A high school football player recently asked me if it’s possible to be a good football player and kind at the same time. My reply after thinking about the answer for precisely zero seconds: absolutely.
The 1989 San Francisco 49ers might be the greatest football team ever. They won their three playoff games by a score of 126 – 26. That is an average of over 33 points per game. They lost two games during the regular season by a total of four points. Joe Montana, the quarterback, was recently voted the fourth best football player to ever live. His favorite receiver, Jerry Rice, was declared the greatest football player of all time. (Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor were second and third, in case you were wondering.) Their backfield had two Cornhuskers, Roger Craig and Tom Rathman.
I remember watching Montana and Rice play. They were unstoppable by the end of the year. A few minutes into the third quarter of Super Bowl 24, Montana had thrown 5 touchdown passes, 3 of them to Jerry Rice. The score was 41-3 at that point. John Elway and his Denver crew had met their Waterloo.
Montana and Rice hold dozens of NFL records between the two of them. Unless the game changes, most of Rice’s records will most likely never be challenged.
These two men weren’t just good. They were respected. If two of the four greatest football players ever can be kind, I’m guessing anybody can pull if off.
So here’s what they did. They worked harder than everybody else. During the season. During the off-season. They played hard. They played fair. They played smart. They were humble in victory and gracious in defeat. The didn’t excessively celebrate after a touchdown (Rice has 208 of them. Second place is 175). They just gave the ball to the referee and went and sat on the sideline. They helped their opponents up from the ground. No trash talking. No cheap shots. No late hits. Shook hands with the opponents after the game. They respected the officials. They respected the game. They listened to their coaches. The encouraged their teammates. They blocked when could. They put the team before themselves. They made everybody else better.
Rice and Montana mastered the subtle balance between being relentless perfectionists on standards and kind with people. They modeled what they expected from everyone else on the team. It worked.
So yeah, it’s possible to be a good football player and kind at the same time. In case you are wondering, the same thing is true for police officers, social workers, IRS agents, attorneys, UFC fighters, debt collectors, coaches, constables, principals, and everybody else who works and gets a paycheck.
Work hard. Work smart. Play by the rules. And be kind.