Sports is the closest thing we have to a meritocracy, but it is not a perfect one. Working hard, studying and taking care of yourself will get you very far. Putting your head down and grinding it out will get you on many a roster. However, there are those times when being good, even great, just isn’t good enough.
Free agent NFL defensive end Michael Sam was released by the St. Louis Rams over the weekend. He was not picked up by any of the other 31 franchises, nor was he signed to anyone’s practice squad. Sam played well during the NFL preseason. He had three sacks and 11 tackles, 10 were solo.
Why didn’t the Rams keep him or anyone else sign him, them? I think John Clayton of ESPN answers the football questions completely and succinctly in this video.
We have not reached the point in this post where I blame the media or homophobia for Michael Sam not being signed by other teams. Plenty of other spaces will speculate and jump to all sorts of ridiculous conclusions on those topics. This is about the conversation you will have with your kids. One day, your kids will find themselves in a situation similar to Michael Sam.
No, I’m not suggesting you sit Johnny down right now and talk to him about media circuses and human sexuality. One day, your Johnny and my Junior will be good enough to get picked. They will be skilled enough to be signed. They will be competent enough to be hired.
But they won’t be. We will have to know what to do and what to say. They’ll think hard work is meaningless and dedication is useless. We can’t let them fall into that trap.
As a 5th grader, I was a shoo-in for the Rotary Club Award. The honor was given for a combination of academic achievement and an essay explaining a personal definition of community service. I had the best grades in my class and my essays were often printed in the school newsletter sent to parents.
There was no way I wouldn’t win except for the fact that I didn’t. The award went to a classmate of mine. Neither his grades nor his essay were better. The selection committee liked how he learned to serve others from his dad and they did projects together.
I didn’t have a dad. He abandoned me when I was six and there was nothing I could do about it. That was a hard lesson for me to take in. Sometimes being good enough isn’t good enough.
My mom told me that it wasn’t my time. She said my time in the sun would come. She was right. For as many stumbling blocks as life has, very few people don’t want smart kids around who work hard.
Tell your kids that while they may not make this team, there are others that will need them. And even if none do, they have other gifts and talents to contribute to this society that will make them successful. Life is not an all or nothing game. A lost opportunity does not make you a loser.
Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Just be ready when your time comes.