On November 4, 2008, the “Spirit of the Titans” song was played during President Barack Hussein Obama’s acceptance activities. This theme from the 2000 movie “Remember the Titans” could have been a fitting foreshadowing of what our first country’s first black president could have achieved to unite us and push us to greatness, against a backdrop of turmoil, confusion and controversy.
We could be celebrating a hardfought victory over the storm of economic and social problems that were brewing back then, had this President actually taken some notes from Herman Boone’s playbook to which he gave lipservice.
Granted, the Disney movie takes some artistic license to score sentimental points, and the messy realities of a long and difficult football season are neatly encapsulated in a running time of 119 minutes–less time than an average real-life football game. And it’s football, not real life.
The essential qualities that made Herman Boone and his 1971 Titans team so remarkable were captured in this movie that Mr. Obama said “makes men cry.” To which I wonder: were Mr. Obama’s tears for the superficial, emotional poignancy of the movie, or the instinctive reaction of watching coaches and players dig deep inside themselves, put aside petty differences and overcome the odds to rise to greatness?
Coach Boone was given the daunting task of creating a winning team out of an involuntarily integrated pool of players. He saw their skin color and their prejudice for each other (yes, Mr. Obama, discrimination is a two-way street), but he also saw beyond those obstacles. Coach Boone saw within these young men the ability and desire to win at a sport they played well. And so he systematically broke down the walls of racial discrimination until they too could see their similarities as well as their differences. He did this by expecting the same level of performance from every player, regardless of race. He was a tough coach, demanding and giving dignity and respect.
The movie suggests that Mr. Boone had an unrelenting determination to succeed; his career hung in the balance of each game. He questioned his own ferocious ambition and held himself responsible for its influence on his decisions.
Were you paying attention, Mr. President? Great leaders have self-awareness of their faults and weaknesses, and they work to overcome them. To fail in this regard is to fail and fall into the trap of vanity and petty petulance that has plagued every wanna-be world leader in the annals of history.
It is evident that Mr. Boone implicitly understood Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand Theory.” You know, that quaint idea that individuals pursuing their own interest frequently promote the good of society. By channeling his passion and desire to win into creating a team of individuals who desperately wanted to win, both he and the TC Williams Titans won, and won big.
It wasn’t magic, it was what our Founding Fathers and every generation of Americans have known and celebrated until recent times: society succeeds when its individual members can pursue and achieve success. By its very nature, success is competitive, even brutal. It is a zero-sum game: not everyone can or will win. Compassion is the yin to the yang of competition and you shouldn’t have one without the other, but you have to keep them in their proper perspective. Complacency has no place in a universe fueled by competition and tempered with compassion. Ever.
In sharp contrast, today we have a president who has sharply divided us with his actions and rhetoric, in the name of hope, change, and fairness.
Today, Americans who have little are told two big lies: one, they should resent those who have what they do not. The second lie is even more insidious: only a beneficent government is capable of meeting their needs. Not themselves, nor voluntary – and temporary – charity from their friends and families.
Rugged individualism and self-determination are no longer sterling qualities, but anathema. Complacency has been baked in and inbred.
Those who have any measure of wealth are marginalized, demonized, excoriated and remonstrated by this administration, which tells them they should not rely on themselves, because self-sufficiency is a delusion and they did not create their own wealth, no matter how big or small. Anyone with more than anyone else should be embarrassed and ashamed to want to keep what they have, because it isn’t fair to not share. Mr. Obama, didn’t your mother or grandmother teach you that life is not fair? Mine did. I suspect Herman Boone’s mama told him the same thing.
In Coach Boone’s gridiron world of 1971, young men were individually held responsible to an uncompromising standard of excellence by their coach, their fellow players and themselves. Less than 100% effort was not acceptable to the team or to themselves, and their teammates and coaches demanded accountability. No excuses. No blaming others for your shortcomings. Each man had to do his best in order for the team to succeed.
Fast-forward four decades and the message of the day is that we are all victims, helpless to make our own way, and not responsible for the muddled lives we live. Half of Americans now lives off the largesse of the taxpayers. I wonder how long it will be until the other half throws in the towel, too?
Coach Boone had his enemies, scoffers and naysayers but he proved them wrong by rising above their opposition and bringing people together. I believe it was within our first black president’s grasp in 2008 to reunite America into a strong and powerful nation, but as the clock winds down on his first (and possibly only) term, it appears it was an opportunity squandered on a leader who is prone to apologize for his country and splinter and divide us along race, party and socio-economic lines.
I love “Remember the Titans.” I just wish my President had seen the same movie I did.