I have long struggled to avoid relying too heavily on sports subjects as content for this column. Not everyone appreciates sports and sometimes sports analogies can become tiresome. But there is something happening in our local sports news that is surprising and refreshing, and that we can only hope will become contagious.
Part of what is exciting is that the Baltimore Ravens has just clinched their division championship for the second year in a row and currently has the number one seed in their conference. They are experiencing a team renaissance that has never been seen before in our area. But what is most amazing is that this surprising rejuvenation of the team, and of many fans, is largely the result of the outstanding play and attitude of a young quarterback named Lamar Jackson.
Jackson was known to be an excellent athlete coming out of college, but many other players were selected for the NFL before him. There was doubt expressed about his ability and some suggested that he should change his position. But he has proven doubters wrong with dynamic play and an elusive running style.
Just when opponents seem to have him stopped, he eludes them and creates unexpected gains. But he doesn’t only run well and in his last game he threw five touchdown passes. Like one of his humorous T-shirts says, “Not bad for a running back!”
But what is most impressive and dynamic about Lamar Jackson and the reason he is the subject of this column is his attitude and drive for excellence. For example, another one of his now-famous T-shirts proclaims, “Nobody cares, work harder.” If you contemplate that for a moment you realize that a public figure is actually prodding himself and encouraging others to essentially stop whining and get to work! That is refreshing and a message you rarely hear from anyone in public life anymore.
The importance of the Lamar Jackson phenomenon lies in the psychological process of “modeling.” Modeling is not about attractive people parading around but a term used to describe trends in behavior that result from imitating or copying other people’s behavior. It is a powerful influence and often occurs without conscious awareness. Advertising agencies on Madison Avenue have long known this and almost every commercial you see has an element of psychological manipulation based in modeling.
Modeling explains why there are popular contagions in behavior. Why, when some people start speaking, dressing or behaving in certain ways it can spread like wildfire through the population. Modeling helps to explain fashion trends, speech trends, political trends and even gift buying trends.
Many people still remember the crazy behavior associated with trying to find a Furby or a “Tickle Me Elmo” doll to put under the Christmas Tree. More importantly, modeling influences the way we think about ourselves and our world and affects the way we behave in day to day life.
What is most refreshing about Lamar Jackson is that he is not only a dynamic athlete and a wonder to watch, but he models positive values of self-sufficiency and hard work.
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Too often it seems that our country has become a population of “finger-pointers” trying to place blame on everything and everyone else for setbacks, instead of problem-solving and working harder to overcome them. Lamar Jackson is the antithesis of the “blaming others” attitude.
Jackson’s message doesn’t stop with encouraging self-sufficiency and personal responsibility. One of his strongest themes is about humility and teamwork as he credits those around him for success, rather than focusing on himself. After another highly productive and record-setting game last week when he threw five touchdown passes, he credited his team with the victory. Regarding his great passes, he shrugged them off and pointed out, “The running backs and tight ends and receivers had to catch the ball, they scored the touchdowns!”
His attitude exemplifies selflessness where he is confident and humble enough to give other people credit for success. No person is an “island” and success does not occur in a vacuum. Jackson makes sure to compliment his teammates, his coaches and the ownership for designing a system that supports his unique talents. He realizes he does not achieve by himself, but that the team around him is the most important ingredient of success. This is especially meaningful because psychological studies have shown that being a part of something greater than ourselves, being part of a team, is one of the secrets to individual happiness.
I’m sure Lamar Jackson is not a perfect person and he would probably be the first to tell us that. But he does embody and models many of the values needed for true success and happiness. He demonstrates humility, goal setting, teamwork, individual responsibility, focus, and maybe most of all, not blaming others but working harder.
Scott E. Smith, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist with Spectrum Behavioral Health in Arnold, Crofton, and Annapolis MD. To contact Dr. Smith, please call 410-757-2077 or write to him at 1511 Suite 202, Ritchie Hwy., Arnold, MD. 21012