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During my years in the NFL, I learned the value of team culture. Success on game day requires personal accountability; individuals pay the price throughout the week with hard work in the weight room, on the field, and at home. Many do not realize, however, that investment in the locker room is most important. Talent and hard work are not enough. To win, you must be unified and willing to sacrifice personal agendas for the sake of the team. This mentality must be intentionally cultivated in the locker room.
I believe that the same thing could be said about our country today. We are divided, not winning, due to our inability to embrace what makes us American. To survive as a nation, we need to be ever so intentional in coming back together. We need to ask: What are we willing to sacrifice in order to heal?
We can learn some lessons about teamwork from history. Coming off a string of losses, George Washington rebuilt the team culture at Valley Forge by holding himself and his soldiers accountable. He continually reminded the original band of patriots what they were fighting for.
When Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection in 1864, the country was about to collapse. Yet he had the foresight to pick a member of the opposite party, Andrew Johnson, as his running mate in the interest of national unity. Lincoln’s reelection was critical in ending the Civil War and reuniting the country.
Still, these commendable instances of historical unity often came at a cost for individuals. Ironically, when the United States of America became a country, the unity that occurred at Valley Forge was lost in the drafting of the Constitution. The first American to give his life for freedom, a Black man named Crispus Attucks, could still have been enslaved in certain parts of the newly established union.
Likewise, President Lincoln’s political compromise gave way to Andrew Johnson’s presidency. Johnson did not share President Lincoln’s views on emancipation, and his presidency led to state-sponsored racism that we are still remedying today.
I know that we can learn from our history, both the good parts and bad. Punting our issues down the field for future generations to address solves nothing. Similarly, political expediency only quiets the storm that will eventually flood our society with more turmoil. Still, our nation cannot sustain a perpetual mode of protest.
Earlier I asked: What are we willing to sacrifice in order to heal? As a proud, Black American, I have to ask myself, am I willing to leave my claims of victimhood at the altar, despite acts of injustice that have been directed towards me and other Black Americans?
I say yes. Yes, I am willing to lay the victimhood mindset at the altar. Carrying victimhood around does not empower me; instead, it makes me bitter and egotistical. And last time I checked, narcissists do not make for good citizens, family members, teammates and/or friends. Letting go of the victimhood mindset forces me to hold myself accountable and stop blaming others for the disappointments that life will certainly bring.
We have a blueprint for national unity in our Constitution; we do not need to rebuild the entire system. We do, however, need to retrofit the system with rivets, bolts, and beams that showcase our society to be one in which equality is visible and accessible for all Americans.
America can be more beautiful, braver, and more free. This Labor Day, I am asking you to do some soul searching and identify which grievances you can lay at the altar. We are going to need the right team culture to heal and start winning again, and that kicks off with you and me, as individuals, doing our part for the team. That starts by celebrating Americans.
Former NFL player Jerod Cherry was a three-time Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots and is now co-host of the Next Level Radio show on ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland. He also serves as a development specialist for Our Lady of the Wayside.