Tarkenton: Athletes Understand Fruits of Hard Labor

Monday, 11 Jun 2012 09:46 PM

By Fran Tarkenton

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Fran Tarkenton's Perspective: During my 18-year NFL career, I absorbed firsthand the lessons of meritocracy. As long as I was able to play at a high level, I was rewarded.

But I always knew that if I could no longer perform, my career would be over. Nothing was guaranteed, and nothing was given to me or any of my teammates without earning it.

fran-tarkenton-1965-ap.jpg
Tarkenton (10) in action as quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 21, 1965.
(AP Photo)
We are a very sports-driven nation. The major sports bring in billions of dollars, and professional athletes earn unimaginable fortunes for their talents.

Anyone can get 24-hour sports coverage from our various TV and radio sports networks, and the most-watched television program every year is the Super Bowl.

In the sports arena, we all understand and accept the concept of meritocracy. It is probably the purest, most meritocratic element of our culture. Competition makes us better.

If you cannot play, you won’t play, no matter who you are, what your name is, or who you know. If you work hard, hone your skills, get better, and are a good teammate, you will be rewarded. Your contract will be determined by those factors, not by mysterious backroom deals and handshakes.

The harshest punishment is always reserved for those who compromise the integrity of the game, tarnishing the merit of the performance: superstars like Pete Rose, officials like Tim Donaghy, and even entire teams like the 1919 Black Sox are not exempt. Any questions over the legitimacy of athletic performance are dealt with swiftly and harshly.

As a culture, we glory in the meritocracy of sports. Fans all over the country experience the thrill of a great performance, and we engage in endless debates about not only who is good or great, but even over who is the best. Brady or Manning? Wilt or Russell? Mantle or Mays?

That is a great model for us as a country, rewarding greatness and driving people toward where they are most effective.

But for too many in the halls of power, it’s not the model to follow. In Washington or on Wall Street, success is not always determined by merit. It’s often determined by who you know and who you can pay off.

Big businesses and big banks line up next to big government, pay some big checks every election year, and get big loopholes and big checks of their own back in return.

That kind of crony capitalism is only good at maintaining the status quo — whether the players deserve to hold their positions or not. Political favorites, power players, special interests — they all claim far more than their fair share, and it’s because they learned how to work the system, not necessarily because they had the best qualifications.

When you have big government, crony capitalism invariably becomes a problem, because concentrated power is lethal to meritocracy. When hard work and genuine success are not incentivized, you get less of it — as they’ve learned in Europe and as we now see in Washington.

The path to growth in America is based on entrepreneurship, hard work, and lessons learned from experience. That same recipe for success that I learned on the athletic field and again in my business career still holds very true in any walk of life.

The small business owners of America are lying in wait, eager to test their mettle and ideas — to the benefit of us all. But we will not experience the full possibilities unless we keep the playing field level.

Fran Tarkenton is the Founder and CEO of OneMoreCustomer.com, a web resource for Small Business Advocacy and Education. After his Hall of Fame football career, Fran had a successful career in television and then turned to business. He has founded and built more than 20 successful companies and now spends his time coaching aspiring entrepreneurs.

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