Written by Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting
Cory, Scott and I are HUGE sports nuts. Between the three of us, we almost cover the entire sporting world when it comes to fan-dom. We watch collegiate and pro sports, football, basketball, hockey and baseball. We even tune in to the Olympics to watch when they are on.
There's one thing that I have been thinking about alot lately, that makes me think differently about sports. Maybe it's just that I am getting older, or more in tune with my emotional side, but I've noticed that sports are becoming more emotional. The players themselves are showing more vulnerability, and that in turn, in some strange way, is making me as a viewer more comfortable with my ability to emote my feelings while watching sports.
It's seems almost counter-intuitive, but as a man, the most safe place for me to demonstrate my inner vulnerability these days is watching sports.
There actually is crying in baseball...
There have been alot of tragedies these days in sports. As there are in the rest of the real world, people are facing heart-wrenching challenges that, in most instances, are so dramatic that they are life-altering. To watch some of these situations unfold as part of the narrative in semi-proffessional and proffessional sport makes the whole experience more human for those who are watching. Dealing with tragedy has always been part of sports, as it is part of the journey for any human being, and watching these superior athletes triumph over tragedy is always amazing to me.
But what has been really awesome is watching the level of empathy that has been expressed by fellow competitors in the past couple of years. Amazing acts of compassion have been on display as of late, and it's sort of stunning to me how in-tune and aware people have become lately to the suffering that some have been enduring. I am not sure if the 24-hour news cycle has had an impact, or if people are just becoming more comfortable with being openly empathetic to others, but something special is happening on the most testosterone-filled public platforms in the world.
Empathy for others is magic
Take the story of Devon Still, the NFL Defensive lineman who played last year for the Cincinnati Bengals and whose six-year old daughter Leah was disagnosed with neuroblastoma- the most common form of childhood cancer- in June of 2014. She was given just a 50-50 chance of surviving the disease.
Devon, who was cut from the Bengals during training camp, was brought on to the Bengals team's practice squad by the ownership so that he would qualify for health insurance and get a paycheck during the ordeal. He eventually ended up actually playing on the 53-man active roster with the team after some injuries to others at his position, and even started games during the 2015 season.
When news spread about the situation with his daughter, the NFL themselves got involved and committed the proceeds of all sales of his jersey towards cancer research. In no time at all, this little known, previously cut player had the number 1 selling jersey in the league, ahead of others like Brady, Rogers and Peterson. Players and coaches themselves were buying his jersey to show their support, and a touching tribute was held at Foxboro stadium in New England to show their organization's support for Devon and Leah. One story that I heard was that Sean Payton, the coach of the New Orleans Saints, had his secretary buy 100 jerseys on his credit card to show his support.
Then there is the story of Jose Fernandez, the 26 year-old pitcher for the Miami Marlins, who died tragically in a boating accident recently. Players and coaches dedicated the next home game to Jose, holding a touching tribute to him at the pitching mound before the game. After the national anthem, the entire New York Mets team, the opponents for the game, came out of their dugout and hugged each of the Marlins players. They even put up a Fernandez jersey hanging in their dugout to show their respects.
And just this weekend, at an Illinois- Nebraska college football game, there were more tears and hugs between rival teams. Nebraska tragically lost their kicker in a car accident this summer. Before each game, they bring his jersey out to the bench to keep his spirit close. They even lined up for their first punt of the season with 10 players, 1 less than required, to honour him during their first game. In a real show of empathy for the Nebraska players, the Illinois team had an Illinois jersey made for them with Sam Foltz's name and number on it, signed by each member of the team, and presented it to the captains of the Nebraska team. The team put the jersey next to theirs during the game as a way of showing unity in their sadness for a fallen player.
What am I getting at here anyway?
I had the chance to see former President Clinton speak once, and something he said during his speech really stuch with me. He said "I am convinced that if we truly see each other the way we now only do in a moment of common understanding over heart break....we will grow up in the most exciting time in human history."
What he was really talking about is being more empathetic and compassionate towards one another, the way that these athletes have been in their moments of tragedy and struggle. These massive mountains of men who play pro sports as modern-day gladiators can put their machismo aside to show another member of a team compassion - surely, we should be able to do the same.
Empathy is one of the 11 principles of Servant Leadership, a way of leading others through a more human approach - one that has us here excited, and something that has become a cornerstone of our practice. We believe that leading people in a way that allows our leaders to connect with their people more authentically creates a greater level of inclusion and engagement. It just makes sense.
But the second half of this is - why do we have to wait for tragedy to show each other empathy and compassion? Why aren't we doing this for each other on a daily basis? We have the ability to treat each other with far more kindness and compassion than we do- the opportunity to attempt to see the world through the view of others and walk a mile in their shoes. Why can't we all make a committment to be more aware of others and their feelings and situations?
It costs us nothing, but the return for us all can be amazing. Let's make the committment together to make this happen.