The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
Are you sick and tired of living in a land of idiocy and mediocrity?
What if I told you there is a way to escape it and see excellence rise to the top?
The answers are right in front of our faces, like a long pass for a touchdown on the football field at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Bear with me for a minute while I lay this out.
When I was a student of journalism at the University of Alabama from 1981-83, Paul “Bear” Bryant was the winningest coach in college football history. It felt special to be in Tuscaloosa at the time, writing for the Crimson White newspaper.
But George Wallace won reelection as governor in 1982, so on the political front, Alabama remained a backwater state.
We obtained excellence on the football field, but no where else. Our favorite phrase was, “Thank God for Mississippi” because it was about the only state in the country worse off on all the lists ranking the states in education, income and the rest.
A few years ago a Birmingham teacher sent me a video he shot of The Bear talking to black students at Parker High School the day before the A-Day Game in 1973. I was able to get the video converted into digital format for YouTube. It has now been watched by more than 43,000 people at least, not counting those on Facebook. Once this link is shared on Facebook, the traffic doesn’t show up on YouTube.
After The Bear died in 1983, I helped cover his funeral. But Alabama limped along in football, in business, education and government — until Nick Saban came along in 2007 and brought with him his now famous mission statement about “excellence” that made all the new national championships possible.
Yet his message and his program remain largely ignored throughout the state in every other aspect of life off the football field. Why is that?
What if we all went to school on this and began applying it to other aspects of our lives, especially the government? What if a smart, charismatic politician were to come along and talk about this? Do you think it would help one get elected?
“Our mission statement here is to create an atmosphere and environment for everyone to be able to succeed, first of all as a person,” Saban says. “We want players to be more successful in life because they were involved in our program, by the principles and values that we’re able to develop with them so that they can be successful relative to the character and attitude they have as a football player here at this institution.
“The second thing is we want to be successful as students,” Saban says. “I always tell players in recruiting, there’s two things that we want you to do here, you’ve got two careers: one on the field, one off the field. The one off the field means you got to graduate from college. That’s the one that’s going to have the greatest impact on the quality of your life forever. We want to have a great academic support program. We want our players to succeed as students.
“The third is this. We want them to be the best football player they can be. We want every guy to reach their full potential as a football player, play together as a team, know how important it is to be a part of a team and fulfilling your role to that team,” he says. “The last thing is to use all the resources this institution has to help everyone launch their career when they have represented this institution, when they leave this institution, so they can be the most successful in their life because of their association with this university and the people that have made this university great.”
Saban didn’t come up with this philosophy over night. In 2004, he wrote a book called How Good Do You Want to Be?
In the how-to memoir, Saban shares his winning philosophy for creating and inspiring success, revealing things that would help anybody succeed at work and in life. He says “excellence” doesn’t happen overnight. It comes from hard work, consistency, the drive to be the best and a passion for what you do.
Some of the insights include:
Organization — Creating an environment where everybody knows his or her responsibilities, and each is responsible to the entire group.
Motivate to Dominate — Understand the psychology of teams and individuals, and use that knowledge to breed success.
No Other Way than Right — Practice ethics and values, and demand the same from your team.
Look in the Mirror — Maintain an understanding of who you are by knowing your strengths and your weaknesses.
Take the Saban Pledge of Excellence
Now, what if every member of our society — aspiring political leaders and government workers, corporate executives and workers down the line, journalists and environmental activists, educators and students — were to take up the Saban excellence challenge?
Do you think we could turn our economy around? Create a more honest and effective political system?
What if we took up the challenge of combating climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels and make the planet more livable in the future, instead of what seems to be an almost suicidal drive to make it uninhabitable for future generations — for the sake of short term profits for a few corporate executives and major stockholders?
When Donald Trump was running for president, he got the union vote by claiming that he was going to bring back all the lost jobs in the coal mines. It was a lie, but people fell for it. What if someone running for the United States Senate from Alabama, let’s say, were to show real leadership by saying publicly that we might not be able to save the jobs in the coal mines, but we could fund a reeducation program to get those workers in even higher paying, clean jobs building and installing wind mills and solar panels?
I think it’s possible. But it won’t be easy. Why? Because we have been doing so many things so wrong for too many years that it will take a major shift in our thinking and the way we do things to bring about significant cultural change. And the fact is, people who decide to become politicians and run for public office think they have to say the same old things politicians have always said, playing it safe to get themselves elected and then reelected.
The University of Alabama already had a long tradition of winning football to build on in Tuscaloosa, although the program had fallen into disrepute. The United States also has a history of success in many areas of government, media and business, although over the past few decades, we have allowed mediocrity to govern.
There is no more glaring example of idiocy and mediocrity than the administration of Donald J. Trump. The first thing we must do is acknowledge that and not repeat the mistake.
The American people also must wake up and realize that they should not be listening to idiots like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Roger Ailes (who just died), Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon of Breitbart News, conspiracy nut Alex Jones and other right-wing talk radio shock jocks. They are the modern-day snake oil salesmen who help keep our political system mired in the confusion of the past.
I don’t know of anyone who would denounce Nick Saban’s notion of putting the team over the individual as “socialism.” Remember the objective standard from Star Trek? “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”
No where is this more important than tax policy and health care. It used to be a standard principal of American democracy that if everybody paid their fair share of taxes, we could take care of the least amongst us.
It is a principal right out of The Bible itself, but even a politician like Judge Roy Moore who claims the Ten Commandments is the foundation of our laws (this is not true by the way), who was kicked off the state Supreme Court twice and is now running for the Senate, will not embrace this line of thinking. If it is to be believed, Jesus said people will be judged by God for how they “treat the least of these” my brethren. He also said, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”
How does this jibe with the state and national Republican party wanting to gut health care for the poor and cut taxes for the rich? This does not even make practical economic sense. The Chicago School of Economics has been promoting this false line of thinking for decades. Trickle down has not worked yet, and it never will.
The record is clear that when the rich and corporations pay more taxes, the economy performs better, and the government at all levels has the money to pay for all the services people demand. We can build roads and bridges, pay for police and fire protection, provide jobs, educatin and health care for everybody.
But we live in greedy times. When ego and narcissism rule, people get fooled and screwed.
There are a number of competing groups out there now trying to figure out how to recruit candidates to run for public office to compete with these self-serving Republicans. But the Democrats will not have success trying to out Christian conservative them. People are looking for someone who is willing to speak truth to power, to tell it like it is.
So here it is. Some individuals must sacrifice for the team. Otherwise, you just get a ball hog who may score more points than anyone else. But the team loses. The country loses. We all lose.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.