“I won’t give up on us. God knows I’m tough, he knows we got a lot to learn. God knows we’re worth it. I won’t give up on us even if the skies get rough. I’m giving you all my love. I’m still looking up…” ~ Jason Mraz
Like all teams the Ravens do their fair share of scouting and homework on prospective collegiate talent when it comes to the physical skills and abilities of athletes. They are often described as “measurables.” These are real. The 40-times; the vertical leap; the strength and endurance tests; the agility drills – all real and tangible.
But sometimes it’s the intangibles that make the difference between whether or not an athlete can successfully navigate the rough skies that separate amateur from professional in the wide world of sports.
So if you accept the value of intangibles (and the evidence is there) how do you identify them? Where do you look and why are they so important?
For the Ravens, the clues of character lie in how a player has dealt with adversity. It is the team’s collective opinion that experiencing and successfully dealing with adversity will help a player make the transition from college to the NFL.
Collegiate players that are of NFL caliber are accustomed to success on the field and in many cases they are also coddled and directed through school via the paths of least resistance off the field. Life is often made easier for them because of the way society clings to, craves and even “underwrites” superior athleticism. In many ways they are the spoiled children of sport.
But what happens when these athletes finally meet their match? When winning doesn’t happen as easily? Perhaps it’s then that they dig in a little deeper? Try a little harder? Study a little more film? Lift more weights? Stay in at nights?
Or do they take the lazy approach and just assume that eventually they will win as they always have?
Or even worse…do they quit?
Take a look at the Ravens roster…
- Ray Lewis grew up without a father
- Ed Reed was raised in a one-bedroom home with his four siblings
- Haloti Ngata lost his Dad tragically and his Mom passed away from complications tied to kidney failure prior to being drafted by the Ravens
- Lardarius Webb’s parents were plagued by the demons of addiction
- Jameel McClain was homeless
- Michael Oher’s mother was a crack addict, his father imprisoned and he wandered the mean streets of Memphis
- Paul Kruger was nearly stabbed to death defending his sister
- Torrey Smith was the oldest of seven siblings, raised by a single mother and bore the responsibilities of helping to raise his brothers and sisters
All of these men, athletes with tremendous talent who successfully tackled obstacles in their respective lives. They are battle tested and better prepared for the challenges that are part of the transitional process into the professional ranks.
Recently Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti lamented the value of players with heart and character, insinuating that such qualities can’t be taught BUT that such players are easier to coach, the end result of which is a better and more galvanized team.
TEAM is something near and dear to the heart of Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh and the more men of character you collect, the stronger the bond, and the easier it is to remind players that there is no “I” in team. Once that concept develops into a credo or even a way of life, contrary to the opinion of Bisciotti, the more likely you are to instill character.
When that happens even suspect team players may embrace it, inspired in part by team leaders who practice it. Just think of the players who have successfully emerged from Harbaugh’s doghouse.
I thought of this when I attended the funeral of a friend’s Dad this weekend.
I never had the pleasure of meeting George Litz. But I listened to his wife, daughters, siblings and friends describe attributes of a man that any man should aspire to be: funny, fun loving, wise, compassionate, understanding, engaging and worldly, all the while driven by faith.
I admired the immense love his daughters have for him and without ever looking George in the eye or ever shaking his hand, he’s inspired me to be a better father, a better listener and more in touch with my own faith.
And then I thought of what Steve Bisciotti said.
In most cases you can’t teach character. But when you have players like the Ravens have been wise enough to bring on or a George Litz in your locker room, you CAN reach in, inspire and pull out the character in any man.
Even if the skies are rough.