Something pretty great happened a couple of Saturdays ago your students need to know about. The University of Maryland was playing The University of Texas in football, and when Maryland’s offense came on the field, they started with only ten players. Football requires eleven players, but Maryland did this on purpose, leaving a position blank for Jordan McNair, a Maryland player who died this summer.
It’s a pretty remarkable show of respect when a team is willing to play with one less player they truly miss, but the referees didn’t exactly see it that way. When they counted ten Maryland players where eleven should have been, they penalized Maryland five yards for delaying the game, because you have to play football with eleven on the field. The penalty would have put them in a little bit of a hole, but Maryland didn’t seem to care. The head coach for Texas quickly figured out what was going on and even though his team would have clearly benefitted from the penalty, he declined it, and the game went on.
This reminded me of the time President Obama went to visit New Jersey a few years ago, after Hurricane Sandy destroyed an incredible amount of property there. Chris Christie was the governor of New Jersey, and he and President Obama toured the damage together, discussing how the state and federal government were going to work together to help the people who had lost everything. Governor Christie was a Republican, and when he was asked why he was working so closely with President Obama, a Democrat, he said “This is what adults do.”
It’s doubtful many teachers will ever share these stories with their students, but they should. Maryland and Texas are both very proud of their football teams, and once Texas declined the penalty, you’d better believe both sides fought hard to best the other side. The same is true for Republicans and Democrats, in ways no one has to point out to anyone.
Even in the midst of these fierce rivalries—one in the name of sport, one in the real world—competitors realize when something more important calls for a response, something more than a win, or bragging rights, or lording your success over others. It may not happen often, but when it does, it moves us in ways we just simply understand to be right, and we dwell in that sense of right because it is just so strong. Like the football referees and the press accompanying Governor Christie, it might seem like others don’t understand what’s going on, but that doesn’t it make it less right—or less important—to act on that intuition to step up.
Our students are being raised in a society where people seem to be paying less and less attention to those moments. The “he said she said” and instant judgement that too easily pervades adolescence is more intense than ever, thanks to social media outlets young people just can’t turn off or away from. These same outlets become centers of cynicism when genuine moments do occur, with voices claiming someone is only trying to increase their Likes or Hits by pretending to be human. It’s as if no one can tell the difference anymore, or at least doesn’t want to.
That’s where we come in. The tape of the Maryland-Texas penalty isn’t even a minute long, but there are enough life lessons there to fill a class period. See what you can do to advance the cause of civility in your school, this week and every week. It’s what counselors do.