Janice Byrd of McKinney: Respect is no gameHow 'bout them Cowboys and their new sense of respect?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I don't follow football, participate in or watch sporting events, except for those games played by my grandchildren or the Baylor Bears. So when the front page of The Dallas Morning News referenced a story about Baylor's football coach leaving, I turned to SportsDay and read the article. Of course, I couldn't just read one story, and it was there that I learned about Dallas Cowboys' Coach Wade Phillips' "contract" with his players.
In a column, "Phillips' message of respect sinks in," Kevin Sherrington describes how Mr. Phillips had the naiveté and nerve to ask his players to promise not to incur penalties after the ball is dead. (Evidently, such flagrant infractions had cost the Cowboys penalties and points in previous games.)
Perhaps the idea of pledging voluntary compliance is a first for professional football players, but it's been a disciplinary and teaching tool used by parents and teachers for a long time. The whole abstinence-only curriculum and the resulting debate is based on such a pledge. The "True Love Waits" campaign asks young people to sign a card expressing their intentions not to have sexual intercourse until they are married.
Reports now indicate that a percentage of those youth who promised to wait did not. Even in those cases, however, their sexual activity was delayed by years. (It remains to be seen how long the Cowboys can delay or desist their bad-boy behavior.)
Conscience is a powerful motivator, especially when it has been informed by someone who has modeled the desired behavior or attitude. Mutual love and respect is a fertile breeding ground for a good conscience.
Cowboy Greg Ellis said as much when he explained the unusual contract Mr. Phillips proposed: "That showed his respect for us." Another player, Ken Hamlin, said that he thought it was "a mature way to make the players accountable." There is a lesson here for all of us who want to influence good behavior in others and in society in general.
Throughout history, people have seen the value of signing a pledge, taking a vow in front of witnesses and making a public commitment. No matter what belief system, faith or philosophy of life one has, behaving contrary to one's own code of conduct produces guilt and unhappiness. The fact that others know of the duplicity doubles the misery and usually facilitates a change of behavior. As Jiminy Cricket said to Pinocchio, "Let your conscience be your guide."
At the end of Mr. Sherrington's column, he asks Cowboy player Keith Davis, "What happens if you break the pledge?" Mr. Davis replied, "I don't want to find out." When was the last time you heard anyone, young or old, express such awe – what the Bible calls fear – for the consequences of breaking a promise or disappointing a respected friend/mentor/parent?
Although I've never been much of a sports fan, I am a movie buff. Recently a houseguest who knows me quite well was perusing my collection of DVDs and videos and asked me why I had so many sports movies. Hoosiers, The Rookie, Remember the Titans and Rudy are all on my list of favorites. I like stories about an underdog coming out on top after a demonstration of perseverance, courage, sacrifice, hard work and doing the right thing.
Mr. Phillips made it easier for the Cowboys to do the right thing, and it appears to be helping on the scoreboard as well. The mutual respect the coach and players show toward each other and their opponents will vouchsafe their contract. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Dallas "Badboys" could show us all how to keep a promise? That would be a movie worth watching.
Janice Byrd of McKinney is library director of the First Baptist Church of McKinney, a book performer and a former Voices of Collin County volunteer columnist. Her e-mail address is Janice@JaniceByrd.com.