It's On You

Meet one of the smartest men I know, John Clinton Rooker. Not just book smart, but “life-smart” as well. Last week, Clint received his B.S. in Political Science from the University of Michigan, where he minored in Writing and graduated with a 3.7 G.P.A. You might be thinking, “There are a plethora of smart kids that go to U of M, and they do that all the time, so no big deal, right?”


I am talking “you could not be further from the truth” wrong. Yesterday, I called him to see how life after college was going and what the big plans are, as I know he has options. 90 minutes later, I hung up a better person for having a conversation with the same person that played the violin at our wedding 11 years ago.

Clint comes from of family of four kids; Ashleigh, Patrick, and Grant. He grew up in Davison, MI and never had a lot of the things that many kids take for granted. But you would never know this, as he and his siblings just persevered. Clint loved school, and he loved football, and he was pretty damn good at both. Throughout high school, he was recruited to play Division III football at some incredible academic institutions, but he chose to attend U of M to focus on his academics. That is where the story begins to take off.

As I mentioned, Clint and his family did not have a lot, including money. He was bound and determined to make it work and filled out every financial aid form, applied for every scholarship, and jumped through every hoop necessary. Clint made a decision not to allow those circumstances to define his future, and it worked. Now, he is leaving U of M only a couple of thousand dollars in debt, which is insane. The very same drive, passion, purpose, and focus that got him to Ann Arbor are what carried him when he was there.

Listening to him talk about his experiences in political science and his love for writing was refreshing. During our conversation, I began to pepper him with questions. When I asked him what the keys to his success were, he gave me four that are golden.

Enjoyed the Process

Clint made it clear that he did not get caught up in focusing on only the result, meaning his grades. He loved the research, which brought him new knowledge and raised his value. It was not the end of the world if he got a B, nor was it that big of a deal if he got an A+. What mattered was appreciating the opportunity he had to grow and improve.

Made Sure to Be a Part of Something Bigger Than Himself

He may not have played football, but he was always a part of a team while at U of M. One of the highlights for him was working in the school’s writing center where he would tutor undergrads, graduate students, and a few that were going for their doctorates. He served as a literacy advocate and tutor for third graders at Roberto Clemente Elementary School in Detroit. Then there was his research position at the University of Michigan Pediatric Emergency Department. More on that later! Overall, being a part of these different teams allowed Clint to continually grow as a person.

Embraced Being Uncomfortable

Before moving to Ann Arbor, he only lived in the small town of Davison, MI. I loved visiting Davison growing up, but the only thing Davison and Ann Arbor have in common is the fact that they are in Michigan.

Years ago, we took him and his brothers to a White Sox game on the South Side, and the look on his face was priceless. So, you can imagine my shock when this same kid called to tell me he had decided to try out for the Michigan Cheer Team. Even greater was the shock of his Father (who is a die-hard Michigan State fan) when he got the call that Clint made the team and that yes, he would be on the field when they played in the Big House.

Another example that grabbed me was when he talked about applying for the research position at the hospital. There were seven finalists for the position; five pre-med students, a graduate student, and Clint! According to him he had no business being in their company, but he knew he wanted the job so “what the hell!”

By both joining the Cheer Team and applying for a competitive new job, he knew that his biggest growth would come in uncomfortable, challenging situations.

Told Himself That He Had Already Done Something Harder

This approach was a result of his playing days and the insane work ethic that drove him when he was into weight lifting. Clint would tell himself that no matter how tired he was or how much pain he was in,  he had already done something more difficult. He mentioned how embracing difficulty only prepared him for bigger, more important challenges in the future, and Clint carried that mindset into his academics. That came in handy one night, well two nights, when he stayed up writing a 72-page paper for 36 hours straight. Needless to say, he got an A. While his procrastination was hardly the most effective strategy, Clint had developed a mindset to get things done no matter what the circumstances were.

I am not sure that Clint realizes the significance of his perspective and what a statement that is about him as a person, especially considering some of the challenges he faced. Every day we open the paper and look at social media and all we see is the negative crap. Like you, I am tired of all the negativity and the poor us/poor me attitude that is so pervasive. The finger pointing, blame game, and the lack of both integrity and honesty is everywhere. However, beyond the negativity, I see that there is a ton of good in this world and some amazing stories, just like this one. This story is not a feel-good story that tugs on your heart string. This is life; this is real. Doing things the right way works.

Please share this story with others whether it be your team, boss, co-workers, kids, or your friends. I believe that everyone, no matter where they are at in their life, can take one or two things away from this article which would add value to them.

Why Not!

Kids are funny…most of the time. E.J., our 2.5-year-old son, loves hoops. When I was watching Oregon’s unreal win over Kansas in the Regionals Finals, E.J., for some unknown reason, was ready to shut it down. Not once this year has he done the stroll over to the Comcast Box and turned off the power for a hoops game. Never. And now, this. Normally, he would shoot me the curious look with his palms up as soon as I raised my voice (not that I was raising my voice with four minutes to go in the game and Oregon hanging on for dear life), followed by the question, “Why?” Not this time though. E.J. must have sensed this was a much bigger violation of a father/son code of ethics than the usual, “mashed potatoes in his hair at dinner,” thing. Instead, he shot me a defiant look and said, “Why Not?!”

Take Time to Make a Life Today

On Sunday, September 25th the sporting world was punched in the gut with the deaths of Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez. The golf great Arnold Palmer was 87 and passed away from complications related to his heart issues while Jose Fernandez was a 24-year-old beloved young superstar in Major League Baseball who had his life cut short in a tragic boating accident. Their stories of how they made it are as different as what took their lives, but the things they will be remembered for are quite similar and provide us another lesson that we can take from athletics. Palmer grew up in Latrobe, PA and was the son of a greens keeper turned club pro and after high school he attended Wake Forest University on a golf scholarship. He left Wake Forest early after the death of a friend and joined the U.S. Coast Guard where he was able to keep working on his golf game. Then in 1955, Palmer won his first pro tournament, the Canadian Open, at the age of 26. What followed was an amazing career spanning decades and from 1955-1971 when he won at least one PGA event in each year. His greatest run came between 1960-1963 when he won 29 PGA events.

Fernandez was born in Santa Clara, Cuba and successfully defected to the United States on his fourth attempt in 2008 along with his mother, step-sister and his step-sister's mother. The first three attempts landed him in prison and on the final attempt he risked his life by jumping into the water to save a person who fell over-board, only to discover that person was his mother. Baseball is a game that has stats for everything and there are plenty of amazing numbers to throw around to explain his greatness. But if you could only use one statistic to sum up Fernandez's brilliance it would be this: among starting pitchers with at least 400 innings in their careers none struck out batters with a great frequency than his 31.2%, not even Hall of Famers Randy Johnson (28.6%) and Pedro Martinez (27.7%).

However, both these men transcended their sport and are remembered as much for what they did away from the game as for their incredible athletic feats. They touched people outside of their sport simply by what they stood for and how they treated people.

Arnie was described by Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the greatest golfer ever, as a charismatic golfer and a man of unshakeable character. Nicklaus went on to point out that Palmer was a competitor and a friend and if a situation ever arose he knew that Arnie had his back and ‚ and he knew I had his. Arnold Palmer was a gentleman always seeking out fun who sought out personal connections with young players and fans. He was a gutsy player when safe became a strategy and a regular man in a sport that was dealing with elitist barriers. In fact, Palmer's social impact on behalf of golf is perhaps unrivaled among fellow professional; his humble background and plain-spoken popularity helped change the game of golf as an elite, upper-class pastime to a more populist sport accessible to middle and working classes. Very simply, he was The King.

Though Jose Fernandez's major league career only spanned four seasons, he touched many lives which was evident by the reaction of players and fans around the league when they paid tribute to him. Having one of the brightest and most recognizable smiles in baseball, he was the embodiment of joy. He was an extraordinary player but what his teammates talked about was the fact he was a genuinely wonderful human being. Fernandez helped ALS charities, was extremely active in the Live Like Bella Childhood Foundation and provided opportunities to kids in depressed neighborhoods to spend game days at the park visiting with him and other players. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said,  "there was a joy to him when he played. When he pitched you see that little kid you see when you watch little kids play Little League." "He had a personality that was very rare in sports." Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said, "Getting to see it over the years it was a personality you got drawn to. Always smiling and having fun. Every time he got on the mound he brought out the best in you."

The Take Away

The last couple of nights I stayed up late reading as much as I possibly could about Arnie and Jose. I felt compelled to, because I truly believed there was a lesson to be learned. While most of the country watched tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum make fools of themselves in the Presidential debate I dug in trying to find positives.

Both of these men intentionally touched others lives on a daily basis and made the world they lived in a better place. Some may say that they made a living just by playing a game, but I believe they did much more than that. It was Winston Churchill that said, "We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give." Arnie and Jose both engaged people and provided hope. Jose to the Cuban population and Arnie to the middle class and everyday working man. Both were game-changers while radiating joy, passion and energy.

A couple of years ago I read a book by David Brooks, The Road to Character, which focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. The book is very fitting as Brooks wrote it in response to the culture of the Big Me, which emphasizes external success. The author challenges us to rebalance the scales between our  "resume virtues"-achieving wealth, fame and status-and our ‚ "eulogy virtues",those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, and faithfulness, focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed. I think it is safe to say that these two men did their best to balance those scales.

What does this have to do with 'The Athletics of Business'? Everything! Before I called it a night I asked myself these questions and I challenge you to do the same.

  • Is my focus on getting or giving?
  • Do I add value to others on a daily basis or do I concern myself with what they can do for me?
  • Do I bring energy everyday?
  • Do I let my passion for what I do show every day, even when the challenges mount?
  • What would my legacy be if I were to die today?
  • What do I want my legacy to be if I am fortunate enough to live a full life like Arnold Palmer?
  • Am I doing something today that could open doors for others that otherwise may not have opened for them?

I will leave you with this quote from Stephen Grellet: 

I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.