One of us (Michelle) had a great observation following this past weekend’s NFL games, which represented the final weekend of the regular season and also followed the heart-rendering collapse of Damar Hamlin on Monday Night Football the previous week.
People made a lot of the fact that the Bills and Bengals all knelt together in prayer for Hamlin, and talked a great deal about the “class” it showed that competitors would join together in this way. But this is really not that unusual. Michelle pointed out that we often see players hugging each other at the end of a game – just minutes after they’ve been pummeling each other on the field.
That’s because the players understand the game isn’t personal. (At least most of them do!)
This is their job. You crash into a guy because that’s what you’re there to do, not because you hate him or have any sort of problem with him personally. Sure, there are times when emotion gets the best of players and they take swings at each other. But fundamentally, two teams don’t go at it because they hate each other. They go at it because that’s how the game is played. You can’t be a professional athlete without opponents, after all. These teams need each other.
The players hugging on the field get that. And while it’s getting more attention now because of Damar Hamlin’s near-death and astonishing recovery (he was released from the hospital a week after the incident and has already gone back to Buffalo), circles of players from both teams kneeling in prayer after the game has been a long-time practice in the NFL. It’s not just Tim Tebow. It’s lots of guys.
But do the fans get that?
Often we see fans so worked up about a game, they can’t distinguish a rival team from an enemy trying to kill their families. We see people on social media going at each other like they are combatants in a war.
And it’s not just sports. This has always been true to some degree in politics, but it seems worse than ever now. Most of the people who serve in public office – including people of opposite parties – work together without incident from one day to the next, and while they disagree, they realize the party thing isn’t personal. The people who elect them, however, seem increasingly incapable of telling the difference between ideological opponents and evil mutants deserving of death.
It seems to us that, in business, people have long understood we have to compete and that this is ultimately healthy for customers and for the overall economy – and even for us, because competition makes you better.
But we wonder: Is that now being lost? In a culture that seems quick to judge the moral fitness of people for the tiniest of things, have we lost the ability to recognize that people can disagree, or can compete in business, or can face off on the playing field, or can even run against each other for office – and that doesn’t make them enemies?
Sometimes you hear people urging us to “put aside our petty differences.” Well. Not all differences between people are petty. Some of them are serious and are not that easy to iron out. But just because you have differences – even very serious differences – doesn’t mean you can’t be their friends. Maybe that starts with recognizing that the brotherhood we see on the football field is really an all-the-time thing. It doesn’t only happen when someone gets hurt. The players know the game isn’t personal. Neither is business competition. Neither is politics when it’s being practiced by mature adults.
The nation’s athletes, candidates and CEOs don’t need people hating others on their behalf when they’re not even engaged in the hate themselves.