Dear Drama Observers,
I love college football. So, what better way to illustrate the point of today’s letter than by using a football analogy? Bear with me.
Let’s say two teams, the Snakes and the Scorpions, have a long-standing, bitter rivalry—their competition dating back to the 1890’s. Their fan bases hate each other. Scorpion fans says Snakes crawl on the ground because they’re such lowlifes. Snake fans say the only good thing about a Scorpion is the way it sounds when you step on it.
There’s certainly no love lost between these two rivals.
The Snakes’ coach is well respected and known as a man of integrity. “I want you to play well today,” he tells his guys before each game, “but more importantly, I want you to be good men, men of character. I’d hate for you to be winners on the field but losers at life.” The Scorpions’ coach is equally honor-bound, constantly emphasizing virtues like goodness, honesty, and decency—all qualities that outrank winning on the scale of life importance.
It’s a tough season but both teams make it into the College Playoff system and end up competing for the national championship title. It’s a hard-fought battle with multiple lead changes, leaving both sides emotionally exhausted as they swing between exhilaration and disappointment.
With less than a minute remaining, the Scorpions lead by five points, 37-32. The Snakes launch a sustained drive and take the ball down to the 11-yard-line. On the game’s final play, the Snakes’ All-American tight end, Bruiser Bronkowski, makes a diving catch in the endzone putting the Snakes up by one point as the clock runs out. Touchdown!! It’s a storybook ending. So great is the commotion in the stadium that a local seismograph registers the shock. The Snakes are the new national champions!
But there’s a glitch. One camera angle seems to show that the ball Bruiser caught may have hit the ground before he pulled it in. It’s inconclusive so the play goes under official review. While both sides nervously await the final verdict, headset-wearing referees huddle around monitors and deliberate for what seems like hours. The outcome of the national championship comes down to this: whether or not the ruling on the field is allowed to stand.
Meanwhile, Bruiser is caught up in his own private angst. While the nation waits with bated breath for the refs’ decision, Bruiser knows with certainty what no one else knows for sure… that ball actually did hit the ground before he caught it. Here’s what was coursing through Bruiser’s brain:
If they allow the ruling to stand and we win, what am I gonna do? There’s nothing I’d love more than to have a championship ring. Man, I’ll become part of Snake Nation folklore and my catch will be shown on highlight reels for years. Heck, I probably just improved my chances of playing on Sundays, and I’ll have the money to buy Mom that house she’s wanted ever since Dad died. And look at my teammates. I’ve never seen them so excited; they really deserve this win. And those Scorpions sure deserve to lose, the way they play so dirty and all. Sure, it wouldn’t be fair if they lost this way but maybe it’s time somebody does to them what they always do to others.
But… if they rule in our favor and I get that ring, will I be sick to my stomach every time I wear it? How will I celebrate what I know to be false? Coach always talks about honesty, integrity, and character. Will I forfeit all those things if I participate in something I know to be a falsehood? Is this what Coach meant when he said we could win games on the field but be losers at life? And if I tell the refs what actually happened, Snake fans will hate my guts forever. My teammates will be crushed. I’ll never play in the NFL and Mom will have to keep living in that crappy apartment. I’ll be lucky to get a job sacking groceries.
What am I gonna do?
If you’re still reading, you’ve been very patient to stick with me through this tedious illustration. But you probably get my point. Bruiser’s dilemma was how to handle what we might call the tribal temptation. That is, if the ruling on the field was allowed to stand, he’d be forced to choose between allegiance to tribe and allegiance to truth.
Allegiance to tribe (the Snakes) would make everyone happy… except for Scorpion fans and players. But then, they don’t deserve happiness because they play so dirty. But Snake fans would be happy, Bruiser’s teammates would be happy, his coaches would be happy, his mother would be happy, and wealthy Snake Nation donors would be especially happy. Winning solves lots of problems.
Allegiance to truth, on the other hand, would make all the same people angry… except for Scorpion fans and players, of course. Oh, and except for Bruiser. The irony of it all was that if the falsehood was upheld, Bruiser would, at once, win and lose. He’d win the championship but lose his integrity. He’d gain all the benefits of winning but sacrifice something very important about his character. As he thought about it, he wasn’t so sure he could be happy with that.
I won’t tell you which choice Bruiser made but what about you? Which of the two would you choose: allegiance to tribe or allegiance to truth?
Till next week.