COVID-19, financial markets and politics seem to be the daily routine we navigate during this 2020 crisis.
And our personal lives add another layer of reality.
On May 17, I presented before 500 IAABO referees at the request of one of my mentors, Tom Lopes. “Developing the Leader Within You” was the Zoom program and discussion included proper authority behavior, servant leadership, teamwork and more in 21st Century Officiating. During the Q&A, I was asked to name one person, outside of family, who had the most impact on my life. I could not because there is never just one person. I named those from my New Jersey State Police, NBA and SEC days who have mentored me or been valued peers, explaining the list was so long it would take days. I spoke of the military leaders I have had the honor to know and how they have shaped my leadership. I even mentioned leadership influence from my undercover life infiltrating the mob — offering that you can learn from negative as well as positive.
The question was followed by a great deal of reflection — for hours and days — after the call had ended. At the time, I was reading General Martin E. Dempsey’s book, No Time for Spectators. I have had the good fortune to spend time with our military armed service members around the world, with multiple trips to Iraq, Afghanistan, Asia, Europe and USA bases/posts. While having the opportunity to be around the world champions of sports; the men and women who serve are the world champions in the game of life. Spending time with military leaders like General Dempsey provides leadership and life-learning at the highest levels.
General Dempsey shares a story in his book from one of his deployments. It was 2003 in Iraq and he would meet with patrol units as they departed the post. After a conversation with one patrol leader, the General asked the Sergeant: “Are you here?” and the response was, “With all due respect, sir, I don’t understand.” Follow-up question by the General: “What were you doing before you mounted up for this patrol?” The Sergeant explained he was checking on his soldiers and equipment and had spoken with his wife. General Dempsey fleshed out the home-front conversation and at one point the Sergeant shared that he felt “guilty” about not being there to share family responsibilities. General Dempsey put his hand on the soldier’s shoulder and again asked, “Are you here?” This time, he responded: “Got it, sir. I need to be focused. I’m here.”
While I often use lessons learned from military with officials, I never equate what they do to preserve our freedoms to what we do in sports. However, we can learn from them. Distractions are part of everyday life. This crisis is a major distraction, however we need to find ways to be ready because the games will start again. General Dempsey closes his story with … “It’s a shared responsibility for each of us to be here when the team needs us to be here.”
I was contacted a day after the IAABO presentation by a former high school teammate, Al Taliaferro of IAABO Board 33. Al’s words jumped off the screen: The present brings you to your past and you know it will impact your future. He shared that Randy Stewart, another teammate, had died from COVID-19 complications. Randy was a sophomore when I was a junior. I scored over 1,000 points in two years of varsity basketball and the reason — Randy Stewart. He was our point guard. He had tremendous skills coupled with an ability to see plays happen before anyone else. He passed the ball at the right time and in the right spot. For days I reflected on those glory days and as the Springsteen lyrics suggest: “Glory Days, well they pass you by …” and they do. The memories of those who have influenced our lives remain and shape our present and our future.
This year your National Association Sports Officials celebrates 40 years of service to officiating. I have been a proud member for 35 years and it has been my honor to serve as the 2019-20 NASO board chair.
Our past, present and future are all part of who we are and will become — are you here?
Stay healthy. Stay safe. Take care of each other!