Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Courage and Love of a Shepherd

This is an excerpt from The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy:

"As I continually looked for examples of what it meant to be a good leader, I found a great one in John Thompson, the Hall of Fame basketball coach of the Georgetown University Hoyas. Coach Thompson was a crusader in many respects, having become the first African American coach to win the NCAA Division I national championship, two years later.

"Along with his success, he always seemed to find himself in the middle of controversy--probably from a combination of his fiery temperament and his willingness to be a trailblazer for individual rights and fundamental fairness for everyone. He took a stand on everything...His protectiveness of his players was seen in a negative light by many in the media, spawning the term 'Hoya Paranoia.'

"But despite his reputation as a rough, gruff coach, one demonstration of Coach Thompson's 'paranoia' made a profound impact on my attitude as a coach and what it meant for me to care for my players.

"During the 1980s, Rayful Edmond III was one of the most notorious drug dealers in Washington, DC. His network was thought to be responsible for numerous murders, and he reportedly was one of the first dealers to introduce crack cocaine into the District of Columbia. Unfortunately for Coach Thompson, Edmond became a big fan of Georgetown basketball and their great success.

"When Coach Thompson learned that Edmond was fraternizing with some of his players, including star center Alonzo Mourning, he sent word to Edmond through them, requesting a meeting on the Georgetown campus. Coach Thompson was well aware of the rumors linking Edmond and his organization with violence and murder, but he quickly got to the point when Edmond arrived: Edmond was never again to wear Georgetown gear, and he was to have no further contact with any of the Georgetown players...

"I tried to put myself in John Thompson's shoes. I simply couldn't see myself confronting Edmond directly. I probably would have started by meeting with Mourning, explaining to him the dangers of being around a drug dealer like Edmond, or maybe instituting a team rule limiting where players were allowed to go. Or maybe I would have gone as far as to approach the police, explaining the situation and looking for guidance and help--in other words, get someone who was trained in that environment to handle it. I was pretty sure I wouldn't have stood face-to-face with a reputed killer.

"But then it hit me. I immediately thought of Jesus' parable of the sheep and the shepherd in the Gospel of John, chapter 10. There, Jesus speaks of the difference between a hired hand and a shepherd. When a wolf comes and threatens the flock, the hired hand runs away, leaving the sheep--someone else's sheep--to fend for themselves. The shepherd, on the other hand, rises to the defense of his sheep. He will die for the sheep, if necessary, because they are his. I knew that Coach Thompson cared for his players--he had long had that reputation. But by putting himself directly in the middle, between his players and danger, he showed me just how much he loved them.

"It wasn't that he knew Alonzo Mourning and the others were talented players who could help Georgetown win games. That wasn't the point. Coach Thompson had told the players and their parents that he would watch over them as if they were his own. He did that, even to the point of placing himself in harm's way" (pages 93-95).

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