Look no further than the earnest face of Louisville guard Kevin Ware to learn the real lesson of the Rutgers basketball fiasco.
Ware, you’ll (painfully) remember, is the player who crashed to the ground with a compound fracture so gruesome, even his teammates had to look away. As he was wheeled off the court, his main concern was a Cardinal victory.
Okay, maybe he was in shock. Part of his tibia had busted through the skin. But after his surgery, as the media lined up to interview the sidelined star, a picture began to emerge, of the team, of the team’s relationship with the coach, of the program, and of what it means to be a Division One student athlete.
Over at Rutgers, another shocking picture was emerging. Videos that quickly went viral showed Scarlet Knight Coach Mike Rice abusing his players with slurs and basketballs. The exodus of two other coaches, an attorney and a popular young athletic director followed Rice’s firing.
Remember that we haven’t heard much from the Rutgers players. Louisville’s Ware, on the other hand, was everywhere talking about his teammates and Coach Rick Pitino. Right after the injury, Ware said he saw the shock in his teammates’ eyes and decided he “had to pull out a magic trick.”
“You can hold these tears in for a little while longer,” he told himself in recounting the story on ESPN. “Coach P was right there. I’m looking at him dead in his eyes. I probably said it 15 times. I said coach, I’m going to be good; you just gotta’ win this game.”
Ware broke down in the interview. He called his teammates brothers and his coach another dad. Most important, he said, “When people care about you, you really know.”
While the on-court accident put Ware in the spotlight, it’s a safe bet that most high-level college athletes yearn for reasons to be committed to their teams and coaches. If you don’t think so, look at the crushed faces, and often the tears, that follow a significant loss.
What engenders that type of commitment? An innate desire to excel and succeed, for sure, but also the relationships and mutual respect that develop during long hours of practice, on road trips, and off the court.
Leadership by intimidation only works to a point. What you end up with is a team that’s in terrific shape, fundamentally sound, and terrified of making a mistake. And those teams don’t win championships.
In the end, it’s as Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If you’ve ever had a coach, teacher or boss who had a powerful influence on your life, for better or worse, please share your story below.
Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.