Tom Smart, Deseret News
I didn’t realize my name wasn’t really mine until my freshman year of college.
That’s when I used the goodwill earned by my parents to open some doors for myself. It was at that time that I realized what my parents were talking about when they told me to remember who I was. My name belonged to a lot of other people, and I had an obligation to them, as well as to myself, because of that connection.
It was through that lens that I processed BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall’s ill-fated decision to put values — "Tradition," "Spirit" and "Honor" — on the back of this year’s uniforms instead of last names. He said not a single player favored the decision, so he wisely reversed course several hours later.
I understood why the players would be disappointed.
I also understood, especially as a parent, what Mendenhall was trying to do when he made the move.
But as I watched the situation quickly explode into a catastrophe, I asked myself, "Why does wearing your name on the back of your shirt really matter if the team is really the priority?"
And why was Mendenhall’s attempt to remind everyone that he believes BYU athletes play for more than a win on a scoreboard so offensive?
First, having your name on your shirt should be required of everyone. Maybe if we all wore our family name on our clothing, we wouldn’t be so quick to forget who we are and who we represent.
Whether you come from a strong family with a proud heritage or not, there is something about your name that makes you proud. It’s important to remember, especially when you’re young and impulsive, that you don’t just say something about yourself when you go out in the world. You tell everyone something about your family, and being reminded of that might make for better decisions.
A team is a group of individuals working together for a common goal. One of the greatest lessons that sports teaches is accountability. If you don’t work out, you can’t compete, and that hurts the team. If you don’t learn the plays, you don’t get on the field, and that hurts the team.
Individual accountability is something sorely lacking in today’s society, and sports provide the perfect vehicle to learn how your commitment — or lack thereof — adversely affects other people.
Names matter because accountability is key in any team effort.
Names matter because identity is important, even in a group project.
Names matter because knowing who you are allows you to sacrifice your own needs and desires for the benefit of the team.
Names matter because they connect those outside the team — friends, family and sometimes communities and cultures — with the success and excellence of individuals contributing to the group.
Still, I also understand and sympathize with coach Mendenhall’s effort to remind the players — and everyone who sees and admires them — that they’re not just football players. They, like most athletes, are role models, which as we see all too often, isn’t always a good thing.
Maybe if we all wore the values we hoped to stand for on our shirts, we might not so easily forget them when life gets difficult.
Playing for someone else for something else is inspiring. At the end of the day, it gives purpose to activities that might seem unimportant and unnecessary. The Cougars, like most college football teams, bring great joy to their fans.
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