The number one political question I get these days is, “How do you put up with all the written abuse you get.” To answer that question I have to share a lesson I learned years ago.
I began playing little league tackle football in the 5th grade. This lesson came a few years later while playing on my first school sponsored team. In those days coaches were a mix of World War II and Korean War vets, and most were country boys. They had a great influence on my life.
This was our final practice before our first preseason game. The coach told us the starting positions depended on our performance in a scrimmage that afternoon. In this scrimmage our offense would start on the 20 yard line. They got 6 points for a touchdown, if our defense held them we got 6. The scrimmage would last for an hour.
I was a defensive linebacker and made a misread on the first or second play. When a linebacker makes a misread, and moves to correct, he is often immediately met by one or two offensive linemen. That happened and not only did they score on that play, but I was smashed to the ground by an offensive guard. I was shook up, embarrassed, and blew the next two plays because my head wasn't in the game.
Our defensive coach came over and asked me what was up. I talked about the score and began to make excuses. He said, “You see those guys over on the sideline? Some are there because they don't know yet if they want to play football, others are there because they just don't have the physical stamina or skills, but there are a few there because of their attitude. I want you to go to the sideline, stand by Mitch and his buddies, and keep your mouth shut 'til I call you.” I can't remember ever being as embarrassed as I was while trotting off that field. In four years of football I had never been sidelined.
As soon as I got to the sideline Mitch began running down the coach. The guys around him were agreeing and adding their criticisms. He dissed the coach for a while, then he began talking about our teammates on the field, how sorry they were and that the only reason they were playing is because they were all cheaters. Then in a bitter tone he said, “When I tell my dad tonight that coach will be sorry. Dad 'ill make him wish he had never sidelined me. He'll have his job...” This went on for a whole series, and then the coach called me back onto the field. As I ran toward the coach, Mitch and his crowd called me names.
As I reached the coach he grabbed my pads and pulled my face mask about an inch away from his face. In a drill sergeant tone He said, “Son, you're going to make mistakes and you're going to get knocked down. But what you do after that is what will keep you in the game and make a man out of you. When you get knocked down get back up, take responsibility for your mistakes, and never make excuses. You're the only guy on the field who is responsible for you. Don't ever let me hear you blame someone or something else. Learn from your mistakes, then put it behind you because the next play is always coming. Guys with a bad attitude spend their lives making excuses and criticizing others and will always be standing on the sidelines of life, and there is nothing worse than living in that kind of bitterness. Is that where you want to be? It's your decision whether you want to be on the sidelines or in the game, you've got the skills, but now we need to know if you have the heart. Mitch and his buddies will never play for this coach, no matter how good they are... their attitude stinks.”
The next day during warm up I watched as Mitch and his dad walked toward the game field. Our defensive coach met them. I watched as Mitch's dad yelled and pointed his finger at coach's chest. It didn't appear as if coach said a word. Finally he waved his hand in coach's face and walked away with Mitch by his side. Coach just turned, gave a little shoulder shrug, and got back to coaching as if nothing had happened.
Since those days I've learned that Mitch's modern counterparts and friends appear in almost every human venture. They stand on the sidelines of life and do what they do: call names, run people down, criticize, and threaten. But that has nothing to do with my life. Mitch or his buddies' criticisms may even sometimes be accurate... the game is always easier to see from the sidelines. No matter how accurate his invective, I don't have time to listen, read, or pay attention to what Mitch and his buddies have to say. I heard his complaints years ago and the only things that change today are the people in the game.
Every once in a long while though, I have no choice but to listen to Mitch's nastiness. This rare experience brings a strange sort of comfort to me because it enlivens my senses to pause, remember, and be thankful for the coaches I've had in life, and thank God once again for giving me the opportunity to make my life count. Mitch yelling at me from the sideline only proves I'm still in the game, and it is a miniscule price to pay for all the enjoyment I've had in this game of life. I've had my time on the sidelines too, just like everyone else... but I've never wanted to be there, and when I am there I try to do what coach told me to do: keep my mouth shut, get back up, watch my attitude, and learn from my mistakes... then put it behind me because the next play is always coming.