BY JAY GERLACH, Ph.D.
Since writing a Take 2 piece in February on my experience with Russell Wilson as my student, several have asked me what Russell has taught me since those North Carolina State days. It’s a fair question with a straightforward answer. Russell continues to teach me the power of faith in God, an unrelenting work ethic and a heart for others.
Yet Russell is surrounded by several individuals who are about more than just football. I don’t know them personally, but in today’s society, people present themselves on social media and in other public spheres, and professional athletes often do so unwittingly.
As a public-affairs professor, I am fortunate to work with and know many intelligent, hard-working individuals. It is not uncommon for issues such as athletics, their value to colleges and universities, and the future of the student-athlete to come up in professional circles. It seems the following phrase never fails to work its way into those conversations: It’s just a game.
In a sense, that’s true. However, I’m here to argue that to a large extent games such as football give us yet another learning laboratory in life. While the bulk of collegiate athletes will not become professional athletes, some do get to live that dream. And we can learn from them. You, the citizens of Seattle, have the unique and special privilege of being the Seahawks’ 12th Man. I encourage you to think about what you might learn from the other 11 as we kick off yet another NFL season.
Follow the work ethic of your hometown Seahawks. It takes but some minor channel flipping, internet surfing or thumbing through the newspaper to find evidence of the hard work put in by your favorite team. You may recognize that same work ethic in yourself – striving toward a goal, working harder than the next person, always staying hungry for personal improvement. You may learn something about those matters from your Seahawks. Whatever the case may be, take notice. Follow the Hawks on more days than Sunday and Monday morning. Read about practice, commitment and sacrifice. These are all ways in which this collection of men and women (let’s give credit to the entire organization) can teach us all a little about chasing down a dream with good, old fashioned hard work.
You can also look to your Seahawks as an example of our societal progression toward a more equal and level playing field. I teach equality in my classrooms. We witness equality in sports. When we don’t, we work to change it. If you haven’t read Russell’s Monday Morning Quarterback article with SI.com’s Peter King from July 9, 2014, you should. Russell talks about spring practices in Renton during which he was one of five African-American quarterbacks in a Seahawks uniform. He jokes about the group calling itself the “Jackson Five,” but hits on a very real point. Equality is a wonderful thing, and it can be witnessed in the NFL. I teach my students that our great nation was founded on a premise of equal opportunity. We haven’t always lived up to that ideal as a society. Far from it. Yet it’s inspiring when we do. Let your Seattle Seahawks inspire you in that way as you witness what good can come from equal treatment of all people.
Finally, take time to recognize the public-service endeavors of your Seahawks organization. I encourage you to seek out information on some of the players’ foundations, personal-outreach activities and time devoted in service to others. Keep in mind, as I surely will, that this is something the 12th Man can do as easily as the other 11. You don’t have to be the quarterback of the Seahawks to brighten someone’s day, volunteer at a local hospital or do something positive for another. You don’t have to be your favorite NFL defensive back to purchase school supplies for a child in need or to be a mentor to a young man or woman. Follow the Seahawks on Twitter, friend the organization on Facebook, read about the players’ lives outside of Sunday. I guarantee you’ll either be inspired to continue the great work you do for others or to join the movement.
Perhaps the best answer I give when asked what I continue to learn from Russell Wilson is one word: “much.” However, this all-encompassing word can be applied to your entire Seahawks organization.
So, as the 2014 NFL season kicks off, take pride in being the vaunted 12th Man, but also take the time to learn from the other 11. After all, on this stage, particularly when you are part of a championship organization, it’s more than just a game.
Dr. Jay Gerlach is an assistant professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University. He has worked in higher education since 2004, during graduate school at North Carolina State University and in tenure-track faculty positions at Texas Tech University. He resides in Asheville, NC with his wife and two daughters, and is an avid sports fan.
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