Saturday, April 16, 2016

Seize The Day, Or Seize the Future?

Not too long ago, within 18 months, four NFL football players under the age of 30 voluntarily left the game.  The one that generated the most attention, and the one that is the focus of this article is Chris Borland, former linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and Wisconsin Badgers.  At age 24 he made what all people agree was an informed decision to leave the game and occupation that was the focal point of his life.  From a personal perspective, I could not stand Chris Borland as he wrecked havoc on my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers, contributing to some beat-downs that were hard for this Big Red fan to stomach!  But that said, I have had tremendous respect for the way this under-sized, gritty, hard-nosed guy played.  He was a “player’s player” and that kind of guy that chewed leather and spit nails!  He was what you you think of when you think football player.

The average career of NFL football players is about 3.3 years, according the the NFL Players Association.  Most leave because they are replaced by better players or due to injuries.  Borland hadn’t even reached the average.  Every player that reaches the NFL is fulfilling a dream.  The odds are .09% that a high school football player is going to reach that level.  Borland made it, and after one season, at the age of 24, he made the decision to step aside.  He didn’t leave the game because he couldn’t do it any more.  Nor was it because of an injury that he had suffered.  The reason Chris Borland made this decision is because of the potential long-term consequences of playing the game.  More specific, he left because of the consequences that so many players have suffered due to head injuries.  Chris Borland wants to live a normal life when he is in his 60’s, and he stands a better chance of doing so by stepping away from a game that he loves, and a job that he performs very well.

Borland did a significant amount of research before making this decision, even after recognizing the concussion numbers were down 25% in the previous year in professional football.  He also made this decision knowing that he was going to leave millions of dollars of salary behind.  Most players come into the league with the plan to make as much money as you possibly can for as long as you are able to play.  And if you make enough, and invest it wisely, you won’t have to learn how to do something else to survive the rest of your life.  The problem with that thinking is that most players do not get that many years to reap these crazy salaries, and a very large percentage of them do not invest wisely.  What is significant is that they have 20 to 30 productive years left in their life are left to find some other way to earn an income.  Many of them struggle a great deal with this, and if they are suffering from an accumulation of injuries, it makes it much more difficult.

Borland made a decision that is also different than most of his generational peers.  Being a member of the iY generation, short-term or instant gratification is the common decision making model.  But Borland broke the model, recognizing that choosing short-term benefits often lead to long-term consequences.  He could bank a lot of money before he turns 30, but at what risk?  Rather, he chose to pursue other parts of his life, relying on a college degree that he earned and setting out on a path that will hopefully provide him and opportunities to enjoy his kids and grandkids.  Rather than “seize the day,” he has chosen to “seize the future."

Borland is not alone in this thinking.  Rashard Mendenhall, former Pittsburg Steeler running back, stepped away from the game at the age of 26.  “There is another life apart from football, and you can be happy.  You can still work.”  Mendenhall is seizing the future as well.

Football is the example here, and it would be unfair to not note that the game at some levels is getting safer due changes made in the game and rules.  But when you look at a profession where so many workers have come out scarred for life, it serves as a perfect model to use about decision making.  In all of our lives there are those things that look too good to be true.  Make money fast!  Instant wealth!  Take a risk!  There are those among us that choose careers only because we want to bank money as quickly as possible, regardless of the risk.  But it appears that our grandparents generation, those that lived through he depression, taught us all very valuable lessons.  Good things tend to come to those who wait, and putting of immediate gratification often leads to the ability to enjoy something much greater down the road.  Kudos the Chris Borland for making a very tough decision, and here’s to a long and happy life!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Why Americans Have a Problem With Soccer

Soccer has become a passion of mine.  I get up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch two or three games live from England and the Barclay’s Premier League, considered the strongest professional soccer league in the world.  I have become a fan of Everton, West Ham United, and Manchester City.  I was all in for the World Cup in 2014, and last October I stayed up watching an incredibly thrilling U.S. vs. Mexico CONCACAF game to determine what national team would be playing in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.  While a bitter and disappointing loss for the U.S., it was truly an incredible game!

This has not become an overnight passion for me.  Both of my kids played youth soccer and really enjoyed it.  Given the opportunity I am certain both would have played in high school.  As a fan I got the bug watching them and started watching games on television.  But I am also a sports fan, and I love watching competition at the highest level, so I was watching the World Cup when the United States hosted back in 1994, and players like Alexi Lalas and Tab Ramos were becoming recognizable figures on the national sports scene.  And of course, I watched a number of women’s games culminating with Brandi Chastain’s winning penalty shot to defeat China in the 1999 World Cup.

In the summer of 2015, I just happened into an opportunity I did not see coming.  During a trip planned for Montreal, my wife and I attended the semi-final game of the Women’s World Cup between the United States and Germany.  It was the first international sporting event that I attended, and it was an incredible experience to watch the American women defeat the Germans.  I can’t describe the feeling of being in that stadium.  It was incredible!  And it only deepen my new-found love for the sport of futbol!

Yet it was at this World Cup game that my wife stated,  “This is why I have a problem with soccer.  The U.S. outplayed the Germans in the first half, dominating the game, and yet had not scored.  All the Germans have to do is get lucky and get a goal and they win.  It isn’t fair.”  Perhaps there is a lot of truth to this, and maybe it is a reason that it has yet to become as popular in our country as other sports.  The issue of scoring has a lot to do with it, but that isn’t much different from baseball.  So maybe it is a matter of fairness. 

Americans subscribe to the philosophy that if you work hard, you get rewarded.  Some recognize that there is a little luck involved, but more often than not, we resent those people that get rewards without paying their dues. It goes back to the Puritan work ethic that shaped a lot of the early value systems in our nation.  "Hard work has its rewards" has been professed for generations, and in the work place it has been rewarded with promotions and wage increases. Productivity is a goal and those that produce best are valued.  In the sports world we often hear athletes and coaches say “no one will outwork us,” and there are instances where that has certainly been true.  During the Iowa Hawkeye wrestling dynasty created by Dan Gable no other team of that era worked as hard, and the success of those great teams speaks to that effort.  Work ethic has been the difference maker between people of equal talent, and the equalizer for the individual that does not have as much.

Giving more merit to this argument is my experience watching that U.S. vs. Mexico game.  It was tied at the end of regulation and went to two 15 minute overtime periods.  Had it remained tied, it would have gone to penalty kicks.  However, it didn’t get to that point because the Mexicans scored the winner in overtime and prevented the U.S. from scoring the equalizing goal.  And you know what, it would have been a shame if the Americans had tied it and somehow gone on to win.  Why?  Because the Mexican team totally dominated the game from start to finish and deserved to win.  It wouldn’t have been fair!

So what about luck and opportunity?  I guarantee that had the U.S. somehow won that game, American futbol fans would have gone crazy, celebrating like wild in the Rose Bowl and in bars all over the country where fans were gathered watching the game.  But would they have deserved it, and does that matter?  Hey, a win is a win, and with a few exceptions, there are no style points!  The funny thing is that for many of us we want to know that we deserved the victory.  Fairness implies that the game is played by rules and that the best prevails.  To some real sportsmen victories are shallow when the opponent is less than 100%.  They want to measure themselves against the best in order to have a satisfying victory.  It’s kind of the same in terms of luck.  How satisfying is it to win when a referee blatantly blows a call, or when something “unfair” happens that tilts the table?  It’s not, at least to many who value hard work and the dividends that it provides.  The question that I ponder and will leave you with is does hard work matter any more, or does luck, opportunity, and possibly even deceit matter just as much or more so?  Is that the message behind the game of soccer?  Work really hard for an entire game, fight the good fight, yet lose because of a fluke when a player mistakenly deflects the ball into his own net when trying to clear the ball.  Hey, a wins a win, isn’t it?