D1: Hawks For Humanity
For the past seven years, ever since the 2014 Winter Olympics was granted to Sochi, Russia, I’ve been talking about going to 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It’s hard to believe I’m on a plane heading – with a tailwind, I might add – straight into that conversation. But I can’t stop thinking about the Super Bowl.
It’s no secret which team I picked to win the game in New Jersey this past weekend. I did it back in August. So I was smiling Sunday evening as I watched Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson hoist the Lombardi Trophy after orchestrating one of the most lopsided victories in Super Bowl history. But not because they made me look smart. Because the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl is good for the future of the National Football League and its players.
Last spring and summer, I spent a good amount of time in Seattle reporting a story on the Seahawks for our annual NFL preview issue. I left that experience hopeful that the program Pete Carroll was building and the culture he was creating would prove to be not only successful, but a blueprint for the rest of the league. The NFL is a copycat league. When a team wins utilizing anything considered experimental or different – say, two tight-end sets in New England – the other 31 follow suit.
But the Seahawks don’t do much of anything special between the lines. As “new school” as their approach is off the field, their game is decidedly old-school. They play solid, hard-nose football, meticulously clean offense and damn exciting, but simple, defense. It’s unlikely teams will show up in New York in April jockeying to draft a 5’9” quarterback or use the free agency period to take on “reclamation projects” tossed aside by other teams. (Unless, of course, they steal GM John Schneider away from the Hawks. The man can spot talent.) No, the way the Seahawks will profoundly affect the NFL is by spreading what they are doing off the field.
It’s not rocket science. Care about people and they will care about you back. They will work harder. Give someone a reason to trust you and they will. Challenge people to do their jobs better than they’ve ever been done before, give them the tools and the incentive to do so and the collective power of an entire organization of people doing so every day – from the quarterback to the punter to the team chef – will prove greater than the sum of its roster.
It’s easy to say Pete Carroll is ahead of his time, but in fact, he’s right with in line with it. It’s the rest of the league that’s terribly out of step with the times.
In the months after my story was published, I was disappointed how few radio hosts and TV commentators I heard talking about what was taking place in Seattle. Not because I wanted to hear them talking about a story I wrote. It wasn’t my story. I simply had the privilege of being the first person to tell it and the good fortune to have editors who believed it was a story worth telling. When a few reporters or analysts touched on what was taking place in Seattle, it always seemed to be with an audible eye roll. They joked about the team’s weekly yoga sessions – something many teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, have been doing since the early 2000s – because it was more acceptable conversation than the uncomfortable topic of mental health and the lack of attention to it by the NFL.
Or they asked if a team could win playing “pansy” football. (A question I heard posed on a radio show by one of m
y colleagues.) They dismissed the Hawks hiring a high-performance psychologist and downplayed the importance of meditation and mental training in sports. Most, however, just ignored what was taking place off the field in Seattle altogether. My assumption was they didn’t know how to talk about a head coach who instructed his coaching staff to care about players, know them better than anyone everhad, treat each of them as equally important, coach them and love them. They didn’t understand high-performance psychology or meditation and were fearful they’d sound soft talking about it. So they didn’t.
After Sunday, it’s a topic no one can ignore.
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