Charles E. Richardson

Searching for that ‘rarefied air of excellence’

I always enjoy watching the induction ceremony for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Each class has special qualities, but all the players are recognized as the cream of the crop of professional football. The ceremony in Canton, Ohio, lets them to tell their stories and thank those who helped them get to the very pinnacle of their sport.

The 2017 class included place kicker Morton Andersen (Atlanta), running back Terrell Davis (Denver Broncos), safety Kenny Easley (Seattle), owner Jerry Jones (Dallas), defensive end Jason Taylor (Miami), running back LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego) and quarterback Kurt Warner (Arizona). All gave pretty good speeches, however, there were a couple that stood out.

Taylor, the 6-foot-6 defensive end, after saying that after playing 15 seasons in the NFL, it was his mother, Georgia Taylor, who was the toughest person he’d ever met. She worked two jobs and “was his teacher, his role model and disciplinarian.” But near the end of his address, Taylor said something every young person should take to heart, “Easy doesn’t get you here.” The next sentence he repeated for emphasis: “Ease is a greater threat to growth than hardship.”

What did Taylor mean? He meant you can’t get good at anything sitting on your butt. Zell Miller, former governor and later senator from Georgia, wrote the book, “Core Values.” In it Miller outlined 12 attributes learned in the Marine Corp that he said were foundations for manhood.

Miller described himself as a “troubled and insecure lad” when he joined the Marines. And while he obviously agrees with the saying “once a Marine always a Marine,” the qualities he wrote about are not just for Marines.

More young people, particularly young men, need to know what it means to be neat, punctual and have a sense of brotherhood. They need to be persistent and walk with pride, not hubrus. They need to respect themselves and others — and they need a sense of shame. There ought to be a line they will not cross. They should couple those traits with a deep sense of responsibility and achievement, while displaying courage, discipline and loyalty.

Miller’s book was published 21 years ago and I remember him saying — speaking of parents — “We’re so busy giving children what we didn’t have we’ve forgotten to give them what we did have.”

Certainly, many of us can point to our upbringing and note that we had to work hard. Our parents didn’t have much to give us. But that “hardship,” as Taylor called it, made us who and what we are. We are better because of our struggles. Can we say the same for our children? Are they prepared for the blocking and tackling of life? Will they fold when hit the first time by disappointment? Will they have the toughness to dust themselves off and get back on the field?

If I had a penny for each time my mother told me I would have to be 10 times better than the next guy, I’d be having lunch with Elon Musk in the backseat of one of his Model X Teslas. She’s look me in the eye and say, “It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.” It was her way of saying, “when it happens, suck it up.”

So when I climb into my big-hulking-gas-guzzling-SUV, I don’t feel bad. I’ve worked hard and earned the right to stick the key in the ignition, but what I see out of many in today’s society is the desire for the key and the car, without the hard work. And, unfortunately, there are still haters out there who will despise that success and the fact that your hard work paid off.

Morton Andersen, who holds the NFL record — among others — for the most points scored, said during his speech something I’m going to repeat to every young person I meet. You have to “embrace the uncomfortable to enter the rarefied air of excellence.” Do you think I will make them feel uncomfortable? I hope so.