Monday, October 3, 2011

"Across the Field"

Because these columns are read all over the United States and the planet, I am aware that most of you are not Ohio State football fans. In fact, I would wager that a significant number of you loathe the Buckeyes. Bear with me as I use their recent troubles to illustrate how our nation stepped into the mess where we currently find ourselves. Those of you who follow college sports are probably aware that the OSU football team had to suspend five of its star players for 5 games this season and another 3 players for two games because they accepted illegal benefits as a result of their celebrity status. In addition, their highly successful coach for the past ten years was forced to resign. One of the five five-game suspendees decided to bolt for the NFL rather than face further sanctions for his misdeeds. He was the quarterback.

All of the suspended players were to be juniors or seniors this season. As a consequence, the Buckeye football program finds itself floundering with a 3-2 record after the first five games, and even when winning have looked bad. It’s the worst Ohio State team in the last twenty years. Certainly the suspended players are all talented athletes, but Ohio State prides itself on its ability to “reload” rather than rebuilding. The underclassmen that remain are talented athletes too and should have the athletic ability to play Big Ten (Twelve) football at a high level. The new head coach (interim) was an assistant under the previous regime, and as a former player with the Buckeyes should have a “handle” on the traditions and policies to continue the caliber of play OSU teams have routinely experienced.

The lengthy preamble to this column is intended to create an example of how our nation and our troubles came about. Any coach will tell you that talent and skill are important attributes for players, but leadership and team unity are absolutely vital for a winning program. The eight stars for the Buckeyes (actually seven because the quarterback skipped town) should be the leaders and the mortar for building team cohesion. Their transgressions, however, undermined their capacity for leadership because the other team members can no longer trust their judgment or rely on their sense of priorities. They have demonstrated that their personal preferences trump their responsibilities to the team. As a consequence, a talented group of athletes appear to be navigating the football season with no rudder and no compass. Those who should be leading and uniting have forfeited their status, and the remaining players are struggling to define their new roles within the system.

Our federal government and our national psyche are similar to the OSU program. Because of their venality, profligacy and inattention to the national good, our political leaders have lost their credibility and forfeited their stature as trusted leaders. They stumble around the national field and fumble opportunities to right the ship of state. When they attempt something grand to gain our approval, they throw an interception or miss the wide-open chance to score. When they attempt to tackle a vexing issue, they do so half-heartedly while allowing the problem to gain even more territory. Failure after failure causes the political class to stop throwing the long ball. They begin to diagram plays so as not to lose rather than designing them to win.

The fans and the citizens become increasingly frustrated with the ineffective activities taking place on the field. The clamor for change grows louder, and boos echo throughout the national stadium. The wrath of the people unsettles the team and the politicians even more as they grope for an antidote for the current mess. All, the team, the politicians and nation, overlook the obvious. In the midst of chaos simplicity works best. Reduce the playbook to what can work. Fall back on tried and true principles and do them well. Eliminate the superfluous and the “feel-good” gaudy. Stick to the basics. Block and tackle with power and intensity. Look to people of character to lead by example, and bring the team together around them. Do the simple and do it well. Restore the playbook to its original size and master the fundamental tasks. Kick butt and win games.

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