COVID-19 is a difficult problem to understand intuitively. Cases cluster. Despite the enormity of the pandemic, it is relatively common for any one individual to know no one who has suffered badly from the disease. While the mortality rate of the disease is relatively very high, in the United States of America, it is still only 1.7%. The men who play in the NFL are unlikely to be directly endangered by COVID-19. According to the CDC, only 1,624 men between the ages of 15 and 34 have died of COVID-19. Only two players on Seattle’s roster fall outside of that age range, Duane Brown and Greg Olsen, and realistically neither is likely greatly endangered by the disease. How then does a coach motivate his players to have less fun, be more cautious and overall shrink the possibilities of the greatest time in their life for something which can’t be seen and hasn’t and isn’t likely to affect them directly?
It’s a thorny problem. I am not sure how Pete Carroll has tackled it but no other coach in the NFL has better protected his players and by extension protected his community and those most vulnerable the world over. It’s a modern problem, a problem of scale, and such problems which are widespread and diffuse, deadly serious but elusive in their direct impact to the individual, are in many ways simply beyond basic human comprehension. We are empirical. We are curious. Culturally, Americans like rebels. Young people especially often take a try it and see if you die attitude toward risk. I did. Nothing feels so good like youthful indiscretion and nothing is harder to respect and obey than broad faceless authority.
In most ways, this is something I greatly value in our culture, and even facing something as dire as COVID-19, I appreciate skepticism. Maybe the USA did not do as well in fighting this disease as countries with fewer personal liberties and greater authority over their people. But autonomy, freedom of expression and dissent are sacred values. However there is a time when one may disagree but still must do what is asked. We can not always know what the exact right thing to do is, but we understand that unless we act together all pulling in the same direction we will surely do the wrong thing. We will act in confusion. No one can be right and nothing can be learned because no measure is executed coherently and in concert. We would be like people in a sinking ship arguing how to patch the hole. It is a subtle and abstract concept many trip over, but sometimes we must agree to suspend some rights to protect those rights.
That’s a very hard argument to make to a group of young men of different experience, different backgrounds and beliefs, and different values united by little but wealth, youth and access. It is a very hard argument to make to those many players on Seattle’s roster who are never likely to sign a multi-million dollar deal. Who could sacrifice everything and work hard every day and still struggle to retain their spot on the roster. Who face much more immediate and personally consequential problems and who may have few coping skills but risk-taking and indulgence. But Pete Carroll and the many hard working people who work under Pete Carroll did, and while that population of individuals is very few, it’s likely their work, buy-in and sacrifice saved lives.
Carroll is a good candidate for coach of the year for other reasons, of course. He has sustained excellence in Seattle in such a way that it’s easy to take his record for granted. The Seahawks finished 12-4. The Seahawks are the no. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. He was also a vocal proponent of voting. A duty which should never be underestimated. But in 2020, teaching and piloting a team of young men facing a crisis like no other, in a season which many thought would never happen, nothing was more important than conscientiousness, caution, sacrifice and duty. Nearly a hundred young men are or were on the Seahawks roster. Some were here when this whole awful ordeal began but many arrived from other organizations. Each to a man had to make sacrifices. Each had to believe in a cause so much bigger than themselves as to be confusing, alienating even hard to believe. Pete Carroll and the men and women he represents got them to believe in something bigger.
Coaching is teaching. To be Coach of the Year in the NFL is to be the best teacher of young men, and the best teacher of teachers of young men. Most seasons it would be sufficient for voters to look at the teams with the best records and work backward. Andy Reid, Matt LaFleur, Sean McDermott, Mike Tomlin and Sean Payton surely all excelled at motivating their players, teaching them the techniques necessary to win, and managing the numerous demands of running a football team. But Carroll stands above all others in teaching his players a more important lesson: how to be good citizens.
With crisis there is opportunity. Those who vote on the AP Coach of the Year award could recognize something far greater than winning or losing an athletic competition. That’s why I call on them to vote Pete Carroll for coach of the year. This is their opportunity to recognize the NFL’s biggest winner in last year’s greatest struggle. Voting Carroll is voting for a cause bigger and infinitely more important than gridiron football. Voting Carroll is recognizing excellence in performing the most sacred duties of teaching. For unparalleled performance in managing an unprecedented crisis Pete Carroll deserves to win Coach of the Year.