Approaches to Adversity: Understanding Your Role

I had the chance to see Roy Halladay pitch on Monday at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., disappointingly the only Phillies win of the series against the Nationals. The date marked almost a year since he threw his perfect game in Florida so I hoped the good spirits were pleasantly still fluttering around. The problem was that it was the hottest day of the year, over 100 degrees, and not a breeze to be felt (so much for the pulsating vibes). Anyone could tell it was not Roy’s day on the bump as he let up a leadoff line drive up the middle to Rick Ankiel. He then continued to struggle through most innings and ended up blowing a 3-2 lead giving up home runs to Danny Espinosa and Game 3’s hero Laynce Nix. The Phillies offense that day had some sweaty spirit and they mustered out some clutch hits to regain the lead in the top of the 7th. However, the defining moment came in the bottom of that inning with Mr. Halladay still firing cutters and sinkers and balls that somehow spin like none other. With runners at first and third and nobody out, last year’s Cy Young winner proved why he is an ace, why he is the life force behind this starting staff. He took one for the team, ricocheted a ball off of his leg and rung up Cora at third. The next hitter popped to left. Then, with well over 100 pitches and counting, he rung up former teammate Jayson Werth with a mid nineties fastball, clapped his glove with the utmost respect, and returned to the dugout with the lead, still in line for the win.

On the ride to the ballpark, I found out that Jim Tressel had resigned as head coach of Ohio State Football. The sweater vest would now be eliminated from the Big Ten wardrobe. As I look at it, resignation was the right decision for him at that time to save some face, because let’s face it, the NCAA most likely would have relived his duties sooner or later (probably later knowing the speed of the allegations committee). Tressel did not go down though because his players were selling trophies and merchandise illegally; he went down for lying about it. That’s really the bigger issue here, lying, covering up, hiding the truth.

CEOs and Presidents of big time companies and corporations we all know make the big bucks. It is easy to criticize them because well we hardly ever see them in a tight spot publicly. They usually get to sit in their huge office, smoke cigars, and just make sure everything is running smoothly. The reason they bring home lots of bacon is for their leadership in times of crisis. I mean, let’s be honest, I could probably run General Motors for a day, maybe even a week. However, when something like the financial collapse in 2008 happens, well that’s why the CEO better be good at what he does. He/She is the face of the company. Any average Johnny B. Good could go to the corporate events, schmooze at the wine tastings, and make snide comments on how the cheese spread is below par. But when the fire starts to spread, that’s when leadership comes into play. When the media comes to Mr. Tressel’s door and asks him about that e-mail he received, that’s when the CEO of Ohio State football has to understand his role.

But what is his role exactly? I was listening to 97.5 Philly sports talk the other day and Mike Missinelli came on and asked what Jim Tressel was supposed to do in regards to turning in his star players. Ohio State demands winning, as do the boosters and fans, each and every year. Jim Tressel though is not just a football coach, let’s get that straight. He works at a University. He is not just a guy that comes in for practices and games, collects his paycheck and says see you later. Tressel, like all college coaches, is a mentor and a teacher. His role is not just fostering a group of athletes, but a group of student athletes that abide by the rules and regulations on and off the field. Winning cannot come first, but understandingly it has. This is why I wish there were more coaches like Joe Paterno and it is the reason I quoted him in my high school yearbook. He knows the value of getting an education; he knows the value of getting kids straightened out and he knows the value of honesty, regardless of who it may affect.

Treachery is the last circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno, the allegory telling the journey of Dante through the conception of Hell with the guide of the poet Virgil. Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering, each one getting progressively worse based upon the sinful act. Some of the circles include lust, greed, anger and violence. Yet what supersedes them all is the ninth circle: Treachery. The punishment for these offenses: a frozen lake, one which holds a struggling Lucifer in the story. Dante implies that treachery may be done “coldly” with much prior thought and internal deliberation and is also the motivating force for all the previous circles.

In the same understanding, Tressel knew the implication once he opened up the email that explained the allegations. The CEO of his team, he deliberated for a while and thought the appropriate move was to cover it up, to save his football stars and pretend like he had no notion of the illegal activities of is own players. He had the choice, but he took the wrong path. You can keep breathing with a few kids trying to sell their stuff. You can’t survive when the buckeye boss is dishonest.

Roy Halladay was talking last week with Colin Cowherd, an Espn radio host, and he said something about his preparation that explained his brilliance on the mound. He said when he was developing his work ethic in Toronto, he would do the stretches, the throwing, the video tape preparing and not really know exactly why. Now, he says, he does it with a strong understanding of who he is and what he means to his team. His tireless training is about being able to compete at a high level knowing that everyone that has invested in him deserves it.

This is a man who responds the right way to adversity. This is a man who knows his role.

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