Why “Living in a Vacuum” Sucks:
How Recent Terrorist Attacks and Police Shootings Prove that
Narrow Perspectives Fuel Hatred and Fear
By Larry Centers and Rita Mort
When we started A-Game Sports marketing a few months ago, we quickly realized that we spent as much time discussing how the social climate impacts the marketing of our clients, events and fundraisers as we did discussing our clients, events and fundraisers themselves. For instance, we:
· Strategized about how we could help a prominent former professional athlete whose PR people had grossly mishandled a media attack.
· Decided to write a certain article because an NFL team owner said something that negatively impacted a critical player safety effort.
· Created a nonprofit organization that helped former pro athletes with their fundraising efforts rather than create our own nonprofit because we saw how many of our friends were being swindled by their “hangers-on.”
· Trademarked a Super Bowl Week party concept that features professional comedians and hilarious Hall of Famers because we saw first-hand how effective comedy was at breaking down barriers among current and former athletes and – by extension – the public at large.
In short, we quickly discovered we could not operate our sports marketing business “in a vacuum” any more than nature can operate in a vacuum. More than two thousand years ago, Aristotle taught us that nature despises a vacuum. Any potential void is filled with something instantaneously.
The same is true in society. When people grow up in a social vacuum – with no exposure, little exposure, or negative exposure to the points of view of others – that vacuum WILL be filled with something. And unfortunately, that “something” is far more likely to be bad than good. Or as Tennessee Williams once said, “A vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the things we fill it with.”
Recent and numerous terrorist attacks, police killings of unarmed citizens, and sniper shootings of innocent police officers prove this far too well. Certain groups’ inability to embrace the humanity of those they perceive as “the enemy” leaves all of us feeling empty, paranoid and “trigger happy” – both figuratively and literally.
But what if these people could take a page from the world of sports? On a successful team – and we are all teammates in this world whether we want to admit it or not – you MUST “have the back” of the man or woman next to you. You may come from different parts of the country or world, have different colored skin, different religious beliefs – you name it. But, you will NOT succeed if you allow your ignorance to prevent you from focusing on similarities and common goals instead of differences
Militant, Islamic terrorist groups believe there should be just one point of view – theirs. In the recent terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, a young Muslim man stood up for two of his female, American friends. When these girls were unable to recite passages from the Koran, rather than abandon them, the young man stayed. For that, he was murdered himself. So where can we take a page from the world of sports in this type of tragedy?
Perhaps we should ask Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was a reason Barrack Obama named Rooney the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The Irish Republican Army was a powerful terrorist organization for hundreds of years. The long-standing hatred between Irish Protestants and Catholics over British control of Northern Ireland created an automatic weapons cottage industry funded by wealthy Catholics throughout the world.
What finally “fixed” it? Many credit the work of Dan Rooney & others through the Ireland Funds, which brought Northern Ireland Catholic and Protestant children together for summer camp. It is easy to hate a nameless, faceless “enemy.” But, it’s difficult to hate your buddy from summer camp. It only takes a generation to change hundreds of years of hatred if you do it the RIGHT way.
With regard to the police killings of unarmed citizens, we could again take a page from sports. Police are supposed to protect and serve, not attack and kill. Successful coaches lead by example. They earn the respect of their players by being tough, but FAIR. There is nothing fair about shooting an unarmed therapist – particularly when he has his hands in the air and is telling police that his patient does not have a weapon. There is also nothing fair about pulling someone over for a minor infraction, and allowing a “trigger happy” mentality to severely impact judgement and make people distrust the police instead of respect them. There are far too many police officers who appear to be afraid to do their [admittedly dangerous] jobs. But if an offensive blocker worried more about getting hurt than he did helping a running back gain yardage, no team would ever win a football game.
Football also shows us that being assertive is good; being abusive is counterproductive. For instance, if you have teammates who consistently cost the team yardage through penalties for unnecessary roughness, they can do you as much damage as players who play too timidly. Ask the Cincinnati Bengals. They GAVE last year’s playoff game away. They were not beaten; they beat themselves. The same is true of many police officers today. Pulling people over for “Driving While Black” – and using excessive and even deadly force against the unarmed – is making young, angry, inner-city youth even angrier. As the saying goes, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you.”
And last but not least, the recent police shootings in Dallas are another example of the complete void of a “team mate” mentality in today’s society. Fights break out in hockey all the time. However, aggression is generally taken out against the person who actually DID something to you. What good would it do to hop on a plane, walk out into the middle of game between two OTHER NHL teams, and decide to clock some guy who had nothing to do with knocking your teeth out last week?
History shows us that sometimes things get so bad that you need to take a stand. However, killing five innocent police officers and devastating their families because they “look like” the bad guy, does nothing but make those who sympathized with your cause lose all interest in supporting you. After all, you’re nothing more than a terrorist yourself now. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Peaceful protests and all citizens banding together to demand justice for the least of our brothers is the only thing that will end this downward spiral.
What else should we do? We should promote efforts that bring opposing groups together. City officials should give citizen’s advocacy groups and the media open access to police departments. And, we should promote the GOOD things they are doing, as well as the bad, to give people hope. Nonprofit organizations should make a concerted effort to focus on programs that teach young people about racial and religious tolerance. Police officers should embed themselves in the community, and be seen as fair and approachable. What happened to police officers stopping by a playground & engaging in a little pick-up basketball with neighborhood kids? And speaking of athletics, sports heroes who have a “greater than average” opportunity to influence the opinions of others should lead by example in highlighting their own friendships with people who don’t look and act like them. We discussed this very topic earlier this week at an NFL Players Association meeting in Dallas.
After all, life is a lot like a game of football. If you don’t play just as hard for the guy to the left of you and guy to the right of you as you play for yourself, you WILL NOT succeed. It is a lot more fun to win than it is to lose. Losing is sad. And we believe the nation and world is beyond sad. We’re literally in mourning over the ultimate loss: respect for our fellow man.
To blindly look the other way when facing the most compelling challenges of our lifetime cannot be justified. We have a responsibility to young people who will reference and critique our actions someday. And the more notoriety and influence we have, the greater our responsibility. The stakes are high for us to rise to the occasion, and to go down in history as having at least given these challenges our most valiant effort.
We’re all in this together. And if we don’t start acting like it, we might as well just walk off the field. We’re all filling our vacuums with hated and fear. And you know what?