The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart. ~ Robert Green Ingersoll
Who hasn’t tasted defeat? I have and it hurts. I’ve competed in Tae Kwan Do, Cycling, Cooking, and Business. And in these competitive endeavors I’ve often felt well-prepared and ready for battle. Over the years I’ve brought home trophies, medals, glory, newspaper clippings, TV and magazine appearances, grand prizes, and cash. I’ve also brought home wounds, stitches, bruises, and scars of all shapes and sizes. In one rather memorable NORBA-sanctioned Mountain Bike race, I knew, just knew I would win. I can’t remember being more prepared or more confident than at any time in my life. Then as soon as the starter’s pistol fired, I was waylaid by another rider and hit the ground hard enough to get a mouth full of dirt and gravel embedded in an elbow. I managed to finish in third place.
I’ve been humiliated by a trio of kids on a Food Network show that was supposed to be fun entertainment but it sure felt like a winner take all competition to me. So that’s how I approached it. And when the kids overwhelmingly voted for the other chef, wow, did that hurt. Yeah, nothing like having millions of folks watch along as you get your butt handed to you by twelve year-olds.
As I’ve I grown older, I’ve learned to be prepared for defeat. It still hurts but it should also make me stronger, more resilient, and hopefully more gracious. I’ve also helped others compete and I’ve prepared them for victory, and defeat. Because at the end of the day, we have to be ready to accept the outcome. We can’t blame the officials, the fans, the field of play or the opponents. When we compete, we better have a keen understanding of the rules, our teammates, and our own abilities.
Which brings me to Cam Newton.
There’ so much to like about the guy. Of course his athletic abilities are super human and he’s done wonders for the Panthers. And I like his approach to the game. I love the way he signals a first down, the way his cadence can disrupt the opposing team, and the high fives he gives to his fans after a victory. And honestly I can’t remember any pro football player taking that much interest in the fans, or his teammates. At the NFC championship game, he had all the names of his teammates inscribed on his shoes. With respect to children, especially the ones battling a life-threatening illness, he goes above and beyond what any player in my recollection has done. Yeah, there’s a lot to like about Cam.
And then this happened.
And we all know it was wrong. But just catch your breath for a minute and understand that Cam is the leader of the team, not the leader of the organization. There’s Jerry Richardson and after that there’s a host of administrative staff; a GM, assistant GM, Director of Player Engagement, Team Administrator, HR Director, and so on. So my question is, did any of these people prepare Cam Newton for defeat? I know, Cam should’ve been more professional and gracious. But the man is 26 years old and he’s just had his butt handed to him in the most important performance of his life. Of course he’s going to be disappointed and dejected. Plus the NFL decided to cram both teams into the same conference room so he has to listen to the opposing team brag about their victory. The real question is why the heck was he allowed to go in front of the press in such a foul mood? Wasn’t there anyone in the Panthers organization that had prepared him for this moment?
When Apollo 11 lifted off on its way to the moon, President Nixon had a speech ready just in case the astronauts died. And he was prepared to read it. General Eisenhower had a concession speech ready in case the Normandy landings failed. It’s the hallmark of a great leader to prepare themselves.
Physically and mentally, Cam, and the Panthers, were ready to play football. He’s a tough competitor and I have no doubt he walked into that stadium in the best shape of his life. He’s had an amazing year and he’s led his team through adversity and glory. He’s done wonders for the organization yet when he needed the Panthers organization in his corner, they weren’t there.
Are you prepared for defeat? Are your people?
Work hard. Work smart. Know your opponent’s weakness and exploit them. And when all is said and done and you’ve given it your best shot and you still end up in second place, will you throw yourself on the floor and kick and scream? Or will you hold your head high, do a little self-evaluation, then plot your comeback?