You’ll forgive me for writing again about the Seattle Seahawks — as I did here and here — but that’s my team, and so it’s the one I notice the most. But, I’ll stipulate to the fact that the NFL is full of amazing QBs and leaders, and that Russell Wilson is only one of them.
However, I pick my teams in part by how much I like the players, and Wilson’s one of my favorites — and it’s not just about his outstanding play.
Last night, I had my closest football buddy Meghan over, and we watched an episode of NFL Network’s “Sound FX,” a compendium of video clips from moments during games and on the sidelines when Wilson was miked for sound (click here for a taste).
What struck me is how this very young man — the episode covered the 2013 season, Wilson’s second in the League, when he was 24 (turning 25 at the end of November) — wore being captain of the ship both lightly and seriously.
In scene after scene, on the road to the team’s Super Bowl victory in early 2014, he was encouraging and exhorting his teammates, congratulating them, calling them out by name, saying, “I see you!” When things went wrong, he took responsibility. When they went well, he spread the credit around.
The same happened after the team’s recent, heartbreaking Super Bowl 2015 loss (but I couldn’t be too sad, considering the amazing turnaround it meant for the Patriots’ comeback kid, Malcolm Butler). Here’s a video Wilson shot about his reaction to what happened:
In this narcissistic, me-first world, it’s easy to forget that to lead is to serve, to truly look beyond oneself to the good of all. When a leader fails to execute a task, taking the responsibility publicly doesn’t absolve everyone below or around him or her of their part in the outcome, but it’s the leader’s way of acknowledging that, because he has the greater share of control, he has the greater share of blame.
But, he doesn’t get a greater share of credit. First, that is ungracious and ungenerous. Second, from a football QB to a president to a king, leaders require the consent of the governed to some degree or another, unless they are to be dictators. And dictators, like all hard things, can be brittle, and the harder they press, the more fragile they can become.
As Princess Leia observed while talking to the Grand Moff Tarkin in “Star Wars”: “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
A true leader is magnanimous, both in victory and defeat; shows strength while acknowledging weakness; fights for what’s right without feeling the need to belittle opponents; and builds up those he leads instead of tearing them down.
A great leader also knows, as servants used to whisper into the ear of Roman conquerors as they held laurel wreaths over their heads during victory parades, that all glory is fleeting. And, as Catholics, we know we’ll answer in eternity for all we do.
Wilson, a public Christian, is well aware of it as well, as shown in his post-game tweets at @DangeRussWilson, including:
Thank You God for the opportunity. We’ll be back… I will never waiver on who He has called me to be.
Watching him last night, I was put in mind of Shakespeare’s portrait of another leader in “Henry V,” who sets out on the night before a great battle to rally the spirits of his ragged and tired men:
O now, who will behold
The royal captain of this ruin’d band
Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,
Let him cry ‘Praise and glory on his head!’
For forth he goes and visits all his host.
Bids them good morrow with a modest smile
And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.
Upon his royal face there is no note
How dread an army hath enrounded him;
Nor doth he dedicate one jot of colour
Unto the weary and all-watched night,
But freshly looks and over-bears attaint
With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty;
That every wretch, pining and pale before,
Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks:
A largess universal like the sun
His liberal eye doth give to every one,
Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all,
Behold, as may unworthiness define,
A little touch of Harry in the night.
Image: Russell Wilson’s official Facebook page