We often talk of football players as being "warriors", describing games as "battles" and, as we find ourselves doing now in anticipation of the upcoming draft, comparing the varying degrees of dexterity the prospective draft picks exhibit.
From its beginnings in the 12th century chivalry, specifically warrior chivalry, developed into a widely accepted set of moral and social codes of conduct for a specific segment of society, the knights. These knights and the aristocracy that controlled them recognized that there were limits to what their power and wealth should allow them to do; that they had a moral and ethical responsibility they owed to those who served them, and the less fortunate.
A basic tenant of Knighthood was the requirement of knights to seek out young people and make them pages and squires so that they could work, live and learn the ways of the knight and chivalry. It was a way to provide a vocation for the next generation, teach how to serve others and to promulgate the accepted standards of behavior of society at that time. It was an early form of mentoring that goes on today.
While the ruling class used the knights to gain and hold power, nonetheless by creating and adhering to the code of chivalry they imposed upon themselves, the following virtues were extolled to the masses:
- serving faithfully,
- aiding widows and orphans,
- refraining from malicious offenses,
- refusing and abhorring monetary awards (okay, so this didn't survive the 12th century),
- living for glory,
- guarding the honor of fellow knights,
- never retaliating upon the enemy but never refusing a challenge of an equal,
- completing any task or challenge that has been started and,
- always speaking the truth.
There are a multitude of players throughout the NFL who embody these concepts, but for the sake of brevity focus on the Steelers. With the virtues of chivalry listed above in mind, consider this past season for the Steelers and Steeler Nation and how both groups reacted to issues involving these virtues:
"serving faithfully" - Mike Wallace's character was questioned by many in Steeler Nation for his contractual hold out and his perceived disloyalty to the Steelers and the terms of his contract;
"guarding the honor of fellow knights" - Controversy arose and players and Steeler Nation reacted rather negatively when one anonymous source disclosed a supposed fracture in the Steelers locker room, and another cast dispersions on LaMarr Woodley for not being in shape;
"always speaking the truth" - Consider the weight we gave the words of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison when they spoke about the CBA and commissioner Roger Goodell in the past, or consider Rainey's perspective and answers to questions regarding his alleged striking of a woman as compared to Ta'amu's actions after his arrest. Rainey couldn't understand what it was he did wrong, while Ta'amu didn't try to hide from answering for his actions;
"living for glory" - Just think of how you felt seconds after Santonio Holmes caught that last pass from Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLIII, or remember the look on the face of Jerome Bettis moments after the final whistle blew during Super Bowl XL. Yes players pursue financial reward, but moments like those two engender something money just can't buy (just ask Jerry Jones);
"never retaliating upon the enemy but never refusing a challenge of an equal" - Think of Hines Ward. He was rarely ever penalized for his actions, but he was the one wide receiver defensive backs feared the most, and not necessarily because of his "dexterity of arms" but rather for his refusing to back down when it came to challenging the defense for that last yard to be gained by a teammate with the ball;
"aiding widows and orphans" - When I read this article on Steelers.com about the Mel Blount Youth Home organization honoring LaMarr Woodley at its 15th Annual All Star Celebrity Roast on April 5th, I remembered reading about Woodley's actions last August. When Woodley learned that the high school district he went to in Saginaw Michigan was considering charging students $75 for participating in sports, he donated $60,000 to the district to prevent it from happening. And that money was only part of the $501,000 Woodley and his foundation, the LaMarr Woodley Foundation, has donated to individuals and charities in Saginaw just in 2012 alone.
As quoted by MichiganLive in January about his actions:
"Playing sports teaches so much, like teamwork. It's an opportunity that kids need. When I heard they were going to do pay-to-play, I thought, 'Something needs to be done.' It was something I didn't have to think twice about.
"I can sit back and look at my high school days and see how important it was for me to play sports and be around great coaches, like Coach (Don) Durrett and Coach (Marshall) Thomas. You learn so much from them. They become your mentors. I was fortunate. I wanted to give that same opportunity to these kids."
Woodley usually takes an extra step when donating money. Whether providing school supplies, football instruction or Thanksgiving care packages, Woodley is adamant that he is present.
"To me, I have to be there when I put something on," Woodley said. "I don't want to just pay for it. I want to be a part of it. I'm here all the time. The kids see me around town. I have fun. I'm human."
We call it today "giving back", or "paying it forward", but what Woodley and other athletes like him have done, and the manner in which he does it by being present when he makes a donation or being seen around town and not just hiding in his castle, is in keeping with the best of the code of chivalry; he is aiding those less fortunate and providing both a (potential) vocation and a role model for the kind of behavior our society deems acceptable.
When in the ending phase of the Middle Ages, the merchant class began to gain respectability and power, they adopted the code of chivalry of the knights for themselves as a means to standardize accepted forms of behavior between members of their own class. Over the centuries as the merchant class grew and prospered, eventually supplanting the aristocracy and military as the most influential segment of modern western society, their early adaption of chivalry transformed into what we now know today as etiquette.
We are taught it as young children by our parents and schools. We are taught to address our elders respectfully, to behave as "gentlemen or ladies". Miss Manners columns still run in most remaining major American newspapers. Western businesses have developed standards of office etiquette, and "Robert's Rules of Order" governs our interactions in group meetings.
Even those of you who are reading this, and considering what you might say in response to this piece are governed by a modern day version of chivalry; "netiquette", or the guidelines you acknowledged when signing up for BTSC which outlines the type of behavior our community has set for itself, just as the code of chivalry established the acceptable norms of behavior for knights in the days of the Renaissance.