This past Sunday was Super Bowl XLVII (aka “The Harbowl”) and in the weeks leading up to the game, I had a dilemma. Not something earth-shattering, mind you – I wasn’t making huge decisions on the direction of my life and my place in the universe (at least not in relation to this football game)… but the dilemma of trying to decide who to root for in the game. And while this was not a decision of much import, it did reveal something interesting about myself in the process.
When I first began to consider which team to cheer for, my first instinct was based on my diehard fandom for the Dallas Cowboys: The 49ers have long been a major rival of ours and we are tied with 5 Super Bowl titles each. The 49ers winning would mean they pulled ahead of my beloved Cowboys! Sweet mother of God… such an injustice must be avoided! I must shout to the heavens my rage at such a thought!
But I thought about it a bit more and came to an uncomfortable realization: while it’s fine not to cheer for a long-time rival, the fact that I didn’t want them to pull ahead of my team on Super Bowl problems wasn’t a 49ers problem… it was a Cowboys problem. My issue was jealousy, really… jealousy over their team doing the right things to place themselves in a position to win that title while my own team has a record of 128-128 with 1 playoff win in 16 years.
I was having myself a nice, tall, bitter glass of Haterade and not even realizing it.
I decided to basically watch the game to enjoy it from an independent perspective, but I didn’t forget about that uncomfortable thought. You don’t have to cheer for your opponents, but when you resent their success, all you are really doing is ignoring the ugly truth of your own shortcomings or, worse still, making excuses to cover for them. I don’t ever want to be that guy. That guy is small and bitter and likely not that much fun at parties.
Along a similar line, I noticed something similar cropping up right before and just after Baltimore’s win in the Super Bowl and all of it focused on their talismanic leader, Ray Lewis. Lewis is considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) to ever play his position in the NFL, but he also has a very dark chapter in his past from a murder trial in 2000. Some believe Lewis was more involved in a fight that killed 2 men during Super Bowl week in Atlanta 13 years ago than he would admit or plead guilty to. Lewis agreed to testified against two other men in exchange for the murder charges being dropped against him. All in all, there is nothing good about this story.
But this is what struck me of late – the story has essentially disappeared from view over the last decade and with almost zero mention of it. The fans and press had basically moved on… well, moved on until Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis won this most recent Super Bowl in what would be the final game of his career. Suddenly that story was everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, the news, etc. Why had it become relevant all over again? Did new evidence emerge? Was there some new defining factor that made the story different?
No… all that changed was that Ray Lewis was ending his career winning one more title and I guess people didn’t like that. Out came the green-eyed monsters to tear him down.
Now, let’s be clear for a second – I’m not here to comment on whether Ray Lewis did it or not. I have no idea and I haven’t spent hours of time poring over the evidence and court testimony from the 2000 trial. That’s not my point. What strikes me is the extent to which people will bring a story like this back up when someone achieves such a high level of success. That there are those who only use this story as a tool to try and bring someone else down.
Do we really believe that the people doing this had a deep level of caring for the two men that were murdered that night in Atlanta? That they were crusaders of justice and truth? Of course not.
No one needs to be a fan of the 49ers. Or Ray Lewis. Or even my Cowboys (although you should really reconsider if you aren’t). But we all must guard against tearing down people, teams and organizations simply because they succeed. In those situations, we simply announce to the world our own insecurities when we should be praising the commitment of the winners. Even when we don’t like them.