When the One Great Scorer in the sky
comes to write against your name
He marks not whether you won or lost
But how you played the game.
— Grantland Rice, sportswriter
Those words of Grantland Rice echoed through my mind all this past Saturday as I watched TV and read the news reports of those who "played the game."
Rice was known as the "Voice of Sports" in the 1920s and the 1930s. He was a sportswriter who knew that the most important aspect of sports in our society was the impact sports had and has on our fundamental principles, ethics and values. He was a man very concerned with ethics in everyday life.
When he went off to serve in World War I, he entrusted his entire life savings to a friend. The friend invested badly. When Rice returned from the war, his friend told him there was nothing left. His friend then committed suicide.
Rice put some of the blame on himself for giving his friend too much responsibility and too much temptation. Rice then accepted his own responsibility and paid a stipend to his friend's widow for the rest of her life. Rice was a man who could not only eloquently describe ethical action but actually live ethical action as well.
So, the words of this most ethical of sportswriters echoed through my mind as I listened to the broadcast of the Kentucky-Indiana basketball game Saturday afternoon.
The commentator was talking about the success of the Tennessee men's basketball team this year, lamenting the trouble the coach, Bruce Pearl, was having with the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA.
It seems Pearl had admitted to violating NCAA rules. But his admission was slow in coming, and not before he lied to the NCAA about the violations and then got caught in his lies and then admitted to his lies. The commentator said Pearl would not be around some collegiate programs long for committing such egregious infractions but Pearl was a winner; and because he knew how to win, Tennessee was not going to get rid of him for merely breaking the rules and lying about it.
Then, Rice's words echoed through my mind.
That night, I watched Auburn University's Cameron Newton awarded the Heisman Trophy at the New York Athletic Club. Newton who, while a scholarship student-athlete at the University of Florida, was implicated in the theft of a laptop computer from another student. Just recently, the NCAA ruled that his father tried to get illegal payments from Mississippi State University in return for his son going there to play football.
While all of that was the inescapable truth, all of the commentary during the Heisman ceremony was about what a great football player Newton is and how he is leading his team to a possible national championship. The commentary went on to tell us he would probably be the No. 1 draft pick for the National Football League and go on to make millions of dollars.
Once again, Rice's words echoed.
But apparently those words don't echo through the minds of NCAA officials, SEC officials, university presidents and sports commentators. Or maybe they have all turned those words upside down. They seem to have never considered that many of the so-called winners of today are not truly inherent winners. Rather they are winners mainly because they break all the rules.
But worst of all, those are the very people who should know that one of the major ways our young people learn principles, ethics and values is through sports. Our young people learn these important life principles by playing sports, watching sports and reading about sports. From these lessons, they go on to be adults and apply the principles they have learned from sports to their life's work.
Rice knew this was true when he wrote his immortal words years ago. The trouble is, who cares anymore? Winning is everything to a majority of people in most of life's endeavors. Winning is money, and money is winning. Only a fool believes in principles and ethics and values.
If you don't believe that, just relive last Saturday and think about what sports taught us and, more importantly, taught our children on that cold winter afternoon. Then, think about where we are as people in America.
The next time you think about complaining about the problems with America, think about Grantland Rice and how we play the game.