S. Joseph Scott
Special for News Talk Florida
Last week I heard six shocking words. “I have more than I need.” Six words spoken by Tony Bennett which will never be forgotten by his players or others who heard them. Tony Bennett coaches the men’s basketball team at the University of Virginia. He led them to their first national championship last season. Naturally, the school hopes to keep him. So, what do you do? Give him a raise. That is when he spoke six impactful words. Who in their right mind turns down more money particularly when rightfully earned? What’s more he asked the school to invest the funds in his staff and other improvements in the athletic department.
Wearied by cycles of scandal, our expectations from college sports are low. An image from the Ohio State football locker room went viral last season. A plaque on the wall proudly announces, “Ohio State Football Core Values: Honesty, Treat Women with Respect, No Drugs, No Stealing, No Weapons.” That suits our expectations. Stay eligible. Win championships. Do that and you just might win the NFL multi-million dollar lottery to boot.
Tony Bennett has higher ambitions for himself, his players and his university. He has been upfront and outspoken about the values he promotes. He has built his program around five pillars rooted in his Christian faith: passion, humility, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. Last week he put feet on his philosophy. He demonstrated his own passion for the institution and the men he serves by reinvesting his resources in them.
Humility is not groveling in self loathing. It is, as he puts it, knowing who you are. He knows he has been given much and is therefore obligated to give back. Ego divides. Humility promotes unity. Servanthood is an expression of humility that considers others more important than self. And, in an environment marked by such things, who would not be thankful?
Bennett describes these pillars as being counter-cultural. “This just does not happen in our industry,” remarked Clara Williams, UVA’s athletic director. This just does not happen in any industry. We live in a culture where “no weapons” is considered a core value, a limp virtue. So, yes, it is radically counter-cultural to promote such high ideals as servanthood, humility and thankfulness. But then to live it out? That just doesn’t happen. And yet, it does.
Anyone who has followed Tony Bennett knows that he openly admits that the five pillars are biblically based principles. They grow in the soil of a life that is lived in close contact with the person of Jesus. The best of his followers reflect who he is, always imperfectly. In a letter to one of the early churches, the Apostle Paul challenged Christians to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). Sometimes his followers reflect who they worship with humble, thankful service to others.
“I have more than I need.” Six words that encapsulate five pillars and will echo through lives for years to come.
S. Joseph Scott has a Ph.D. in theology and has served in leadership positions in both higher education and religious institutions. He has published in both academic and popular journals and has a special interest in the intersection of faith and culture.