Adversity, the Maligned Ingredient of Sustainable Success


Adversity, the Maligned Ingredient of Sustainable Success

As college graduation approaches for my third son, JP, a flood of memories return. Jonathan (his birth name) like so many young kids, made his career choice early in life. 

He was going to be a wide receiver in the NFL. It didn’t matter to JP what team, but he favored the Steelers and #86 was already chosen and worn by Hines Ward. 

My favorite cartoon of all time is a specific Calvin and Hobbs strip. Calvin is a little boy with a stuffed tiger who, when no one else is around, comes alive. 

Calvin asks Hobbs this question. “If you could have anything in the world right now, what would it be?” Hobbs says, “A sandwich.” 

Calvin goes on a tirade bemoaning Hobbs for such little vision and his stupidity. He, Calvin, would be a trillion billionaire, own his own space shuttle, and a private continent. 

The last square of the comic sequence shows the two of them in the kitchen making a sandwich.  

Hobbs says, “I got my wish.” There is a lot of wisdom in that strip. 

Are our goals realistic? Are they valuable and even good for us? If I had $10M extra dollars, what would my kids be like? I shudder to think.

When JP was in 8th grade, his football team went undefeated, and he broke all school receiving records that year. 

Expecting great things from JP as he joined the High School team in 9th grade, he got into the first varsity game as a freshman and caught four passes in the one quarter that he played. 

The very next game, first play, he was crushed on a crossing route and sustained a season ending concussion. 

Now 10th grade and an unbelievable summer of 7 on 7 that landed them in the state finals, it was going to be an amazing year for JP. First game, first play, crossing route, concussion! Out for TWO YEARS. 

I know you think I’m nuts. Here comes his senior year, the coach calls me weekly. I finally agree that JP has to have a shot at living out his dream, it was time to take off the bubble wrap. 

The coach agreed to my conditions of no crossing routes, no kickoff or punt returns, and no contact drills in practice, only side and deep routes in the game. 

End of season, JP found himself ranked #25 in the nation for receiving yards of all school sizes and the Indianapolis Star Newspaper recognized him as one of the top four football players in the state of Indiana. JP got his sandwich. 

His mother and I agree that Jonathan learned more about life suffering for years watching his dream pass him by than he would have had he had unbridled success all those years on the field. 

Having a career senior year was one year too late. Local schools beat the door down, but the big offers never came. 

He wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Rather than pursuing football in college, he chose Purdue University and their Krannert School of Business. 

Also, what JP learned in this was that most of his concussion issues were not concussion issues at all, just fear and anxiety stealing a young man’s dream. 

His doctors felt he was more at risk succumbing to the concussion than the risk of a lifetime of regret and wondering. They encouraged us to let him back onto the field so that he could get past the issues. 

They were right. 

As a college student working in construction during the summers, I found myself working alongside one of the nicest men I’ve ever knew in construction.  

Willie was an African American man who was way overqualified to be pouring concrete with me. 

Willie was 50 years old, and I was a snot-nosed college kid, son of the boss, hoping to never pour concrete for a living. A little bit more on Willie in a minute. 

When Jonathan was in middle school, we gave him a book about the NFL. The book was full of facts and figures that he would pour over while riding in the van. 

One afternoon, he was trying to stump me on trivia questions, and he had a good one this time, certain to stump me. 

“Dad, who was the first African American QB ever to play in the NFL?” Shocked by the question as I hadn’t thought of it in years, I said, “JP, not only do I know the answer, but he was a friend of mine.” JP didn’t believe me and said, “OK, then Dad, who is it?” I said, “Wille Thrower!” He was dumbfounded, dad was right, it WAS Willie Thrower.

As Willie and I worked all summer pouring concrete, I got to know his story well. 

Many call Willie the Jackie Robinson of the NFL. Willie was a local Pittsburgh boy (New Kensington) where he led his high school team to two state championships and 24 consecutive wins. Being black, most colleges dismissed him as an option, but Michigan State didn’t. Willie was an instrumental part of their National Championship season in 1952. 

Willie was the first full time African American QB in NFL history playing for the Chicago Bears. Willie was roommate with Hall of Famer, George Blanda. 

No doubt Willie suffered immensely from the racism in the United States at the time. White men of his talent were lauded and given opportunity after opportunity to be financially successful and comfortable in their lives. Willie was a sacrificial lamb for black men in the NFL. 

There is absolutely no doubt that JP’s success in football included immense personal suffering literally watching his dreams fly by. 

He spent days at doctors and so many evenings in a dark room waiting for his head injuries to heal. 

Once he chose to risk it all and step back onto the field, he got to better appreciate the success that was ahead of him. 

He felt no sadness in not playing in college. He knows he would have been spectacular, and he is truly amazing. 

Willie has a statue in his honor that acknowledges his spectacular achievements on the field, but none more amazing than his achievement of self-sacrifice. 

Willie experienced sustainable success as he lit a pathway for African American men to thrive and create personal wealth and security for themselves and their families through the same game that treated him unfairly. 

I’m proud to call Jonathan my son and proud to call Willie my friend and my brother. 

Article contributed by:
Jeff Pinyot
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