I came across this pre-game pep talk to a high school football team this week. I found it to be amazing, wonderful, and disturbing all at the same time. Watch the speech, then move on to the commentary below.
I found this speech to be the perfect intersect of so many contradictory feelings and ideas that I wrestle with every day.
First some background: I am a pacifist. I’m not a pacifist like, “I read a book about Buddhism in high school one time and decided I liked 1960s style clothes.” I’m a real, honest to God member of one of the federally recognized ‘Peace Churches’. Think Mennonite, Quaker, Amish style pacifism. So when I hear words like ‘rip out their heart’, I have to cringe. War and violence go against everything my life is built around, and I have pledged to die before I’d ever take a life.
At the same time, by nature I am an aggressive man. I get this. All of it. I understand why it stirs the blood, and it stirs mine too. A speech like this touches down to some deep part of all men that longs to fight and defend one’s home. It makes perfect sense to me. I loved it.
Ultimately, I believe in the power of metaphor. I don’t find it offensive when people compare sports to war. Most great writing involves comparisons between dissimilar things. Sports has been compared to war for thousands of years, and I don’t consider the denial of that a sign of enlightenment. I consider it a sign of denial.
When society denies that humanity, and especially men, have buried in us murderous impulses that need to find healthy release, we lie to ourselves. Men are not peaceful by nature. We are violent. That demands an outlet, a release.
As people, but especially as men, until we touch that raw center of savagery in our hearts, I don’t think we can ever begin to conquer it. Sports teaches us to rile the passions of the heart, but then channel and control them. These players didn’t take pitchforks and axes and literally carve out the hearts of their opponents. They channeled that passion into a controlled, rule based game. In other words, they had to learn to tame the beast their coach unleashed. He didn’t just take a mob and incite them to violence. He trained a team in discipline and then unearthed what was always in the hearts of those boys-the lust to attack.
I am not a pacifist because I think man is peaceful or capable of living in peace. I’m a pacifist because I think man is bent on war and nothing will stop him from waging it. This coach is not creating anything in these boys that isn’t already there. He’s merely stirring it, bringing it to the surface. Sports not only builds character, but it reveals it. These boys found a healthy outlet for their embedded passions on that day. They channeled their instincts and rage into an acceptable outlet-athletic competition.
I think that’s a beautiful thing.