Moats: Rules of the Game

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(HOST) This may sound a little counter-intuitive, but commentator David Moats thinks that some of the best lessons about civility and respect – can be learned on the football field.   

(MOATS) When I was a kid, I was way into football. I understood and embraced the ethos of relentless aggression. It was all about attacking your opponent, pushing him back, inch by inch, at every chance. It was all about the will to win against whoever was on the other side of the line.

I’ve seen the way this challenge works, in the old-fashioned sense, to build character – young men suffering together for a larger goal.

But the football ethos can be carried to harmful extremes. There’s potential for harm in the business world. Whoever’s on the other side of the line, your job is to grind them into the mud.

Where does this kind of competition exist? How about the oil industry? How about Wall Street?

Where the football ethos does the most damage, though, is the realm of politics. According to a certain view, those on the other side of the line are there to be pushed back, at every moment, in every way. The line of scrimmage is a dividing line between them and us. You don’t engage in civil discussion. If your opponent tries it, you put a helmet to his chest and drive him back.

You could see the football ethos at work following the shootings in Arizona. There were those who used the tragedy to strike against their opponents, motivated either by paranoia, hatred, or plain old-fashioned football-style aggression.

But underneath the football ethos is a deeper level of fundamental values. The old-fashioned term is sportsmanship. If you know about sportsmanship, you honor the rules of the game. You treat your opponents with respect. You play hard, but you don’t play dirty. For those who play dirty, there are penalties.

The best football coaches teach their kids to play hard, but they also teach them that it’s a game, and it wouldn’t exist without the rules.

From a certain point of view, that might be sissy stuff, especially if you stand to move on to big-time sports and make millions of dollars – in other words, if you can be bought.

What I know from my time, all those years ago, was that the coach who taught us to win at all costs, and to play like a football machine, led us to an 0 and 9 season. The coach who taught us to play the game hard but with respect went on to coach in the NFL.

Respect for the rules of the game is what democracy is about. It’s about respect for those on the other side of the line. It’s about sportsmanship. When the stakes are high, you have to get tough, but if you forget what the game is about, then in the long run you lose. When we hear people talk about bipartisanship and civility, we hear a call to remember that the players on the other side of the line are our fellow citizens and we’re all in the game together.

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