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Religion, Sports, and the Obama Administration

How not to be a team player.

By Will Offensicht  |  March 14, 2012

The New York Times recently argued that religion and sports are destined always to be in conflict.  They note that sports is egotistic and centered on victory rather than on the personal virtue that's an essential part of most major religions:

The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame. It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions.

The basic sports culture which glorifies victory and individual heroism at all costs is the direct opposite of Christianity which values humility and serving others:

The religious ethos is about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God.

Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.

The Times believes that Jeremy Lin's athletic performance puts him in inherent and irreconcilable conflict with his religious beliefs.  The Times sees no way to reconcile the assertive, proud, self-centered champion athlete and the religious view that people are at their best when serving others and by being involved in causes much larger than themselves.

The Forbes View

In "10 Lessons Jeremy Lin Can Teach Us Before We Go To Work Monday Morning," Forbes took a different view of Mr. Lin:

When you make others around you look good, they will love you forever. I didn’t know how good Tyson Chandler was, until I saw him playing with Jeremy Lin.  Lin has set Chandler up many times over the last week for easy dunks because he drew the defense and then passed the ball.  That’s partly why the Knicks are playing so well.  They are all working harder to share the ball with others.  And it’s beautiful to watch.  And when the media swarms Lin, he tells them how good his teammates are.  [emphasis added]

Other media pointed out that although Mr. Lin has a decent scoring average, he also has a high number of assists.  His passing the ball makes the whole team play better.

We saw the same phenomenon with Tim Tebow in football.  When he took over, they went "from worst to first" and made the playoffs.  Tebow kept telling everyone how good his teammates were.  His encouragement made the defense, of which he isn't even a part, play well above themselves.

Mr. Lin and Mr. Tebow's self-effacement and praise of their teammates make their associates play better than they think they can.  Of such self-deprecation are great leaders made - and being a humble servant-leader is very much in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Whither Teamwork?

The self-centered, "me first" attitude the Times associates with professional sports may work in solitary endeavors such as boxing, tennis, or golf, but it sure doesn't work in team sports.  The most brilliant quarterback can't win unless his linemen give him time to throw and his receivers catch the ball.  As Gisele Bundchen, wife of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady pointed out, her husband can't "f***ing throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time."  Neither can Mr. Tebow or Mr. Lin - they depend on their teammates for success.

Most books on leadership counsel leaders to cultivate their followers, encourage them, bring them along, share credit, and be lavish with encouragement and praise.  That's exactly what the Times disparages as "the last shall be first; it’s not about you."

Teamwork in the Obama Administration

What has this to do with the Obama Administration?  Mr. Obama has never held a job where he was directly accountable for anything.  Consider how he addressed the nation after our intelligence services tracked down Mr. Bin Laden and the seals killed him:

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden.  It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground.  I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan.  And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability.

Note the extensive use of the vertical pronoun.  Mr. Obama seems to have confused commanding with leading; he was clearly taking most if not all of the credit for an action in which he did nothing more than flap his jaws.

Forbes pointed out that if you make your associates look good, they'll follow you anywhere.  Mr. Reagan told Americans that we were a great nation and that we'd fix our problems.  His cheering us on made it so.

Mr. Obama, in contrast, keeps telling all other nations how bad we've been and telling us that the pain will go on for a long time.  He's telling us that he can't fix the economy.

Of course he can't!  Nobody can fix our economy, no administration can fix our economy any more than Tom Brady can throw and catch at the same time.  Building our economy was a team effort with the government mostly getting out of the way and cheering.

Getting out of the way is known to work, by the way.

Stimulus?  Who needs that?  Just get out of the way!

Until Deng Xiaoping decided to let Chinese "animal spirits" loose, the Chinese economy was moribund.  The graph shows what happened when the government got out of the way.

Did the Chinese government make the Chinese economy explode?  No, individual Chinese entrepreneurs and businessmen did it once the dead hand of government was lifted.

Do Mr. Lin or Mr. Tebow win games all by themselves?  No, their encouragement spurs their teammates to play above themselves and they win games together.

Our businessmen could use a little more encouragement and a lot less griping from the Obama Administration.  Mr. Obama may play at basketball, but he sure doesn't understand teamwork.