“Talent aside. . . the only prerequisite for acceptance in the locker room is you got to be willing to contribute to the greater good, and if you are willing to do that you are readily accepted, and if you are not, you are pretty much quickly rejected."
“Now we got all kinds in this place. We got white, we got black, we got Latin, we got Asian, we got Samoan, we got Tongan, we got Native Americans.
“I played and coached with them all, and the only thing that made any difference is ‘Are you willing to help?’ And if you are in, come on in, and if you are not, get the heck out of here.”
Bill Parcells delivered these words in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2013. Declaring that “the locker room is a great laboratory for human behavior” and attributing that declaration to fellow Hall of Famer Steve Young, Parcells’ words resonate today.
We read, hear, and say the names of victims of violence in the summer of 2016 from Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Officers Michael Krol, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Brad Garafola, Matthew Gerald, and Montrell Jackson. Violence and divisiveness dominate traditional and social media. Why not stop and think about Parcells’ words? What if the names we read, hear, and say were connected not by violence but by sport, what if they were your teammates? People you had spent time with in a locker room, coached by one of the greats?
All over America, sports teams at all levels from youth to professional bring together people of all races. Most of these competitors care only that their teammates work hard and contribute to the greater good. Together, teams experience a huge range of emotions. Parcells described the emotions in the locker room and the priceless education there:
“We got a wide range of emotions . . . happiness, humor, practical jokes, success, achievement, and that momentary time of exhilaration when you hoist that championship trophy over your head. Some mystical blood kinship is formed, a fleeting moment, but that kinship lasts for the rest of your life. . . When something goes wrong, all the others rush to help.
“On the other side of that locker room, there is darkness, there is defeat, there is despondency, there is pain . . . .They don’t put that on television, but I was there to see it. There is pain; there is injury tragedy and death. I wish all of American society could have experienced what I did. It is a priceless, priceless education.”
If people who have worked together for the greater good of a team can continue to come together after moving on from those teams, think about what such a group could accomplish in terms of developing that "blood kinship" and spreading that "priceless education."
A final thought from Parcells, which he attributes to a plaque in the New York Giants locker room, quoting Emlen Tunnell, the first black player inducted into the Football Hall of Fame, in 1967. "Losers assemble in little groups and complain about the coaches and the players in other little groups, but winners assemble as a team."
Fifty years later, can we assemble as a team?