Never Use Sports Metaphors

Never use sports metaphors if you want to be successful in business. Sports, particularly professional sports are huge in this country and have become a big business. However, the lessons we can learn from sports do not translate well to business including the business of sports. Americans have a great affinity for sports and sports are a big part of our culture. President Kennedy said years ago: “We are inclined to think that if we watch a football game or baseball game we have taken part in it.” Qualities such as teamwork and commitment were often credited to sports and used as motivation in business.

The Lessons of Today from Sports

The lessons of today from sports are unfortunately quite distant from the romantic version of sport that existed in the previous century. The NFL, while it becomes the true national pastime may be the biggest culprit in ruining the image of sportsmanship and values. Two weeks ago the number one draft choice in the NFL arrived at his new team and new profession with serious baggage. He has a long list of offenses including shouting an extremely inappropriate slur towards women as well as being accused of rape. Within 24 hours of being drafted his NFL team asked him to remove an inappropriate posting. And as a number one draft choice he is one of the new poster boys for the NFL.

He joins a long list in the NFL who have exhibited or been charged with serious offenses. Ray Rice and Greg Hardy for spousal abuse; Adrian Peterson for child abuse; Tom Brady for deflating footballs; and numerous players and draft choices for drug and PED offenses. The only criteria the NFL seems to have is: Can they play?

In a recent poll by ABC and ESPN 85% of respondents believe all teams cheat in some manner or fashion. That is a horrendous image.

Flopping in the NBA has become so commonplace the league had to institute a fine structure to try and prevent it. However it continues in almost every game. I guarantee you will see at least one example in every game played in the playoffs. Baseball has to deal with pitchers who deliberately throw at batters. In his new book Pedro Martinez stated he hit 120 batters in his career and at least 105 were hit intentionally by him. In a non-sports venue that could be assault.

It’s Not Just the Pros

College sports has its own set of problems. It recently lost a court case in which it used the likeness of a former player for profit but did not share any of the profit with the player. They pay coaches $5 and $6 million per year plus bonuses for performance and yet the players receive nothing in return despite the fact the NCAA basketball tournament earns over $1 billion per year in TV rights alone. Does anyone really believe big time college sports is amateur sports? Are real amateur sports a thing of the past? Does anyone trust or respect the NCAA?

The Lesson for Business

The lesson for business is simple: don’t look to sports to provide metaphors for managing your business. I cannot imagine a reputable business would tolerate leaders who were charged or involved in spousal abuse, murder, child abuse, theft, sexual harassment, cheating or not paying its workers. Forget minimum wage; not paying them a single dollar. Yet that is the current face of sports in America.

The real lesson for business: look inward for your metaphors and motivation. Set the example you want the people in your firm to follow. You can and should be more inspirational than the so called “role models” in sports. Don’t tarnish your image and the image of your company by turning to professional athletes and coaches for motivation and inspiration.