikes attempted to poke someone in the eyes when he himself wears an eye guard/visor on his helmet to protect his eyes.)

In defense of Spikes, Florida head coach Urban Meyer said, "That's not who he is; that's not who we are. He got caught up in the emotion."

Oh, so his emotions got the better of him, and that's why he should go unpunished for his actions?

Sorry, Urban, I have to disagree. Actions speak louder than words, and people judge and believe a person based on how they act and how they behave more so than the words that so easily flow from their mouths.

Sure, Spikes is being 'punished.' He can't play the first of half of a game that Florida should be able to win without him.

I realize Spikes' eye gouging isn't as blatant, but how is it any different that Oregon's LeGarrett Blount blindsiding a Boise State football player with a sucker punch?

Not sure what exactly I'm trying to say here with this little rant of mine. All I know is that I see a lot of sporting events, and it's becoming quite clear that sports are not all 'fun and games' anymore.

It's about winning. At whatever cost. Period.

And that breaks my heart. After all, it's just a game.


  1. Sports has become all about the big 'W'...Wins. And the pressure to perform above expectations and produce these wins causes athletes (and coaches) to do some uncharacteristic things like eye-gouging (and in the case of coaches: recruiting violations, etc.). Your blog should be required reading for athletes and coaches in all sports and all leagues. Winning does make your sport more enjoyable, but should not be the sole factor used to judge success.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I love sports. I love to win (ask my bride and son how competitive I get). But in the end, it's just a game.

    One of the things that keeps me from 'moving up' to a larger school is the fact that winning is the main focus on everything. Yes, we at Union enjoy winning. Who doesn't? But I want to win the right way and by the rules.