I stifled a laugh as I sat in Jordan-Hare Stadium. There on row 32, a University of Alabama alum, married to an alum, and from a family legacy of alums and fans, I gripped an orange and blue shaker in the very bowels of Auburn. The irony was rich.
Even more amusing was my purpose for being there. The loud speakers rang out, “Hey Auburn fans! Welcome to cheer practice!” While the other participants erupted in euphoria, I remained stone cold, muttering to myself, “It’s going to take a LOT of practice to make me cheerful.”
Along with my shaker, the nice people at Auburn gave me a Yell Book to ease my discomfort. How thoughtful!
As I sat along the fringes of the crowd, I thought to myself—how did I get here? How did I go from row 32 of the Louisiana Superdome watching Barry Krause preserve the 1979 National Championship with The Goal Line Stand to row 32 of my archrival? I couldn’t give two bits about Auburn and now I was being asked to not only give two bits, but to “stand up and holla!”
I felt guilty. Dirty. Like I had cheated on Christy. Speaking of Christy, she did not attend cheer practice. Her hot passion often melts away cool logic, giving rise to some powerful emotions. I think that means she is likely to kill me should I stray. It certainly meant she felt conflicted and uncomfortable being a hypocrite. I didn’t ask her to go with me a second time.
So I trudged to row 32 by myself.
Even as a curmudgeonly Alabama alum, I must say the scene was memorable. Twilight filled the sky with pinks and purples in stark contrast to the dark green grass that blanketed the playing field. I could appreciate the beauty of the setting . . . particularly when this happened while spelling A-U-B-U-R-N during a cheer.
A middle-aged woman affectionately referred to as “The Nun” led the crowd. However, this lady was no nun. She replaced the normal habit of a nun with blue shorts and an orange polo. Another annoying habit she displayed was her disdain for my alma mater. She continually referred to the “vile school on the other side of the state.” So much for "blessed are the peacekeepers."
I felt my blood begin to boil.
A good-natured gentleman must have noticed my subdued countenance. “War Eagle!” he yelled, as he prodded me with his elbow to reciprocate his salutation. I wanted to reciprocate with my elbow, right between the A and the U on his visor. Instead, I gave a half-hearted wave of my shaker.
I left cheer practice prematurely with Bodda Getta ringing in my ears. I hurried back to The Hotel at Auburn, which features—oddly enough—areas of refuge on every floor. Surely this is meant for Alabama alums who visit.
On the way back to hotel, I walked past Glen Hall—the dorm where Jack would be living in the fall. Then I remembered. Jack was the reason I found myself on row 32 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
I reflected on that third son of mine as I walked. Each step that took me further from the stadium brought me one step closer to the truth. Jack didn’t care if I was an Alabama or an Auburn fan—he wanted me to be his dad.
He wanted me to be a rock for him. A man of integrity. A man who keeps his promises, even when it hurts. A man who has his back regardless of the outcome of the Iron Bowl. He wants me to support him—no matter what his college choice.
I went into Camp War Eagle thinking: “Maybe I can live suspended between two realms. Maybe I can be that guy who doesn’t mind who wins or loses each Saturday. Maybe. But I’m not making any promises come November.”
That’s when the lightning bolt hit.
I realized that was the mindset of the corporate heads at Volkswagen when they cut corners on emissions.
General Motors ignored faulty ignition switches that killed over a hundred people.
Tiger Woods went into his marriage assured he could walk the tightrope of devoted husband with playboy celebrity.
Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski appeared to be a brilliant strategist but turned out to be a pretty good liar.
Leaders who lack integrity cannot hide this fact forever. Fortunately, leaders who possess integrity are the same. Given time, both will reveal their true colors. I like this quote from Jon Huntsman, successful business leader and writer of Winners Never Cheat:
“There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business or life. There are, basically, three kinds of people, the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.”
Integrity isn’t situational, it is foundational for leaders. If a leader cannot stay true to the very core of his or her beliefs, how can they be trusted in other aspects of their role?
At my very core, I have staked a claim to be a good father. (Or at least attempt to be!) Jack expects that of me. How can he look up to me if I can’t look up from watching prima donna athletes who mean nothing to me? How can I influence him positively if my allegiance to him has conditions?
Employees are no different. Give them something to believe in—namely, you.
But Lord help me if Jack tries out for Aubie…