Salt Lake City, Oct. 24, 1980: A South High football player, heretofore regarded as an exemplary youngster, pummels the referee during a state playoff game. Surgery is needed to repair the official's shattered cheek, and the boy is expelled from school.
Teton, Idaho, Nov. 7, 1980: The principal of Teton High is so angered by a referee's failure to call two pass-interference penalties against his school's football opponent that he goes to the sideline and confronts the offending official, punching him in the stomach and knocking him to the ground. The principal is subsequently fined $500 and banned from attending Teton High games for the remainder of the school year. The coach charges that the official was "verbally abusive," and the principal is partly exonerated when the referee's name is removed from the Idaho High School Activities Association's list of "approved" officials.
Miami, Nov. 28, 1980: A series of ugly incidents that caused the cancellation of one high school football game and erupted into fan violence at another continued in the Region AAAA championship game. With time running out, a South Miami High halfback fumbles a badly executed hand-off. The loose ball is picked up by a Columbus High player who runs 50 yards for the winning touchdown. Some of the halfback's teammates curse and taunt him, swing their helmets at him, try unsuccessfully to keep him off the team bus and call him every name in the book. During the bus ride back to South Miami High, the players, who are all black, call their white coaches "honkie crackers." The halfback, who is also black, needs a police escort to get out of the school parking lot.
Lake City, Mich., Dec. 11, 1980: The basketball coach at Lake City High is allegedly assaulted in his home by a father who is angered that his son isn't getting enough playing time. The coach isn't seriously injured, but the next day officials of Lake City Area Schools vote to suspend all sports activities. On the same day, Missaukee County Prosecutor Gary C. Hoffman filed charges of assault and battery against the father. He will stand trial on March 19.
Coral Gables, Fla., Dec. 20, 1980: Long after the day's matches in the Orange Bowl Junior Tennis Tournament have concluded, a father verbally assaults an umpire in the parking lot outside the Biltmore Tennis Center. "You cheated my son, you bum," the father says. The 10-year-old son, who stands nearby with tears in his eyes, cries out, "You tell 'em, Daddy!"
THE LESSONS OF SPORTS
Competition can't serve a society if it's antisocial. Winning at any cost and true sportsmanship are incompatible. "You can win and still not succeed, still not achieve what you should." says Indiana University Basketball Coach Bobby Knight. "And you can lose without really failing at all." Dr. Thomas Tutko, a California sports psychologist, says, "Learning to compete is quite different from winning or losing. It's not the product, but the process that's good." We've gotten away from "feeling good about doing sports." he adds. We've made AP polls and being No. 1 and winning the Super Bowl the only measures of a successful season. Thus it becomes easy to rationalize any means used to win. "We say that if you win, you're dedicated, hardworking, altruistic," concludes Tutko. "If you lose, you're none of the above."
Which isn't the way it's supposed to be. The idea that athletic endeavor—win, lose or draw—is essential to the clearheaded, well-rounded individual is a very old one, extending back to the ancient Greeks. The view that sports competition—especially of the team variety, with its blend of cooperation and self-discipline for the good of the whole—is beneficial, even necessary, to building and maintaining a healthy, productive society is less venerable. It evolved in 19th-century England (see box on page 68) and quickly took hold in America. Lessons learned by young athletes on the playing field have served them and the nation well in battle, in boardrooms, in the U.S. Senate. General Douglas MacArthur said that the seeds of victory in World War I were sown on "the fields of friendly strife." Harvard sociologist David Riesman tells us, "The path to the boardroom leads through the locker room." U.S. Senator Alan Cranston of California, a former world-class sprinter, says, "I wouldn't be where I am today were it not for athletics."
And these men are not alone in espousing the theory that sports can serve an important role in molding youth and. therefore, the future of society. This belief is held by a wide spectrum of Americans, most of them realists who know sport has never been perfect but nonetheless feel it can—and. perhaps, should—show man in a better light than most other fields of endeavor. Former astronaut and Eastern Air Lines Chief Executive Officer Frank Borman says, "Sports taught me that if you want to reach a goal you have to sacrifice for it. Second, that the team and the institution are more important than the individual. Both of these lessons were reinforced for me by Colonel Blaik when I was manager of the West Point football team. Very few people have influenced my life in a more positive way than Colonel Blaik or my high school coach, Rollin T. Gridley." Dr. Benjamin Spock. 1924 Olympic gold medal-winning oarsman and expert on child rearing, says, "I was a chin-less mother's boy. Crew made me."
In recommending doctoral students for jobs, Riesman favors those who have "endured beyond endurance." Amid the welter of young people "frightened of risks, frightened of taking charge, frightened of pulling up stakes." he prefers those "who extend themselves. The best athletes know how to do that." In a word, they're competitors, their competitiveness having been nurtured in an atmosphere that tested their endurance, courage and skills, because that's exactly what sports at their best do.
Ideally, sport exalts fair play: You win only when you've made a superior effort, not because you've found a way to circumvent the rules. Games are meant to be waged in the open, according to the rules and firm standards of conduct. "Sport's the only place we have left where we can start even," says Alabama Football Coach Bear Bryant. At least, that's how it's supposed to be.
The vernacular of achievement in all areas of our culture is studded with references to athletics: "team man." "second effort" and so forth. And competitive sport tells us that it's O.K. to win. Even important to win. Dr. A. Bartlett Giamatti, the president of Yale, says that winning in sports has "a joy and discrete purity to it that cannot be replaced by anything else." It is, he says, "something powerful, indeed beautiful, in itself; something as necessary to the strong spirit as striving is necessary to the healthy character."
But sport has told us it's O.K. to lose, too. That vital message seems somehow to have been lost. In team sports in America today, losing is no longer acceptable. There is a fanatical drive to win. Not for the Gipper or Old Blue. But for the gate receipts and TV money. And while you're at it, you'd better be one of the stars; if you warm the bench, if you merely try hard, you're a nobody, maybe even in the eyes of dear ol' Dad. Jim Lynch, the former Notre Dame and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, recently was introduced to the father of a K.C. rookie. Lynch told the father that he didn't know his son personally but that he'd heard nice things about the young man, that the son was well thought of by the Chiefs. The father was contemptuous. "He's not starting, is he?" he said to Lynch. "He's not Number 1. That's what it's all about, isn't it?" Lynch walked away, relieved that the man was not his father.
Sports, of course, reflect the society in which they're played. To expect them to be pristine in the era of Watergate, illegal corporate payments to foreign governments, Abscam and the like would be illogical. In fact, team competition, once so highly regarded as a positive force in the lives of the young, may now be a negative factor.
Competition is, of course, good, even essential for the individual and society. It provides much of our incentive to get things done, to make things better. But as good as competition can be, it also can be a detriment if it is wrongly brought into play. "I don't believe we suffer from a lack of competitiveness. If you're talking about the athletic virtues, what we really suffer from is a lack of teamwork," says Lester Thurow, MIT economist, avid mountain climber and former high school football player, who has studied competitive behavior in various societies.
"The basic values of sport have shifted," says the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil-rights leader and former college football and sandlot baseball star, who has a special interest in education. "Athletes used to operate on the theory of enduring short-term pain for long-term pleasure. You endured the short-term pain of getting into shape, you studied to get into college, you sacrificed early in life so you could prevail in the fourth quarter. All that has been replaced by a Quick-Six Generation that only wants the easy score.
"The great coaches were concerned about character. They taught quarterbacks, 'If you can't control yourself, you can't control the team.' When TV began to create more pressure on coaches to win, they began to make concessions. They put style ahead of substance. Kids were allowed to play when they should've been academically ineligible. That took away academic incentive. Kids were shot up with cortisone so they could play with injuries. Tutors were hired to keep the kids in school. The death of ethics is the sabotage of excellence. The concessions we've made lead the athletes to short-term pleasure and long-term pain."
Winning has become so paramount that other important values that should be inculcated by sports—teamwork, discipline and a sense of fair play—aren't much evident in American sports today.
The phony academic transcripts for athletes, the no-show classes for jocks, the sort of violence described in the incidents at the beginning of this article are symptoms of a "sickness of integrity," as the noted psychoanalyst Rollo May puts it. It's an illness that "clings to money as the proof of all the goals in life," that unduly elevates winning, that makes losers vile. Curing the malady won't be easy, because it means recognizing as destructive some things that have come to seem normal, even necessary, in sports today.
First, we must do something about the bigness at sports' upper level that's suffocating them at the learning level:
•The big money. Not just the huge pro salaries; they're only part of a whole system of megabucks that teams, pro and amateur, and players get from television and other sources. The costs of sport, in both monetary and human terms, are too high. Remember: The big winners get most of the big money.
•The big eye. TV isn't bad per se, but sport has allowed itself to be swept up by the tube. This fall, when archrivals Florida and Florida State switched their football game from Nov. 22 to Dec. 6 to reap a $300,000 fee for appearing on national television, State Coach Bobby Bowden succinctly stated the attitude of most major-college sports administrators when he said that his Seminoles would "play at 3 a.m. if television wants us." The custodians of our games think they're the winners in this; they believe they've made TV pay those big, happy sums. Actually what television has done is buy sports off. Remember: The big winners get most of the TV exposure.
•The big players. The 300-pound defensive ends and 6'8" basketball guards are merely the most visible examples of a specialization in sports that now begins—disastrously for many athletes—in the preteen years. It has made the three-letter man in college rarer than the whooping crane, and it could rob generations to come of the joys and character-building benefits of participation in team games. Remember: The big winners are often players who specialized early and let few other interests distract them.
•The big leagues. There are too many of them, both in the pros and among the colleges. Backed by big money, brought into the home by the big eye and manned by big players, these leagues have siphoned off interest in levels of competition that are closer to home and more essential to society's well-being. Among the hardest hit have been the high schools where in recent years there has been a widespread drop-off in sports participation, expenditures for athletics (when measured in dollars adjusted for inflation) and fan interest. Remember: The big winners are the leagues that attract the broadest public attention.
The effects of bigness are numerous—and not all bad. NBA telecasts featuring Magic Johnson, the prototypical outsized guard, are one of the minor delights of living in the U.S. But there's little question that bigness has had insalubrious consequences on the two most important figures in making sports serve society as a molder of correct competitive values: the young athlete and the coach.
These coaches and youngsters have been so infected by the exaggerated importance of winning in the upper levels of sports that they think it's O.K. for some kids to be turned into bench warmers at the age of 10 or 12, that it's all right to shut lesser players out of the learning process while their bigger, faster, more agile teammates get the job done.
That job is winning. Just ask the high school coach whose star player was knocked out of the lineup by appendicitis before a key game last fall. The game was lost. The next day the coach had the team physician determine which players' appendixes were intact and tried to get the doctor to agree to remove them when the season was over.
We've done this to the coaches at every level. We've told them that it doesn't matter how clean they keep their programs. It doesn't matter what percentage of their athletes graduate or take a useful place in society. It doesn't even matter how well the coaches teach their sports. All that matters are the flashing scoreboard lights.
The colleges provide us with the clearest examples of this madness. They easily keep pace with the pros in the annual firing of coaches, and for the same unholy reasons. But the colleges should know better. Some schools say they do. Early last November a spokesman for Northwestern, a university respected for its high academic attainments, said it was the opinion of the school's hierarchy that football coaches "should not be fired because they can't win." On Nov. 18 the Northwestern football coach, who had won one game in three years, and the athletic director who'd hired him were both canned.
Good coaches are special. Their influence on young athletes is considerable—"more so than teachers, more so than Dad, more so than anybody." says former Notre Dame Football Coach Ara Parseghian—and they're not blind to that fact. Most of them handle this trust tenderly. When a coach winds up on the seedy side of recruiting, promising money, promising grades, or is caught teaching playing techniques that might get somebody hurt, it's usually his fellows who come down hardest on him. But coaches are also fully aware of the essential flaw in the system: They're asked to be noble teachers, but because schools need to generate wins and cash, coaches in revenue-producing sports are given all the job security of migrant workers.
John Robinson, the football coach at USC, has won conference titles and a national co-championship. He has also seen his program racked by the recent academic scandals. "Since I've been at USC, I've had death threats every year," he says. "I have to have a police escort out of the stadium. You say, 'Hey, wait a minute, it's only a game.' Only a game? You've got to be kidding. But at the same time I'm responsible and I'm criticized if my players don't go to class. Well, I could live with that. But changes must be made.
"If coaches are teachers, they should be given faculty status. I should be paid what a faculty member is paid. No more, no less. I should be given tenure. I'm invited to give 100 speeches a year, and I accept most of those invitations to make extra money. If I'm going to function as a teacher, I can't give 100 speeches a year. I've got to say no. I'm not going to spend 35 days a year on the road recruiting. I'm going to stay home and behave like a schoolteacher."
By making insecure, even desperate men out of our coaches, we've diminished sports for the athlete. After what philosopher Paul Weiss calls the "normal pursuit of pleasure and competence, even excellence" early in a player's development, the demands of high-pressure coaching crowd out the "joy of sport" for the athlete. The exceptional performer seeks and finds other rewards for his efforts: athletic scholarships, acclaim, money. He discovers he gets special handling and unusual advantages for giving his all. Or, if he's talented enough, only some of his all. Then, says Weiss, comes the corruption, because the athlete soon sees what's really going on. The coach's desperation becomes the athlete's desperation: win and receive the fruits of victory now! So the coach and the player get about their business, not of competing but of winning. Their tactics may involve acts of violence that sometimes border on the criminal. Much more often they resort to off-the-field cheating.
Cheating defiles competition. If State pays its quarterback under the table and Tech doesn't, then State has created an unfair advantage for itself. The same is true if State bends its entrance requirements to get a player into school, or doesn't make him go to class, or allows him to take meaningless courses, or engages in any of the other corrupt practices that have been brought to light in recent months.
The NCAA now has more investigators than ever. This is called progress by some observers. It's not. It's an indictment of the system. When more and more cops are needed to keep competition clean, something is terribly wrong. Institutions that deal with youth should be so sensitive to rule bending, so repulsed by cheaters, so on guard against the athlete who "hears the cries of the crowd but never the rustling of a page," that cheating at such places would be rare.
But it's not. And the institutions don't always merely acquiesce in the corruption, don't always restrict themselves to saying to the coach, "Win, but don't tell us how you do it." Increasingly, academics and administrators appear to be taking a hand in tampering with grades and curricula, and alumni and other boosters have become bagmen for some athletic departments, delivering the goods to prized recruits. An Eldorado for signing a grant-in-aid. Twenty bucks a rebound. A hundred for a win over Tech.
This must stop. The time has come to realize that a stand for sportsmanship won't knock the planet off its axis. And such a stand won't just put the colleges and their coaches and athletes right. More important, it will also benefit the kid who wants to play for the joy of it, who will never become a varsity-level athlete but could carry the lessons of sports with him into other areas of life, who is most cheated by the emphasis on winning over competing.
Certainly the current system cheats good athletes, too, by beginning to pamper them when they're still in junior high and by offering 16-year-olds the preposterous long shot of being a pro draft choice as a reasonable goal. In Georgia this fall the state education department investigated the reportedly "common practice" among parents of allowing their sons to repeat eighth grade in order to be in a better position to win football scholarships five years later. The investigators found a total of 49 such cases in 14 Georgia school systems this academic year. Dr. Cal Adamson, associate state school superintendent, described the practice as "psychologically damaging." The damage isn't limited to Georgia; similar repeaters were also reported in Texas.
Bill Russell, the Hall of Fame basketball player, believes that the high financial stakes in sports, which have spawned an army of lawyers and accountants, have hurt the most proficient players. We've undermined team play, Russell believes. Forget fundamentals. Win now. "The only kids being taught fundamentals are the less talented ones," he says. "The talented ones are just being exploited. So from the beginning it's a bad relationship between coach and player—a dishonest one. We have evolved into an era of style over substance. The same as what happened to the automobile industry. Everything's style. No substance."
But as shortchanged as the good player may be, especially when" he leaves college as neither a draft choice nor a graduate, he's rarely as abused as the average or less-than-average athlete. When the role model for American sport shifted from the amateurs to the pros in the '50s and '60s, competition gradually swung to a new tack: the specialization of athletes. We came to believe that it was acceptable to take highly motivated, disciplined youngsters with ability and filter them through the athletic system toward a single goal: the pros. It would be all right for them to channel all their energies into one sport, to close off all other options, to be one-dimensional. And the success of the pros gave competition in sports a new end. One no longer played to learn courage or teamwork or to become a man. One played to continue to play. For money. For fame. Forever.
It can be argued that the excellence we enjoy watching in pro sports is an affirmation of that turn to specialization. New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, former Princeton Tiger, Rhodes scholar and New York Knick, says the pros represent the broadest participation in excellence that we now have in any area of life in the U.S. The result, says Bradley, is that you see feats in championship events "that you couldn't believe possible." Excellence that's uplifting. Not an opiate, but an uplift; one of the things sports does best.
Billie Jean King believes specialization is what makes champions. For her, any intrusion on the climb to the top was unwelcome. A boyfriend once asked her why she was in college, because all she did was rush to the library each day to read the sports page. "You're right," Billie Jean answered. "I hate school." College, she says, was her parents' idea.
But there's an awful tyranny in specialization, too. Dr. Spock was appalled while living in Cleveland to find parents bringing bleary-eyed little children to the ice rink at 5 a.m. to practice their figure skating. "That's not fun," he says, "that's a family conspiracy." The young competitive specialist who went on to become a national champ or an Olympic gold medalist wasn't alone. There were thousands of other preteens doing exactly the same thing, believing that dogged determination would get them to the top.
We have fostered a generation or two of young people whose main goal in life, for a while at least, has commonly been to become better competitive athletes. They begin specializing in the little leagues, in many instances at the expense of education and social life. The young man who walks off the Olympic platform with a gold medal or out of a front office with a million-dollar pro contract will tell you it was "worth it." But what about the thousands who went into this system and didn't make it?
The sine qua non of sport is enjoyment. When you take that away, it's no longer sport. Perhaps the worst creators of specialists are the little leagues in all sports. Although some observers believe there's much of value in them, the leagues have their critics. "Abolish the little leagues," says philosopher Weiss. "Forbid 'em," says sociologist Riesman.
To visit on small heads the pressure to win, the pressure to be "just like Mean Joe Greene," is indecent. To dress up children like pros in costly outfits is ridiculous. In so doing, we take away many of the qualities that competitive sports are designed to give to the growing-up process.
Sports psychologist Bruce Ogilvie laments "the sickening arrogance" of little-league coaches, too many of whom are unqualified. Some coaches, says another psychologist, Thomas Tutko, even "think sports is war." They make 8-year-olds sit on the bench while others play, learning nothing beyond the elitism of win-at-all-costs sport. Token participation—an inning in right field, a couple of minutes in the fourth quarter—can be equally demoralizing.
Adult-run little leagues can deprive children of the chance to grow naturally in sport, to learn for themselves about competition's ups and downs. Organizing games. Playing them. Being their own umpires—perhaps the best teacher of all. With adults around, kids often don't have a place in which to absorb the hard lessons of sportsmanship without the small, inevitable failures being blown out of proportion.
And matters get worse when adults channel children into playing positions in team games that prevent the kids from experiencing all aspects of what makes sports so enjoyable. Eventually, physical development and skill limitations and sophistication will make such positions palatable. But a boy who's tasting football for the first time and is stuck permanently at right guard will never have the pleasure of running with the ball or passing it or catching it. Too many-kids get bored right out of the game. Maybe all games. When you take the fun out, says Terry Orlick, a sports psychologist at the University of Ottawa, you risk turning a kid away from competitive sports.
The vacant lots other generations played on as kids may not be there now. But the fields our tax money has provided for organized play are there, and modification of the programs conducted on them isn't impossible. We might even consider turning the fields and the equipment over to the children, providing a qualified teacher or two (one coach, say, for every four teams) and then stepping back.
Specialization from the little-league cradle to the pro-sports grave and the other failings of athletic competition in America must be corrected. To do it, a kind of moral renaissance in sport is needed, a rebirth of appreciation of the value of athletics as a teacher. We can start by rectifying a big mistake. Much of our competitive sports system—win at any cost, style over substance, money over achievement—has grown out of the pro-sports model. The time has come to abandon that model; to reestablish what competition in sports is all about. One thing it's definitely not about is preparing athletes to become professionals.
The colleges must quit toadying to the pros, quit compromising their standards by coaxing subliterate jocks through the system on the basis that it's good business—good for the schools, to win and fill the stadiums, and for the athletes, to make it to the pros.
When that's done, an interesting side effect may well develop: The high schools will have to go back to educating their athletes instead of just shuttling them up to the colleges. And then a whole generation of better-prepared players—for life, not just sports—will emerge.
Colleges should reemphasize the humanist qualities of competition in their sports. They should acknowledge the value of good coaches by giving them tenure or some other form of job security not so tightly tied to the numbers in the stands and on the scoreboard. That could well set up another chain reaction: secure in their work, less desperate to succeed, the coaches would stop cheating so much.
The time has come, too, to release the death grip recruiting has on coaches. It is a ritual akin to bribery and it distorts the competitive process. USC's Robinson is right. Coaches should first be teachers, not brokers and agents. There should be tight limitations on the amount of time coaches may spend on recruiting and on the distances they are allowed to travel for talent. We might even examine possibilities as visionary as creating a sphere of influence, based on the number of high school athletes available, around each NCAA Division I school. Each coaching staff would have to confine its recruiting trips to its designated area. If an athletic prospect living outside the area is under consideration, coach and athlete could exchange letters or phone calls. It would never be necessary for Robinson to show his face in Boston.
As such burdens are lifted from college coaches, they will be free to resume their traditional roles as teachers of athletes and molders of teams, their most useful service to society. By stressing team play above all, by requiring self-sacrifice from all players, by insisting that athletes strive for excellence in their performances, not just victory on the field, coaches would imbue their charges with the lessons sports teach especially well. Says former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, "Those who have the team concept will be better able to step into other areas of life and contribute very effectively, both for themselves and society."
COMPETITION, TEAMWORK AND SOCIETY
Although there is no precise correlation between trends in sports and those in the economy or in society at large, there is a link between these activities (see box on page 79). And certainly indications are that the non-sporting competitive instincts of young Americans are strong, very likely stronger than they've been in some time. Robert H.B. Baldwin, former three-sport man at Princeton, father of five and president of New York's Morgan Stanley investment bank, says, "In the late '60s and on into the '70s there were a lot of kids who went up to Vermont, saying, 'We're going to get away from it all.' Now youngsters are coming to New York and other cities, saying, 'Hey, the action's here.' Not long ago college kids seemed to want only to spout a lot of rhetoric. Now when you go on campus [as Baldwin often has in recent years to visit his children and to chair meetings of the Stanford Business School's advisory council], you find that the students are looking for careers. They're interested. They're competitive." Maybe too much so. According to several recent studies, the battle for good grades has led to a shocking increase in cheating on campus.
But these highly competitive young people aren't as strong on teamwork. MIT's Thurow is all for competitiveness, but he points out that people's willingness to work together can have startling effects when applied to a nation's economy. A greater cooperative spirit, not a sharper competitive spirit, is what has made Japan and West Germany strong commercial rivals to the U.S. "The intriguing thing in Japan is that the boss—or team manager, if you like—gives few orders," Thurow says. "They have this idea of the team deciding what the strategy is rather than just the manager. The argument is: If the team has decided something, everybody's gung-ho and will work at achieving the goal. If the team manager alone decides everyone should run through a stone wall, the team members won't do it because they haven't agreed that it's important."
Or, as William S. Anderson, chairman of the NCR Corporation, put it recently, "The vast majority of Japanese workers have learned that the team concept works as well on the production line as it does on the athletic field."
Thurow points to two examples of the importance that individual Japanese attach to the success of the whole:
1) Many workers in Japan receive a third of their income from bonuses based on company profits, a form of compensation U.S. labor has been loath to accept.
2) Toyota is now the world's most successful automobile company, but its chief executive officer makes substantially less than the chairman of General Motors, the former champion among car makers. Yet the head of Toyota is not about to go to Subaru to get a higher salary. Sure, the Japanese like to be well compensated, which the Toyota man certainly is at a cool 80 million yen ($400,000) or more a year, but it's very important—perhaps just as important—to be playing on the best team, too.
Although many business executives, including the heads of numerous major enterprises, are team-oriented and extremely loyal to their companies, Thurow sees a "narcissism and individualism gone wild" among some American corporate managers, whom he likens to free-agent athletes jumping from team to team for the biggest bucks. "They [the executives] are working for themselves and don't have any loyalty," says Thurow. "If you know you're going to hop between jobs every four years, are you going to do any long-run planning to help your current company?"
"Teamwork historically is, I think, the American way," says Akio Morita, chairman and co-founder of Sony. "But your managers too often forgot that. They got greedy; they viewed the worker as a tool. That has not been good for the American products or American companies, and it has hurt your competitive stature in the world."
Of course, Japan, a very special culture with its tradition of lifelong loyalty to a single employer, is far different from America, and there are aspects of Japanese society the U.S. wouldn't want to import, even if it could. But elements of Japan's concept of industrial teamwork have been implanted in Sony factories in four U.S. cities. The plants are run by Japanese managers and staffed with American labor. Those factories have shown exceptionally low rates of absenteeism and faulty workmanship. How much better might such plants operate if staffed with Americans who grew up with a steady diet of teamwork in their youth?
A dramatic reduction in union grievances has been experienced at a General Motors assembly plant in Tarry-town, N.Y. in recent years after management, with the enthusiastic concurrence of United Auto Workers officials, involved workers directly in deciding how and under what conditions their work would be done. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Robert H. Guest, a professor at Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, quotes the production manager of the Tarrytown plant as saying, "From a strictly production point of view—efficiency and costs—this entire experience has been absolutely positive, and we can't begin to measure the savings that have taken place because of hundreds of small problems that were solved on the shop floor before they accumulated into big problems."
The team concept can, of course, mask passivity and a lack of ambition. But, on balance, teamwork is very likely just what American enterprise needs to vie more successfully for markets at home and abroad, according to Robert Zager, a vice-president of the Work in America Institute, an industrial-relations think tank. "Do we sell the U.S. worker short?" says Zager. "Absolutely. The assumption has always been that 100% of good ideas must come from 2% of the work force—the engineers, the managers and the like. That's nonsense. Most of us forget that it's miserable to work in a situation in which nobody thinks that you're of any real use—that you're just a pair of hands. I spent 20 years interviewing workers on the plant floor as a management consultant. I know they do care about their jobs, about the quality of their work and about working as a group, but they're frustrated because their opinions are not sought and because if they contribute an innovative idea, it could bring an end to their jobs. In Japan workers have job security; no one loses his job because of technological advances.
"When given the opportunity to work with management, the U.S. worker will produce as well as any worker in the world, and he'll work with a sense of team orientation. But the lead must come from management. It must start treating workers as productive members of the company. If a worker thinks management views him as irresponsible, then he will tend to act irresponsibly."
And if the administrators of sport, from the high schools to the pros, want to show a greater sense of responsibility, they must drill into young players—especially black ones—the hard facts and figures about their dim chances for careers in the pros. (For example, of the 569,228 boys who played high school basketball last winter, about 50—or 0.009%—can expect someday to play in the NBA.) That's just one of the ways in which coaches can put the players' interests first. Another way would be to adopt a more laissezfaire attitude toward youngsters' competitive interests, to allow them—even encourage them—to reject specialization.
And for preteen athletes there should be clear limits on specialization. In the past couple of years baseball's Little League and Pop Warner football have made positive changes in their "mandatory play rules." In Little League, for instance, each child must now play at least two innings in the field and get one at bat in every game. Unfortunately this curtailing of specialization was not always welcomed at the grass-roots level. Some 1,800 teams pulled out of Pop Warner after the organization made rule changes requiring that each participant be given a minimum amount of playing time. If other little-league and age-group programs don't make such changes in their rules, then we should withdraw our support of them, let them wither and die.
The complaints can already be heard: If we do that, how are we to beat the East Germans in swimming? That's the whole point. Beating the G.D.R. may be nice, but it's not worth it if our 12-year-old girls become nothing but swimming automatons. That's not beating the East Germans; that's joining them. This is true in all international competitions, including the Olympics. They shouldn't be viewed as tests of national virtue. To that end, all the nationalistic trappings should be removed from the Games. Americans should remember that any competition, including the Olympics, is a test of individuals and teams in specific sports, not countries. The measure of U.S. success as a sporting country comes in how fairly its Olympians and other athletes play their games and in how well they apply the lessons they've learned in sports competition.
Most important, we must address ourselves to the task of putting big-time sports in a more reasonable perspective. That job cannot be left to the professional leagues; after all, they're the ones who profit from the emphasis on bigness. Besides, they only represent the upper end of the win-at-all-costs ladder that begins with little league.
We as a people must act. We must make it clear that we don't find a millionaire leftfielder worthy merely because of the numbers on his paycheck. That we don't much care for loudmouth owners. We must show that the competition on all levels—not just the commotion at the top—is what we enjoy. And what serves us best.
How is such a subtle, elusive goal to be attained? It can't be legislated or otherwise imposed. It's a matter of altering attitudes, mostly by performing actions that are apparently small. Try applauding the next time you're at a baseball game and the other team's starting pitcher gives way to a reliever. On the tennis court, tilt your line calls in your opponent's favor, play the serve that might be an eyelash long. If we do enough of these little things, especially when our children are around, we can make competition a better, healthier thing. This is no dream. People have seen pure competition work. One of them is Pete Dawkins.
Dawkins is now a colonel in the U.S. Army. In the late 1950s he was a Heisman Trophy halfback at West Point, the First Captain of the Corps of Cadets and the most impressive young athlete of his time. Impressions, however, were then being made on Dawkins, too. The key words he remembers from MacArthur's exhortations to the Corps are, Dawkins believes, lost on most people. From "Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory," Dawkins considers the key words to be "friendly" and "seeds."
He remembers that when he was a rugby player while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, opposing players—"tired, often sutured, half of them sorely disappointed"—gathered after every game to share a cup of tea and a beer or two and then, more often than not, the evening together. Friendly strife. What a contrast, Dawkins says, "to the sad tableau of Woody Hayes viciously lashing out at the personification of his enemy—some opposing player with the audacity to obstruct Ohio State's path to victory." The occasion for competition, says Dawkins, is more important than the outcome.
Sports, he adds, must go beyond the formalities of good sportsmanship. They must reach all the way to "fair play." The essential difference, as Dawkins sees it, is that fair play involves taking a stand beyond the rules of the game—a stand that places your winning at risk, but "a stand that preserves the dignity and value of sport." It is a moral issue and is based on an inward conviction that, in Dawkins' words, "to win by cheating, by an umpire error or by an unfair stroke of fate is not really to win at all."
He cites two examples. In the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championships one year, Mary Rand of England had been confused by the markings on the long-jump approach and had failed to qualify for the finals. America's Willye White saw the confusion and asked that Rand be given another chance. The request was granted. Rand qualified—and won the event, defeating White.
In the Winter Olympics of 1964, the British two-man bobsled team was going to have to withdraw from the competition because it didn't have a replacement for a bolt that had been sheared off its sled. Members of the Italian team heard about the problem, took a bolt from their spare parts and helped their rivals make the repair. The British team then won the gold medal.
"If athletic competition does teach," says Dawkins, "then what more valuable lesson is there to learn from time to time than that we have a responsibility to stand up for what is right." MacArthur spoke of seeds being sown. The seeds, says Dawkins, are values. What are ours?