INDIANAPOLIS — Before the world began to protest racism and police brutality, the Indianapolis Colts had a team meeting that focused on establishing and understanding individual and team identity.
Third-year head coach Frank Reich decided on June 8 to share parts of that virtual Zoom video conference call with the media. Here’s the transcript.
“To start off, I want to take us back for a second to our team meetings, and I’m not talking about last week. I’m actually talking about prior to the George Floyd tragedy. We were having a series of team meetings on the subject of identity and we spent a lot of time talking about what identity is, what it is all about. We talked about personal identity and we talked about team identity. Actually, I don’t very often show PowerPoints in team meetings but I showed a PowerPoint and I pulled two slides that I thought would be helpful. I’m going to share my screen with you guys and I want to show you two slides that we showed in our team meeting. Again, this was prior to all the most recent incidents. So like I said, we talked about identity – and I’m going to be brief right here – but what is the definition of identity? We said identity is basically the summation of your values, your habits, your beliefs, and kind of those central stories to your life that have helped shape you and define you. You sum all of those things up and that is kind of who we are.
“We have a quote in our locker room that says, ‘No man becomes suddenly different from his habits and cherished thoughts.’ It is really significant to us. It says a lot about identity, personal identity. It says a lot about our team identity. We know how this plays out in football, right? I mean it’s the guys who make the big plays on Sunday are most often times the guys who are making big plays during the week, the guys that are giving second effort and doing the little things to help us win are doing those things every day in practice. They are habits, they are cherished thoughts, they are beliefs that we have about each other and have about the way we do things. But obviously, in light of the circumstances, we can see that – I’ve learned and I think we all learned that this is true not only on the football field, it is true off the field on how we deal with family, life, community. This statement really bears true. This statement has been on my desk since I’ve been 23 years old. So we talked about that and the importance of that.
“In talking about personal identity and team identity, we asked the question how do they go together? Should they coexist? Can they coexist? Of course, our answer was a resounding yes – that actually personal identity and team identity must coexist in order for both to fulfill their potential. The individual has to flourish and the team will flourish. It happens together. Yes, there are sacrifices that we must make as individuals for the team, but also the team embraces the individual identity and personalities of the players. That is very important to us. Since they go together, what’s the model? What’s the framework?
“This is the last slide that I will show you. We had several more in our team presentation, but here is the last one I will show you for now. Here is the model, here is how we think it relates. We talked about individual identity, we talked about team identity and what pulls those two things together – this is like a funnel now. This is like a funnel. It is kind of going down and it centers on the mission. So, go back a few weeks ago prior to the George Floyd tragedy in our team meeting as we are talking about the summation of this very briefly is – we actually took our players through an individual identity exercise. It was informal, but we asked them, ‘Hey, what do you say? What’s true about you and what is your individual identity?’ It was interesting to see the things that came out, a lot of common things. There were some different things, but the one common concept that came through loud and clear – this word was not used but as a few of us sat down at the end and summarized it and talk about it as a team, the word that kind of intersected, that captured really as a football team what we were thinking about was kind of the ‘warrior spirit.’ That’s kind of what united us as individuals – this warrior spirit. The warrior spirit is the struggle of the battle and the fight to win. As a football team, it was very easy to see this and relate to this. Then we related that to our team identity.
“We talked about our core values – trust, toughness, and team. We talked about the process, 1 percent better. We talked about our goals, winning championships. We talked about those things. When we talked about our mission, we talked about our mission as a football team, and as players is really our mindset to compete – compete and win, compete, and win. That was our team meeting a month ago or whenever it was.
“So, fast forward to the most recent incidents and then our team meetings last week. We took the better part of seven hours plus over three days to talk about what was going on in the world, talking about how that affected us as a team. Here is what happened, as players began to share stories – particularly players in the black community – shared stories of hardship, personal and family hardship. Real stories, I mean real stories – stories about the struggles of being in the black community and obviously in the context of me speaking about being a black man, I just want to make one reference or one comment about the term, ‘black man.’ It is a unique phrase in our culture and one that I think I embrace – and what I’ve learned, I should say. What I’ve learned from talking to our team and other friends of mine is that the uniqueness of that term, ‘black man’ comes from a long and consistent fight against injustice. That the term, ‘black man’ has really been a unifying term that black men take much pride in and should. The term has been birthed from fighting injustice for so many years. There is a real strength and pride in that term, one that I honor and I respect and I have grown to understand.
“So as we listened to these stories, all I can tell you in our team meeting is that it was moving. Our hearts were stirred in a very deep way – in a very, very deep way. I’ll just give you two brief examples. One story was of a very well-known player on our team – these stories were of the past, but they were stories also of time in the NFL, time in Indianapolis. I’m not going to be able to do justice to these stories, okay? I’ll just say that at the outset. I’ll say this, it was the accumulation of these stories that really was alarming and we know that we were just scratching the surface. One story was one of our players walking into a well-known store here in Indianapolis, walking in and seeing the person at the cash register – it just became very obvious – hit a button to call security for just walking in the store. There is more to that story and I’m not going to go into the details. All I’m going to tell you is at the time of this story and the accumulation of it, there wasn’t a dry eye on the call. There was not one dry eye on this Zoom call. Another story, this is a story from a white player. This is also a well-known player who has a reputation for being a very good player, strong player, tough player and a player who is a great teammate. Not a good teammate, he is a great teammate. You know that on the field this guy has got your back. His story was very moving and it moved me to even think about it because he said, ‘Guys, I have always had your back on the field. I want to have your back off the field and I will have your back off the field.’ I feel that same way.
“So on the individual level we heard these stories, but then as you go to the team identity, what that did was there became a closer, personal intimacy as team members. Then as we get closer as individuals, that is going to affect how we are as a team. There is going to be a closeness and a bond to the team that I trust is going to just grow as a result of what we went through last week as a team. We talk about family. The Irsay's (owner Jim Irsay and family) make no bones about it, this is a family business. The concept of family is incredibly important to the Irsay's and we want there to be a family environment here. If your family is like my family, if one person in my family has an issue, we all have an issue. If one family member is carrying a burden, then we all carry that burden. That’s the way we feel, that is the way I feel. That this isn’t just an issue for the black community, this is our issue. That’s as an organization, and we really want to embrace that and do our part.
“Then the third and last part of that is the mission part, how it closes it out together. I’m proud of our organizational mission statement. It is incredible – to entertain, inspire, and unite by winning the right way. By winning the right way is key right there. As a football team, we talk about compete and win, but winning the right way is very important. This issue has not only become our issue, this issue becomes our mission. It is our mission in this city, in this state and it’s really our mission in this nation. We want to be about helping fulfill the vision for those in the black community of what it should look like to be a member of the black community. It will involve dealing with systemic racism, doing our part to deal with that. It will involve police brutality on the black community, dealing with that. It’s going to involve presenting and creating economic opportunities and how voting can be equally assessable for everyone. Those are just starters. We spent a lot of time talking about it, but one thing that our players made crystal clear (is) it can’t just be talk. There’s got to be action, and we are going to act as a team, as an organization and excited to do so.
“I just want to close kind of the opening comments here by just saying I really believe the whole human race that we’ve been given a title, that we’ve all been made in the image of God. We’ve all got this great title, we’ve all been made in the image of God. But with a great title becomes a great responsibility, and our responsibility as human beings is to give dignity and respect to everyone made in the image of God. Not only to give it but to cultivate it, to multiply it, and to make it grow. That is personally what I want to do. That is what we are going to do as a team. We are not going to be passive. We are going to make it grow. We are going to do it in small ways, we are going to do it in big ways. We’re going to do it in quiet ways where nobody knows what is going on, but we will also do it in the spotlight in the platform in which we have being an NFL team and NFL players. So I just hope and pray that there are many out there listening that feel the same and that want to join in that mission of let’s make this thing grow. Let’s make a difference in those areas and help fulfill that vision.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)