I love sports. Sometimes to a fault, in the sense that if I’m not careful I can let it dominate my life and my thoughts. But one of the reasons I love sports is because there are so many life lessons that — if you’re willing to listen — present themselves through athletics. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament — a.k.a March Madness — is no different.
Yes, I’m really writing about what a basketball tournament teaches us. And if you’re willing to hear me out, I think you’ll see I’m not trying to force it here.
Think about this: What is the most exciting part of the tournament? What does everyone talk about? The answer: It’s when the team that isn’t supposed to win, wins. It’s when a 12 seed knocks off a 5 seed. It’s when teams like Butler, Wichita State, and Davidson make runs that every team dreams of. That’s what people think of when they hear March Madness. If every year the teams who were expected to win did just that, it would be called March Mediocrity.
That’s because there’s nothing special about the big guy beating up on the little guy. Instead, we live for the little guy triumphing over the big guy. We yearn for David defeating Goliath. This is the one time a year where we coalesce around the lessers in droves. We champion the cause of the underrated, the underexposed, the undervalued. The underdogs. If UW-Green Bay knocks off Texas A&M, you can bet a lot of people will be cheering for the Phoenix. That’s just how it works.
This is the one time a year where we coalesce around the lessers in droves. We champion the cause of the underrated, the underexposed, the undervalued. The underdogs.
Here’s why that’s awesome: In our society, we rarely celebrate or champion the little guy. And I’m not talking politics here. I’m talking about on a very practical, very personal level.
- When’s the last time you bought groceries for the person obviously struggling in front of you at the store?
- What have you done for the neighbor who tells you he’s been out of a job for months, and is literally knocking on doors eight hours a day offering to clean people’s gutters?
- What do you tell the guy whose job was set to move him to a different city, only to change his departure date and leave him without a place to live because he ended his lease on the day he was originally supposed to leave? Do you let him use your guest bedroom for a few weeks, all while balancing life with your 1-year-old?
- What about the friend that sends out a group text asking if anyone is available to help paint the house this weekend because they don’t have the disposable cash to hire someone to do it? Do you shrink back and let everyone else respond first?
I know I have. How messed up is it that I’m willing to champion the cause of an underdog sports team, but yet am so quick to look past the underdogs around me?
I know what some of you are thinking: Well, we have to be careful not to be taken advantage of. Not everyone who asks for help really needs it. There are scammers out there!
I’m going to respond to that in a way that five years ago I wouldn’t have: So what.
If you make it a habit to reach out and help those you see in need, you’re going to end up reaching a lot more of those that genuinely need it than those who are just trying to use you.
Yup, there are people who will take advantage of you. There are people begging you for money on the side of the road and when you go to buy them food instead they will scoff at you for not giving them money. Do it anyway. Because you know what? I think that if you make it a habit to reach out and help those you see in need, whether their need is legitimate or not, you’re going to end up reaching a lot more of those that genuinely need it than those who are just trying to use you.
Even though I still fail at this, something happened about a year ago that showed what it’s like not to.
I was at the grocery store. I parked my car and this guy came up to me dingy, dirty, and with blood on his shirt. He proceeded to tell me that he had recently been in alcohol rehab but went on a bender the night before and woke up in his car covered in vomit. He was ashamed. The car — which he pointed to in the parking lot — wouldn’t start. He offered to show me the vomit to prove his story and asked me for some money or some food. I told him, “Sorry, I don’t have cash.”
But he wasn’t phased. “Can you go into the store and get some cash back?” he asked. I hesitated. “Can you at least buy me something to drink?”
“Sure,” I said. “Let’s go.” I went in and bought him a Sprite.
Three weeks later I saw the same man, in the same clothes, at the same grocery store, telling people the same story. He was a scammer. But you know what? I didn’t get angry. I didn’t feel taken advantage of. I didn’t confront him.
No, I smiled. I said a little prayer for him. Why? Because me buying that man a Sprite did something for me — whether he really needed it or not. I passed a milestone personally. I took an important step in getting over myself like my faith teaches me. Buying that man a Sprite started me down a much more fulfilling path — a path of me saying “yes” to a lot more people that needed help around me. It was the best $1.69 I ever spent.
So as you fill out your brackets and hear all the chatter about upset picks, don’t let your desire for the underdog stop at cheering for Arkansas-Little Rock or N.C.-Asheville. Be a fan of the guy that you see walking past your house in his McDonald’s uniform every day on his way to work. What would championing his success look like?
Because when we ignore the needs of those around us, looking for excuses to look the other way or leaving it to “someone else,” that’s truly madness.