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“Defeat should never be a source of discouragement but rather a fresh stimulus.”
– Robert South, English Clergyman, 1634-1716
It was one of the most untimely errors in sports history that created a stunning and bitter defeat, and it will never be forgotten.
In the moments after Blake O’Neill failed to successfully do what he’d routinely done tens of thousands of times – catch a football and kick it away — the empathetic thought was, “How will he survive this? How will his teammates and fans treat him? Will it crush him?”
I’m pretty sure I know the answer. In the long run, I believe, it will make him a better man.
Everyone fails. What differentiates people is how they deal with defeat, even cataclysmic ones like Michigan’s other-worldly football loss on October 17, 2015 to arch rival Michigan State.
Fans that haven’t personally experienced the hyper mood swings inherent in sports may have a hard time understanding an athlete’s mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Blake will never be happy to have blown that game, but he does understand the volatile nature of high-stakes sports competition. Only an hour or so earlier he was ecstatic after booming an 80-yard punt, a remarkable feat in any league.
“Sweet are the uses of adversity.”
What many people fail to grasp is that sports is really about mistakes and losing. Only one team wins the championship each year, which means that everyone else is a loser. Everyone knows that the much admired .300 hitter in baseball makes an out 70% of the time.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
A successful athlete like O’Neill is also aware that his mistake, although the most memorable, may not have even been the worst mistake in that game. It might have been the targeting call that disqualified Michigan’s leading tackler and directly led to a MSU touchdown that impacted the end-game drama. Even the announcers were aghast over that one. It doesn’t erase O’Neill’s horrific gaffe, but it gives depth to his understanding that he wasn’t the only one guilty of a critical error. There were also 31 incomplete passes and 13 penalties.
One of the most common things that famous, rich and successful people cite when asked about how they got to where they are is that they all say they see defeat as a positive.
“It is inevitable that some defeat will enter even the most victorious life. The human spirit is never finished when it is defeated…it is finished when it surrenders.”
– Ben Stein
We all make major mistakes in life, whether they’re career, family or simply physical, like O’Neill’s. Life is tough even in the best of circumstances.
Buddha said it best in his first Noble Truth: “Life is suffering … sickness, old age and death is unavoidable.” Some of the fortunate among us may now be enjoying relatively happy and carefree lives, but it is only a matter of time before the inevitability of suffering befalls us.
When you accept that as inevitable, you are subtly preparing yourself for when it happens. This way you’re not terribly surprised and can gather yourself quickly and effectively.
That noble truth isn’t something to run from. It’s something to embrace. My hope for Blake O’Neill is that he will accept his mistake and understand that it will be far from his last. In 1994, a fellow Wolverine, 20-year old Chris Webber, may have cost his team a national basketball championship with a devastatingly ill-timed time out call. He went on to become NBA rookie of the year the very next year and earned over $178 million in a 14-year career.
O’Neill and Webber were hardened to sports realities at very young ages. It’s the nature of the beast. The strong survive. My hope and belief is that O’Neill also has the depth of character to accept his profound adversity and use it to affirm belief in himself, spur him on to great things and use it as a lesson to impart to others.
My mom, Lillian Zaret, wasn’t perfect, but in certain areas she really knew her stuff. In my 18 years under her roof, she never brought a bottle of Coca-Cola into the house. “It’s junk – all sugar” she’d say. “Tab” was Coca-Cola’s precursor to Diet Coke which came along in the early 80’s. Tab didn’t make it into my fridge either. “Artificial sweeteners are poison,” she’d growl.
Right again, Ma.
Let’s face it. Coke and its many carbonated cousins contain no nutritional value. The sugary ones are stuffed with bad, unneeded calories and help foster obesity. Peer-reviewed scientific studies seem to indicate the “diet” ones seem to do no better in the long run.
But the main reason I hate Coke today is its deceit and influence peddling. At New Oakland, our passion for good mental health starts from the premise that, after all, mental health — for individuals or society as a whole — begins with good health. And we tend to get particularly outraged when anyone — companies, government — tries to distort the truth about what matters when it comes to good health.
And yet, take a look at an article from this week’s New York Times this week that’s titled, “Coke Spends to Sugar Coat Science.”
It documents how, in just the last five years, Coca- has handed out $120 million in grants to organizations supposedly dedicated to children’s health. In exchange for cash, these organizations obscure how truly awful sugary beverages and sugar-laden foods are for children.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The article shows how Coke is copying the tactics of tobacco companies in the 50’s and 60’s — who paid off doctors to endorse highly addictive and deadly cigarettes as good for your health while glamorizing it in advertising as cool and sophisticated.
So, shame on Coca-Cola. But it’s also shame on the organizations that are only too happy to take Coke money, including:
- The American College of Cardiology ($3.1M)
- The American Cancer Society ($2M)
- The American Academy of Family Physicians ($3.5M)
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ($1.7) and
- The American Academy of Pediatrics ($3M)
These are organizations that claim to share New Oakland’s commitment to health of all kinds — mental, physical, nutritional — and to the importance of unbiased scientific inquiry and education about what contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
When the American Academy of Pediatrics needed funding for a website to promote children’s health, it turned to Coke. In exchange for $3 million over 6 years, the group praised Coke on its website as a “distinguished” company for its commitment to “better the health of children worldwide.”
Now under pressure for allowing Coke to buy its influence, the Academy will end its relationship after 2015 saying, “We no longer share the same values with Coca-Cola.” Dr. Arnold Matlin, a retired NY pediatrician led the fight against the Academy’s illicit relationship with Coke. “Coca-Cola is bad for children,” Matlin wrote. “And the AAP should never accept sponsorship from Coke or any company that makes sugar sweetened beverages. It’s obscene.”
In 2013 when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban sugared sodas bigger than 16 ounces, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Hispanic Federation both sided with the beverage industry in a lawsuit against him even though minorities have disproportionate rates of obesity. Guess why? Each had accepted about $500,000 from Coke.
New Oakland has only one goal, and that is to positively influence the mental and physical health of the thousands of children it deals with yearly. We’re not saying kids should never drink a Coke, eat a donut or devour a piece of birthday cake. But too much sugar leads to much more than just obesity. It also contributes to:
- Rotting teeth
- Overloading the liver
- Insulin resistance leading to Type II diabetes
- Higher risk of cancer
- Higher levels of cholesterol leading to heart disease
- Greater dopamine release in the brain leading to sugar addiction
Sugar is added to many other food products besides soda. But each 12 oz. Coke has 35 grams of sugar, 30% more than what an entire, safe daily intake should be.
My mom has been gone almost 20 years and I’m grateful for the stance she took against sugar when there wasn’t any research to back her gut instincts. I just wish more modern day moms would take her lead. And I hope any modern day organization whose mission is to advance children’s health will think twice about taking money from a company whose products essentially do the opposite.
“The church shooting in Charleston was a tipping point but my anger has been building steadily. I’ve been a human powder keg for awhile just waiting to go “boom.” … I’ve been mistreated and a victim of racism and sexual harassment because I’m a gay black man.”
That’s an excerpt from the suicide note of Vester Flanagan, aka Bryce Williams, who shot dead two former co-workers, Alison Parker and Adam Ward while they doing what’s ironically called a “Live shot” on WDBJ, a Roanoke, Virginia TV station.
I did hundreds of live shots in my career. But that’s not why I’m compelled to write this blog. It’s not about television or reporters or the following:
- Flanagan had recently bought a gun, but this isn’t about gun control
- He was gay and black, but it isn’t about either of those
- He’d been fired from the station, and that’s also not the reason
The real reason he murdered two innocent people is that he was mentally ill. All else is simply his particular circumstance.
Here are the facts:
- The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent
- The vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association)
- Only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994)
- People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001).
On the campaign trail the day of the tragedy, Donald Trump said, “Mental illness is massive problem in U.S. Many people are being released from care
because they don’t have enough money and the issue of untreated mentally ill people is becoming a very dangerous situation. It’s difficult, though, to detect a person who will commit violent act.”
And there are other ironies in this case related to the fact that it was a former TV reporter killing two fellow TV reporters. TV news coverage and the entertainment business promote the stigma of mental illness and violence which can cause extremely negative consequences. In 1999, the non-profit organization Mental Health American wrote, “Characters in prime time television portrayed as having a mental illness are depicted as the most dangerous of all demographic groups: 60 percent were shown to be involved in crime or violence.”
The result is stigmatization of the mentally ill. Otto Wahl, author of Media Madness writes, “Most news accounts portray people with mental illness as dangerous… either focusing on other negative characteristics related to people with the disorder (e.g., unpredictability and unsociability). Notably absent are positive stories that highlight recovery of many persons with even the most serious of mental illnesses.”
The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to,
or employing people with mental disorders. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment.”
Vester Flanagan had been fired from his station for anger issues. Very likely, had he sought professional assistance, therapy and possibly medication could have helped him understand the true source of his anger and provided him with ways to cope. Rather than blame superfluous reasons or blame others, he could have taken charge of his life.
New Oakland treats a wide range of mental health issues and helps people gain or regain their will to lead a productive life. Had Vester Flanagan been so inclined, three young people who loved TV news could be at work today pursuing their various goals, rather than further perpetuating the stigma of the mentally ill and violence.