Be Like Brady

This week I heard two sporting experts share stories about those they’d been asked to teach.  The first was a man from the BBC who trained commentators. He made the observation that ex-sports stars were actually better at taking instruction than those already involved in broadcasting, as they were used to being coached and were looking for direction, rather than assuming that they knew it all and had nothing to learn. The broadcaster who’d asked the question, and clearly been looking for a different kind of answer, seemed just a little put out.

The second was a top basketball coach who’d been asked to come and speak to the New England Patriots, one of the most consistently excellent American football teams of recent years. He recalled how the Patriot’s quarter back, Tom Brady, a man of extraordinary talent and experience, a player at the very top of his game, came and sat in the front row with his notebook out and wrote down every word that the coach said.

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How do the best get even better? By being teachable.

Every day’s a school day, right? I’ve always liked to think so, always considered myself someone who enjoys learning and is happy to pick up little bits of trivia and information I didn’t know and pass them on to others.

But what if you’ve been in the same classroom for a very long time? Your willingness to be taught begins to wane. You’re bored. You’ve been through all this before. You know this stuff already. These newer, younger, fresher people don’t know what it’s like around here. We tried that already. It didn’t work.

Eurgh.

I really don’t like that kind of attitude. It sucks the potential out of a conversation really fast.

The problem is I think I’m in danger of becoming one of those people.

You see I’ve sat in a couple of spaces in my life for quite a while, and I’ve begun to notice moments where these unhelpful attitudes have become my default. I don’t think I make those kinds of comments out loud (except I cringe now wondering if I might have), but I’ve definitely had moments where they’ve been threaded throughout my attitude and demeanour. I’ve become the very opposite of Tom Brady – and no one likes a know-it-all.

No one is helped by the cynic rolling their eyes. No one thinks you’re big and clever just staring out of the window at the back of class. And none of that is going to make the situation any better for you.

So this week I’m moving to plan B – Be Like Brady.

Regardless of where I am or who is in front of me, my attitude will be one of sitting up front, notebook out with pen poised, ready for the things this person has to teach me.

Because every day’s only a school day if you’re ready to learn.

 

*Photo credit: Calum MacAvlay

 

I’ll stand with you.

I am the daughter of not one, but two P.E. teachers. My brother is also a P.E. teacher. I am the apple that fell a little further from our family tree. I love watching sport, it’s just the taking part that I find so tiresome. This difference in our family dynamics is beautifully illustrated by the photos that adorn a bookshelf in my parents’ home. There’s a picture of my Mum as a young woman, standing proudly with a netball team. Then there’s my Dad, the embodiment of athleticism, ball in hand, sprinting down the wing of some rugby pitch of the past. My brother’s photo is of him, green tracksuited, with the Ireland Under 21 hockey squad. Stars one and all. Then there’s a picture of me, all dressed up to go to a school dance with my friends. No sporty shots of me in the family archive!

Being from this kind of family I grew up with stories of sporting folklore, particularly told by my Dad from his two favourite sports of rugby and athletics. And so it was that I came to hear of the Black Power Salute from the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Two African American athletes, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, had gained first and third place in the 200metres final. It was the time of the civil rights movement and so they decided to use this opportunity on a world stage to make their own protest. And so on the podium, after receiving their medals and while their national anthem was being played, they bowed their heads and raised a black-gloved fist.

This was a shocking moment in Olympic history. The athletes were boo-ed from the stadium. But over time, as things in America began to change, these men came to be seen as heroes of the civil rights movement. They both went on to have further involvement in the field of athletics, and the image of them on the podium can be seen in certain parts of the U.S. as both a mural and a statue.

This was the story as I knew it growing up.

Until a little BBC film during the London 2012 Olympics told me the story of the other man on the podium that day, Peter Norman, the Australian who came in second.

Tommy Smith and John Carlos felt it was only right that they share with Peter Norman what they were planning, given that he would be on the stage with them. And in that moment Peter Norman had a choice. He could have said, ‘Guys, I wish you well but I’m just going to take my medal and be on my way.’

But he didn’t. He said ‘I’ll stand with you’ and he wore a badge on his tracksuit in support of the civil rights movement.  In fact, just before the medal ceremony, Smith and Carlos realised that one of them had forgotten their black gloves and for a moment thought that they wouldn’t be able to make their protest. It was Peter Norman who told them to wear one glove each and raise alternate hands.

Peter Norman went back to Australia in disgrace. Four years later, even though he ran a qualifying time, he was not selected by the Australian Athletics Federation. He never was again. And years later he died in poverty and obscurity – but Tommy Smith and John Carlos were there to carry his coffin.

Why do I tell you this story?

Because sometimes it’s too easy for us to look the other way. To say ‘It’s not my fight. There’s not really anything I can do. I wouldn’t make a different anyway.’

But throughout history those being crushed under the weight of poverty and injustice have needed others to come alongside them and say ‘I’ll make your fight my fight. I’ll add my voice to yours so that together we will both be heard. I will take what is in my hand and add it to what is in yours so that a real difference can be made’

It’s not difficult to think of situations today where people need us to stand alongside them. Cast your eye around your neighbourhood and over the newspapers and you will see injustice on a local, national and global level. In each of those moments we have a choice. We can look the other way and tell ourselves that it’s not our fight and there’s nothing we can do, or we can roll up our sleeves and get involved. We can’t do that for every cause of course, but let’s not use the excuse of there being too much and too many to let ourselves off the hook and do too little or not at all.

Who might God ask you to stand up for today?

Where might he ask you to use your voice, your influence or your resources?

Are you willing for him to interrupt your day and your plans with something that may cost you?