It’s football season. This month’s column is about football and is a very personal story about me that very few people know.
It was a hot muggy day in late August. It had just rained very hard. All of us on the football practice field were soaked and muddy. Helmets on for the entire practice was the rule.
We ran a play and one of the guys slipped and fell head first into a huge mud puddle. He got up covered with mud. It was inside his face guard—in his eyes, nose and mouth. He took off his helmet to wipe away the worst of it. An assistant coach saw him and came over screaming. “You know you’re not allows to take off your helmet. You’re going to run the stadium steps after practice.”
He told the coach that he just wanted to get rid of the mud in his eyes, nose and mouth. This enraged the coach. He screamed, “You’re not afraid of a little mud, are you? You can’t be a football player and be afraid of mud.”
The rest of us were standing there watching this bizarre episode unfold when the coach said, “Bilanich get over here.” I jogged over to the coach. He said, “Get a big pile of mud in your hand and spread it all over his face. Show him that mud won’t hurt him.”
I was shocked. The other guy was a friend of mine—maybe that’s why the coach picked me. I stood there for a second, and then in a quiet voice said, “No.” The coach looked at me and said, “What did you say?” I said, “No, running the steps is enough punishment for taking off his helmet. It’s not right for me to spread mud all over his face.”
My friend looked at me and said under his breath, “It’s OK Bud, just do it and get this over with.” I shook my head and said, “Coach, I can’t do this. It isn’t right.”
He said, “Get out of here. Go take a shower you wimp.” As I was jogging to the shower—we jogged everywhere we went in practice—I heard him say, “We’re making our cuts tomorrow. I’ll remember this.”
The next day’s practice was my last as a high school football player. True to his word, the coach cut me.
This was a tough day for me. From the time I was a little kid, I wanted to play football for my high school. As it turned out, I played only one year because I refused to humiliate a teammate. I had a good shot at being a starter that year, but ended up off the team.
That hurt, but in the end I felt good about myself because I stood up to a coach who wanted me to do something that I thought was just plain wrong. I wasn’t on the team my junior and senior years but I had my self-respect and the respect of all the guys on the team who witnessed the incident. I stayed true to myself.
Being true to yourself is an important piece of career—and marketing—advice. If you want to become known as a person of high integrity, act as a person of high integrity all the time; not just when it suits you, or when someone might notice.
Your integrity may cost you in the short run. But in the long run, others will come to see you for what you are—someone who is true to himself or herself. Someone who can be trusted to do the right thing, even when it takes some guts to do so.