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The Athlete and the Scholar: The Parable of Terrell

Dear Terrell Owens:

I idolize you as my favorite human being. Each week, I lay on my couch in the same spot, waiting for your appearance in a National Football League game. You are a genius for what you did on Monday Night a few weeks ago. It was awesome to see how after you scored a touchdown, you were able to have the presence of mind to go into your sock and pull out a Sharpie pen to sign the ball and give the ball to your financial advisor. After your performance last year in Dallas, I wasn’t sure whether you could top it. I apologize for not believing in you for I should have known that the impossible was possible if executed by a special person.

I know that you’ve been getting a lot of heat recently for your actions on and off the field. Fans and sportswriters have been calling you cocky and arrogant, very individualistic and anti-team, and worst of all, lazy. I wanted to tell you that these so-called fans and sportswriters are ignorant because if they only saw what was going on in the business world, they would be embarrassed at the names they are denominating you with.

First of all, let me address the issue of cockiness and arrogance. I’m here to say that you are an angel compared to what I’ve seen out there.

I’ve met investment bankers who have mockingly laughed at those who cannot create a leverage buyout analysis from scratch in less than an hour. I’ve seen management consultants who look at you with disdain if you don’t know how to use Porter’s 5 Forces in analyzing the level of competition in a specific industry. I’ve met marketing leaders who look at junior level brand managers as not worthy to even breathe the same air their brain uses to create some of the greatest ads in the world. So Terrell, don’t worry. People are just jealous. If you are smarter, faster and stronger than the rest of your competition, why not flaunt it? Just continue your attitude toward others and claim that this is what goes on in the rest of the world. You’ll be fine.

Second, let me address the issue of you being individualistic and anti-team. I know that your belief is that the team is better off when it lets you do things outside the team concept. Who cares about other people on the team? You are the star and you deserve to receive special treatment because of it. I’ve seen teams in the business world have a strong leader who dominates any open discussion for the benefit of the organization. They believe they know best and consequently have been given the right to do whatever they want. There was this guy, Rob Parsons, who was a superstar at Morgan Stanley, before he was pushed down because his peers didn’t think he was a “team-player.” They were all idiots. Don’t believe this One Firm-Firm mumbo-jumbo. Remember that even though there’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM,’ there’s an ‘I’ in ‘WIN’ and that’s all that matters. You are bigger than team and don’t forget it.

Lastly, let me address this issue of laziness. I’ve heard sportswriters claim that you take plays off and sometimes you don’t block or run as hard as you can. This is such nonsense. If people only saw how hard you worked over that three hour span each Sunday, they would realized how hard it is not to take a break from time to time. Let me tell you that some people in business have made a career of doing nothing during a workday. They come in during the morning, check their email for an hour, grab some breakfast, check the news on the Web, head out to lunch, come back and check voice mail, re-check email, re-check the Web, buy that book on Amazon and then order online food to be delivered to their home as they are leaving. So the next time people call you lazy, remember that you aren’t the only one.

Terrell, people love to criticize you and other athletes because they fear what they see in you is a reflection on how they see themselves.

Someday they will drop these biases and colored lenses and realize how wrong they have been. You are no less cocky, arrogant, anti-team or lazy than the common business person out there. As you read this letter, I urge you to realize that you are a Donna Dubinsky. You are just misunderstood in your passion to be great.

As I conclude, I urge you, however, to beware. There are a group of students that are being molded into the next business leaders of tomorrow. These “kids” from Harvard Business School have been taught a much different method of understanding business morals, leadership, teamwork and concept of social good. These “hooligans” are trying to upset the way we all live our lives. Before we realize, they will all supplant the cocky, individualistic and lazy leaders we all know today.

First, they don’t believe in cockiness or arrogance. Whenever someone is struggling during class to answer a question, they are so supportive. Instead of having five hands jump out of their respective seats, they have been known to actively listen and try to help that student become better. They are also team-focused and non-individualistic. They are very respectful when others are speaking and never raise their hands in an attempt to “shark.” They also love working on team projects. This wish they could only construct more economy, deluxe and imperial boards. They also believe in studying as a team during the late hours.

I’ve seen them at the Hong Kong at 1 AM in the morning discussing cases over a group drink. Lastly, they aren’t lazy at all. They never rely on their study group’s notes to get through classes. They are always prepared to discuss cases each and every day. In fact, they don’t know what to do with themselves when they only have a two-case day.

Terrell, you go out there and do your thing. The world needs more heroes like you, but I did want to send this letter to warn you of a brave new world out there. When these students at Harvard implement what they have learned to be a true leader and team-player, we will all live in a completely different way than today.

Sincerely,
The Fan

Eric Chan (NF) prepared this case as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.

October 28, 2002
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