Andy Kirkaldy: Thankful for the joy of teamwork
It’s still a little close to Nov. 8 to feel thankful right now, but strangely enough sports helps, particularly the team sports I have always played and followed and enjoyed.
The most successful teams have consistent rules that apply to all equally, assign roles solely based on merit, value individual quirks and differences for what they can contribute to the whole, foster trust and respect among their members, and fare best when they achieve that elusive “chemistry,” when all are willing to sacrifice for the greater good and to support their teammates.
I am thankful to have played on a number of teams like that — volleyball, softball, basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey.
There have also been countless moments playing pickup basketball and soccer over the years with players where random groups have come together and something has clicked. Suddenly the whole became more than the parts. Backdoor cuts were anticipated and passes completed for layups. Back-heel passes were made and soccer balls tapped into open nets.
Teams can create structure be created wordlessly, naturally, beautifully. And I don’t believe I am the only one who shows up at those games looking for those moments as much, if not more than, individual glory.
Cooperation is fun, and it is practical. Teams that cooperate more succeed more.
That thought brings us to one place where sports, the election, and team ethos have all collided, and with mixed results, the New England Patriots.
Over the years, the Patriots have succeeded because their leader, Coach Bill Belichick treats everybody equally — if they do their job, they are rewarded, whether they are high draft picks or undrafted free agents — and Quarterback Tom Brady is not only talented, but also the hardest-working player on the team. Chemistry is generally good, and the whole has exceeded the sum of the parts.
But this year Belichick and Brady went public with their support of Donald Trump for President.
Why is it relevant? Well, the Patriots lost their first game after the election, a game that came after a two-week break against a team playing on short rest and had to travel from the West Coast.
And they didn’t exactly set the world on fire winning vs. San Francisco on Sunday. And more than half of the team is African-American. I’m guessing they don’t feel too harmonious about their leaders’ public support for a racist Presidential candidate.
The other thing that happened before the loss to Seattle was the puzzling trade of linebacker Jamie Collins to the Browns for a low-round draft pick. The whispers were that Collins free-lanced too much and, as a free-agent-to-be, was asking for too much money.
Here’s what Belichick had to say about the deal on WEEI-FM radio: “We did what we felt was best for the football team. There were a lot of things to take into consideration. I’m sure we could bring up a lot of things to talk about. But in the end, that’s really the bottom line.”
Translation: “No comment.”
Other published rumors had it that at least some Patriots were not happy about their teammate’s treatment — much as they were in 2009, when Belichick mysteriously traded Richard Seymour and also disciplined four players for being late to a meeting. During a major snowstorm. The Patriots underperformed that year. The Ravens blew them out of Gillette Stadium in the playoffs.
I wouldn’t bet the rent money on New England this year.
But teams can also show us a way forward. I don’t believe the 2013 Boston Red Sox were the most talented group in baseball, and specifically that they were better than the Detroit Tigers. But somehow the “Fear the Beard” Sox defeated the Tigers, and then the Cardinals.
That team had unusual harmony — and unity of purpose after the April Boston Marathon bombing. The “Boston Strong 617” Jersey hung in the Sox dugout all summer and all fall as a reminder to the members of the team there was something bigger and more important than each of them.
That’s what part of being a team should be, and really what part of being a citizen should be.
We really are stronger if we — all of us, in all our diversity — play well together.
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