Tag Archives: sports

Let Me Lead You

You can lead me to water
but you can’t make me drink,
You can lead me to higher earnings
but you can’t make me believe
I have what it takes
to turn your paper crane
into a 3-D printed one
or the solution
to your predecessor’s mistakes.

You can teach me to fish
but you can’t make me eat,
You can teach me the virtues
of patience and reverence,
but you can’t make me believe
I have what you think it takes
to turn my playbook sketches
into a game-saving use case
or the antidote to my predecessor’s biases.

Let me lead you to water
I won’t force you to drink,
unless you’re thirsty
Let me lead you to higher earnings
I won’t force you to believe,
in your own potential.

Let me teach you to fish
I won’t force you to eat,
unless you’re hungry
Let me teach you the virtues
of slowing-down and kindness,
I won’t force you to believe
if you’re not ready.

Let me lead you,
if you’re willing
to try something new.

— yiqi 23 July 2020 3:44 pm

Chevaux

© Soledad Lorieto

The above poem was inspired by a musing on transferable skills and leadership that I read the other day.   The post begins by noting that “the problem with hiring (not recruiting) is this: Those who tend to get hired are those with the most direct experience…’Those who have will get even more while those without will have even less.  [Therein] lies the reason for lack of representation and diversity.“*

It makes sense.  If considering resume criteria alone, a violin player with five years’ experience in the city symphony will likely be chosen to play for a film score over the violin player with one year of high school experience.  The latter will likely be chosen over the music enthusiast with some childhood piano lesson memories but zero violin time.  If budget is a concern, however, the high school violinist probably has the best shot because not only will they be the least expensive, but they already have basic violin-playing skills.  (Whether or not they still remember how to sight read is a whole other issue).

The post then addresses the idea of transferable skills and that “it is still a seemingly far fetched [one] as hiring managers want people who can do the job on day 1.”  The pace at and the way in which technology, consumer/client habits, and marketing trends change across industries necessitate potential new hires to possess the knowledge and skills to enter a new organization with minimal instruction AKA “we’ll show you how to reserve a meeting room, how to navigate the employee resources portal, and someone will probably tell you which bathrooms and parking spaces to avoid**, but we’d prefer you already know how to use all of the productivity tools, relevant software and web applications, and social media platforms ever made because time is money and we have very little time and just enough money to justify hiring someone who can do everything we require.”  Consequently, companies find themselves in “the recycling of talent” or “hiring from the same pool over and over again.”

Sticking with our stringed instrument hypothetical scenario, the recycling of talent would consist of the same half-dozen violinists hired for any number of jobs where the employer does not want or cannot afford to (or both) teach anyone how to play said instrument.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with making hiring decisions based on time and money constraints, and yet, as more employers keep maintaining this type of status quo, the breadth of talent and skill potential serving those employers stagnates.

The post ends with a suggestion for the implementation of “development programs,” “[taking] a home-grown approach,” for “[leaders…to become teachers,” “[and for] companies… to transform and become learning institutions.”  The follow-up comments touch on examples of when transferable skills work (made by yours truly), how to diversify potential employee pools and re-evaluating job descriptions, and what good leadership entails.

Boats

© KOBU Agency, Faro, Portugal

What does effective leadership entail? Even if a company were eager to go beyond its modus operandi comfort zones and take a risk in hiring someone who doesn’t check off all of its “must have” boxes, how should it hire?

Perhaps one can begin by knowing who not to consider?

Rethink company priorities, thereby allowing for a wider range of leadership styles and dispositions? ***

Effective leaders should trust employees and not tell them how to work (within reason) or make unfounded assumptions about their motivations (or lack thereof)?

At the very minimum, balance the ratio of extrovert-to-introvert leaders or consider more ambiverts? ****

The consensus among these videos is that effective leaders are good listeners and mentors.  They don’t pretend to know everything and don’t belittle nor patronize their staff.  When the companies they own, the departments they oversee, or the teams they manage reach or exceed business objectives, are they automatically congratulated with such achievements or do they acknowledge credit where credit is due?  Likewise, when the companies they own, the departments they oversee, or the teams they manage not only fail to reach those goals but also bring external negative publicity or internal criticism and shame, are these leaders unequivocally held accountable for whatever happened to incur the wrath of public opinion or workplace disappointment?

In thinking about these matters, I was reminded of an entry I wrote a few years ago where a friend and I discussed the role of football coaches and the degree to which the numbers on a scoreboard is more or less attributed to the coach rather than the players.  Spectator sports are greatly affected financially by the number of wins and losses incurred over a season or series of seasons (depending on a team’s reputation).  As often as the roster changes to reflect a dire need for better athletic skills, better chemistry between teammates, or simply to put backup players on the active list to compensate for injured starters, coaches come and go with comparable levels of frustration and hope on the part of athletic departments, booster clubs, fans, and team owners.

Whether it’s the college game or the professional game, a lot of people have invested money and faith in a particular team’s ability to win.  Coaches are entrusted with the expertise to break out of losing streaks and maintain winning streaks.  They do their best with what the players and assistant coaches offer, nevertheless, the best data available is no guarantee of victory.  And as more reported stories of student-athletes or professional athletes misbehaving on or off the field circulate through media outlets and social media platforms, coaches may be unfairly blamed.  Furthermore, when a head coach is new to a team and isn’t experiencing a real-life redemption narrative, he can apply the same strategies from his last coaching job and not be sure that the players will perform as expected.  What brought accolades before won’t necessarily bring accolades again, but as long as they are good listeners and mentors, and don’t pretend to know everything, they’ll have more chances to prove themselves.

Hiring the right coach to turn a losing team around certainly involves a unique set of criteria that isn’t immediately analogous to finding an effective Senior Director, Team Lead, or CEO.  No combination of characteristics fits all, and for a company to make the correct hiring decision, it has to know both its end goals and the idiosyncrasies of the journey.  If Company A needs a charismatic leader in its sales or employee engagement departments, why shouldn’t it hire one?  If Company B has a global presence and needs guidance on making eleventh-hour decisions without resorting to rousing people from deep sleep, why not hire a centrally located night-owl or two (one near the Prime Meridian, the other on the west coast of the continental United States)?

~!~

* “Lack of representation and diversity” doesn’t have to be limited to visual differences between people (skin color, wardrobe choices, hairstyles, mode of transportation, body language, gait, et al) and protected classes (religious affiliation [or lack thereof], physical or cognitive disabilities, gender identification, sexual orientation).  Differences between people and their life experiences also involve pop-cultural tastes, dietary choices, philosophical beliefs, coping mechanisms, vices, sources of joy, sources of duress, and all the other characteristics that make no two people alike.

** In a pre-coronavirus world certainly, but in the current state of the world, the equivalent would probably be a note about which types of backgrounds to avoid using in virtual video conference calls.

*** As idealistic as this proposition might be that prioritizing kindness and treating employees well positively correlates to business success and a happy sales/finance department, if a company can monetarily afford to try it, why not then?

**** Is it “extravert” or “extrovert” and what is an “ambivert?”

I came across this article about financial scandals in pro sports.  Fascinating stuff.

 

Pic creds: Unsplash

The Odyssey of Brian Banks

Brian Banks (Tom Shadyac, 2018) begins and ends with football imagery.  The poster and DVD cover put the gridiron game at the forefront of the viewer’s mind, but the bulk of the film’s narrative content frames it as less of a sports inspirational and more of a criticism of the criminal justice system via one man’s odyssey in trying to clear his name of a crime he did not commit.  One could argue that the tug-of-war between the conventions of the football film and the prison film ultimately acquiesce to the redemption theme inherent in sports films as a whole, but this Brian Banks is based on a true story, thus, the title character’s triumphs are due to real life and not a genre’s tropes.

BBanksPoster

Adrianna Valentin © Bleecker Street

 

BBanks

The first ten minutes of the film establishes that Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) is on parole and according to his parole officer (Dorian Missick), a new Sacramento law means “that all 290 registrants who are currently on parole must wear one of these” — a GPS-enabled ankle tracking monitor that cannot be removed, must be worn 24/7, and be charged in the morning and in the evening.  Parolees have to stay in LA County and they “cannot be within 2,000 feet of a school or a park.” The consequences of this new law mean that Brian Banks can no longer play football at Long Beach City College, at least according to his parole officer, who tells him to “forget about football” because “boyhood dreams have no place in a man’s life.”

The proceeding sequences demonstrate his willingness to apply to whatever jobs he can to gain employment, but interview after interview yields no offers, which isn’t surprising for a convicted felon — even one who is innocent.  Going into this film without knowing details about what Brian did that landed him in prison in the first place, I was keen to discover how and when this information would be revealed.  The first part of the story is conveyed after Brian’s mother (Sherri Shepherd) encourages him to write to the California Innocence Project again, focusing not on the details of his case but on himself.  A montage sequence illustrates the voice-over narration of his second letter to Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), who heads up the organization:

Dear Mr. Brooks,

I’m writing to you again in the hope that the California Innocence Project will reconsider my case.  I know you hear from a lot of people. But maybe if you got to know me, you might reconsider.  Let me state clearly and unequivocally, I am innocent.  I spent six years in prison and the past three on parole for a sex offense that I did not commit. 

I wrote you two years ago from CMC and you turned me down.  But I don’t stay down, not for long.  I learned that in prison, and I learned it growing up too.  You see, I played a lot of football when I was young, and it wasn’t all ice cream and pizza parties.  No, sir.  I had a different walk home.  Life in Long Beach was for real and it was hard to see a way out, but football gave me a way out.  It taught me discipline and dedication, and strangely, it gave me faith, because my mom said my talent was God-given.  So each night I promised to give something back in return.

By the time I was 16, I wasn’t just your average high school football player.  I was what they called a “sure thing.” I played middle linebacker on one of the best teams in the country.  We had two thousand fans at every game, but to be honest, I only heard one. Even though I was just a sophomore, I had the attention of the media and the best coach in college football: Coach Pete Carroll from USC. Coach Carroll was someone I looked up to and his belief in me made a world of difference.

But all that changed on July 8th, 2002.  You know that feeling you get that tells you something is off? Some say it’s the voice of God.  Had I listened to that voice, we might not be here today.  But I didn’t.

The montage ends with Justin Brooks looking at a picture of Brian that was included with the letter.  The two men partake in a sort of pas de deux for the next chunk of the film as reluctant lawyer and determined parolee.  Justin mentions a writ of habeas corpus petition and Brian files one, only to be declined, but the former is impressed and eventually agrees to officially take on the latter’s case.

BBanks2

Katherine Bomboy – © Bleecker Street

As the film continues, the viewer learns the rest of Brian’s story.   He was leaving history class when he came across a classmate he knew from middle school, Kennisha Rice (Xosha Roquemore).  She was on her way to the bathroom across campus and he asked if she wanted him to walk with her.  There was a make-out spot in a building across campus where students would go if they wanted to fool around without too much fear of being seen.  As Brian is telling the law students what happened on that day, the flashback reveals that he and Kennisha kissed and were in the middle of unbuckling belts when the door a couple flights up opened.  Brian stopped and told her that he was “not feeling this no more” so they should leave through different doors.  The look on her face was telling: disappointment and a twinge of shame.  Overtime he realized that “there’s just so many things I could have said,” such as “I didn’t want you to get in trouble” or “I just don’t think this is special enough of a place,” but he just left.  And he was just 16 and “wasn’t grown up enough, and to be honest, [he] just went back to class and [he] forgot about it.”

Kennisha did not forget what happened.  She wrote a note to her friend Shayla (Michelle E. Mitchell) that likely suggested she was assaulted because the cops and her mother came to school while he was at home.  The police arrived at his house, dragged him out of bed, and arrested him.  He called out for his mom and she called out for him as two police officers kept her in the door frame of the kitchen.  Brian took a plea deal (kidnapping and sodomy charges dropped for pleading no contest to one count of rape) because it was the least of all the evils.

His attorney advised him that she’d seen his type of case many times, reminding him, “you admitted to some intimate contact, so it comes down to consent.  Who’s the jury gonna believe? And did you see all those white folks out there? All they see is a big black teenager accused of rape.  And if any of them end up on the jury, they’re gonna find you guilty.  But if you take this deal, you are almost guaranteed probation and in three months’ time, you can be back to your family, back to your life, back to playing football. You’d be free.”

Brian only had ten minutes to decide.  Since he was tried as an adult, he couldn’t talk to his mom about it.  The judge informed him that his no contest plea had “the same legal effect as a plea of guilty” and he would “be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of [his] life.”  After pleading no contest, what happened?  Probation denied.  It’s heartbreaking watching the moment unfold.  It is at this point in the film that Brian Banks morphs into a football movie sewn roughly over the sinews of what could be an episode of Law & Order: SVU meets a Dateline NBC, 48 Hours, or 60 Minutes* special on the failings of the judicial system in cases of sexual assault.  It is also at this point in the movie where Brian Banks could have been a teacher, an artist, a bookseller, or any other number of professionals whose freedom is snatched away, whose life is derailed because a high school girl couldn’t bear the thought of her mother thinking she was messing around with boys and whose attempts to tell what really happened were silenced by the adults around her.

It’s not a spoiler to note that Justin Brooks and his team’s efforts in getting the DA to hear Kennisha’s recounting of what happened resulted in an exoneration petition.  Justin tells the courtroom and the judge (the same judge who denied Brian probation eleven years prior) it’s not just that Kennisha lied about what happened but the system didn’t care enough about the truth.  Furthermore, someone has to be the enemy and shaming accusers (even false accusers) only hurts real victims, so the system has to be the enemy.

Ending title cards are cross-cut with film footage and footage of the real Brian Banks: In the summer of 2012, 27-year-old Brian attended the Seattle Seahawks mini-camp.  Although Coach Pete Carroll was impressed with Brian’s abilities, his 11 year absence from football had taken a toll.  He did not make the cut.  Brian tried out with several other NFL teams.  No team signed him.  For an entire year, and with Justin’s support, Brian continued to train.  The following summer, Brian was asked to participate in the Atlanta Falcons offseason workouts.  In August 2013, Brian joined the team as a middle linebacker.  On August 8, 2013, Brian finally fulfilled his dream of playing in the NFL.  At the age of 28, he became one of the oldest rookies ever to play in an NFL game.  After Brian’s exoneration, Justin Brooks had Brian’s parole violations dismissed and his record cleared.  Justin co-founded the California Innocence Project in 1999.  Has has successfully exonerated 27 people imprisoned for crimes they did no commit.  He has never charged a cent for his services.  He continues to work on the case of Marilyn Mulero…it’s been 23 years. Brian continues to work with Justin and the CIP, traveling the country and speaking on behalf of the innocent. Brian is still supported and encouraged by his mentor Jerome Johnson. They remain good friends to this day.

The ending credits include more photos of the real people depicted in this film as well as those individuals that Justin Brooks helped.

Here is Aldis Hodge with the real Brian Banks:

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Katherine Bomboy – © Bleecker Street


Click here to find out what was changed for the film.
Read more about the CIP here.
Who is Marilyn Mulero?


Miscellaneous Musings:

1.  Who is Jerome Johnson?  He was a teacher in prison who helped Brian Banks survive emotionally and psychologically while serving his time.  There’s a scene in the film where he tells the class, “Two men look out from prison bars.  One saw mud, the other the stars.  Perspective, gentlemen. Perspective is the key to how one fares in life.”  He’s portrayed by Morgan Freeman.

2.  Melanie Liburd plays Karina, a trainer at the gym where Brian’s childhood friend works.  While she ends up being a source of support for him, the scene where he tells her over lunch what he was accused of doing at age 16 places her in the non-sports section of the narrative.  The audio fades out and the camera focuses on her change in body language.  Relaxed cordiality shifts into visible discomfort.  When the audio returns, she tells him she has to go back to work.  Later on in the film, she apologizes for her behavior and the viewer learns that she was assaulted by a friend in college and the university did nothing, hence her reaction.

3.  Brian Banks was released in 2018.  The premise and its execution ought to make it assessed like any other sports inspirational, even one that is more compelling in its look at the criminal justice system.  Maybe it can be, but post-May 2020, knowing all that has happened around the world (not just with coronavirus but also with Black Lives Matter), it would be naive not to acknowledge the ramifications of aspiring to be a pro-footballer and being wrongfully convicted of a crime as a black man in America.  Being wrongfully arrested, charged, convicted, and imprisoned can happen to anyone, yet who makes it all the way to the go straight to jail part more often than not?  Moreover, one might feel conflicted about enjoying college and professional football as a spectator sport while knowing about the risks for head injuries and the commodification of the male body as spectacle.  Has the playing field been evened out somewhat between the sexes in this regard? (Also consider the objectification of Olympic athlete bodies).

4.  I personally do not like stories about people who are falsely accused of any crime they did not commit unless the accuser is punished satisfactorily for their lying, so when I came across the DVD at Barnes & Noble and Target in the last couple of months, I paid it no mind.  But, I had a hankering for watching and blogging about a football movie and Aldis Hodge is an incredible actor, as evidenced in Clemency, so I went for it.  I’m glad I did.

5.  I haven’t seen anything featuring Greg Kinnear in quite a while.  After watching his performance in this film, I’m inclined to believe that he is similar to Julianne Moore and Mads Mikkelsen in the way he can convince me that he is whatever occupation of the character he’s playing.

* 60 Minutes did follow the case.

Pic creds: imdb, Bleeker Street

Matt Damon and Chewing Gum

Matt Damon does a lot of gum-chewing in James Mangold‘s newest film Ford v Ferrari (2019). When he’s not dealing with Josh Lucas‘s nonsense or trying to convince Christian Bale to calm down, Damon is chewing gum. In his portrayal of Carroll Shelby alongside Christian Bale’s Ken Miles, Matt Damon proves that he has come a long way from playing a math genius and a killer secret agent.

I did not know much about the film’s premise beyond it being based on real events. The main cast alone was reason enough for me to want to watch it. It’s definitely worth a movie theatre screening, even though it is 2.5 hours long and actually feels it. The chemistry between Matt Damon and Christian Bale keeps the non-racing scenes engrossing. One of my favorite scenes doesn’t involve racing…nor a car. This scene occurs when Matt Damon is telling Christian Bale about Ford’s intentions to build a race car to compete at Le Mans and that he should go to Ford’s new Mustang unveiling the next day.

The two men are in a diner and contrary to most dialogue pieces that take place in this setting, where the characters have just received their food and talk as they eat, this conversation happens after Christian Bale is already done eating and Matt Damon is picking at the last of his meal. He eats a bite of bread and some potato chips. Minimal risk of continuity errors relating to mastication. There’s another great scene where the two wrestle on a patch of grass.  It’s not a long scene but it’s worth the admission price.

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Diner scene; pic cred: IMDB/Twentieth Century Fox

 

In addition to witnessing the strong chemistry between the film’s two leads, I appreciated the way in which Ford v Ferrari presents the speed at which a car can go as both beautiful and destructive.  Outside the context of a proper race, a car that is going too fast is dangerous and not at all desired.  But within the confines of a legitimate race?  Speed is an adrenaline-thumping wonder of physics to behold.

Here’s James Mangold talking about the start of the climactic race.