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John Livingston

Refocus

This week marks the beginning of March Madness 2022—The NCAA Division 3 Men’s basketball tournament. I was one of three boys and I raised three boys of my own. Sports were always a big part in the lives of both families. My father like myself saw sports as a “means to an end” and not an end unto itself. Teaching young men and women to compete, to win and lose, to sacrifice for a goal, are lessons that can best be learned on the athletic fields. In my lifetime I have seen sports down to the lowest levels—Little League Baseball and AAU Basketball for example, become corporatized. In 2019 when Ohio State played Alabama in the Division 1 Football National Championship game the two schools athletic department budgets were $1/2 Billion. The game no longer was about developing character and shaping values in young men—but about making money for their universities. The game and sport have suffered. The adults in the room are to blame for this. But what is happening in sports is only the tip of the iceberg for what is happening in society. When “billable hours” becomes more important to a lawyer or an accountant, than the quality of service to a client, or when “up coding procedure codes” becomes more important than access or quality of care to a hospital then the process becomes contaminated.

When “recoding” to capture Covid Funds becomes more important than taking care of every patient with skill, while showing respect to every patient and their families is the priority, then the whole point of what doctors and nurses do becomes a business transaction and not a vocation. Big difference! The primary reason in a MEDSCAPE survey given by over 80% of nurses who are thinking about leaving their profession is not long hours at work or exposure to an infectious agent, but rather a loss of respect for the ethical values of their profession. The “commoditization” of the nursing and medical professions by hospital administrators and government bureaucrats is exactly what we are seeing in the post Covid medical world. The corporatization of the medical and nursing professions and the subjugation of the doctor and nurse relationship to their patients to a Command-and-Control top-down system of managing the pandemic where the communal takes precedence over individual rights and autonomy will only result in a lower standard of care for individuals and all of society. Individual “self-interest” has been replaced with materialistic corporate “selfish interest.

In sports, medicine, education, and all corporate America this is the result of respected leaders falling prey to the almighty dollar. The great coaches who impacted my life were first great teachers. One of my football coaches huddled all his assistants around him after every game and practice and asked, “Did we today make better boys”. That was the point of the whole exercise. The fact that he is now in the Hall of Fame, won three Ohio State Big School State Championships in a row speaks to the fact that he got his priorities straight.

I saw great coaches and teachers succumb to the temptation of money. When this happened the “spirit” of the game always suffered. This month we will see the great Mike Krzyzewski —”Coach K” coach his last game at Duke. There was a time when his team had the highest graduation rates of any D-1 basketball program. Can you imagine the value of the human capital created by graduating from Duke and being on a national championship team? But things changed in his mid-career. His title—Duke Basketball coach didn’t change, but his job did. Instead of being a coach and a great teacher of life’s lessons he became the manager of a brand (Duke Basketball and USA Basketball) and of talent. Many of his players were “one-and-done”. They didn’t graduate from college, and they went directly to the NBA. The value of their “Human Capital portfolios” became the value of their being able to play basketball—not adding in the value of graduating from Duke. Many NBA and NFL athletes file for bankruptcy five years after playing because they have never completed their college educations. Fr. Theodore Hesburgh the long time President at Notre Dame once opined about Notre Dame Athletes: “If they play at Notre Dame and graduate—they have used us. If they play and don’t graduate, we have used them”

Sports programs, corporations, hospital systems evolve into materialistic organizations because they lose focus on their purpose. For each the reason for their existence is to “create value for their customers and empower their employees—in that order”. Making money is only a secondary result. When leaders in these organizations lose that focus, the organization suffers. We are seeing that happen today with hospitals, schools, and colleges, and in the world of sports.

One final story to demonstrate the concept of a proper focus in any aspect of our lives. I saw an interview with Tom Brand the Head Wrestling Coach at Iowa. Tom and his twin brother Tim are all time great NCAA and Olympic wrestlers and coaches. Tom was being interviewed by the head of a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) professional wrestling league. The commissioner asked this question: “We both have the common problem of having champion wrestler’s not being able to make weight. In my case if a wrestler misses a weigh in, he may lose millions of dollars” Tom interrupted: “My wrestlers make weight. We don’t have that problem because we don’t wrestle for money we wrestle for our souls”.

Who would you rather confront in business or in sports? Someone competing for money, or someone competing for their souls. Businesses, colleges and schools, the professions and government bureaucracies have all lost our souls. Our leaders are only partially to blame. We must take responsibility ourselves. When WE The People “lose our souls” what do we have left?

When we live life for the integrity of our souls we focus on the right things. Tom Brand is a coach and a teacher not a manager of talent or the “keeper of a brand” We need more leaders in all aspects of our lives to understand that concept.

Time to refocus.

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