Making a Statement

June 17, 2015

Amid the horrific destruction of Baghdad, the conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, Karim Wasfi, is making a statement. Mr. Wasfi has been carrying a chair and his beloved cello to the exact locations where violence occurs, very shortly after it occurs, and he plays.

With the roar of car bombs still ringing in ears and rubble still smoking, Wasfi plays. He told National Public Radio: “The other side chose to turn every element, every aspect of life in Iraq into a battle zone. I chose to turn every corner of Iraq into a spot for civility, beauty and compassion.”

The response of this single citizen to the catastrophic chaos in his city and country is especially powerful because of the beauty of his music amidst the brutality of civil war; but neither his gift nor the jolting juxtaposition should cause us to miss the message that our response to overwhelming problems could be and should be like his, even if less newsworthy from the perspective of a national radio broadcast. For example ...

  • We can wring our hands in despair that the Earth’s increasingly polluted air, land and waters are so far gone and the problem is of such great scale that nothing we could ever do will change things; or, we can choose to turn every corner of our little slice of the physical world into a less polluted place. We can make a statement.

  • We can weep over the slaughter of elephants, the leveling of mountains or the razing of forests or jungles by crooks or corporations that cannot see the consequences of their reckless avarice; or, we can choose to make our neighborhoods spots of beauty, conservation and sustainability. A statement.

  • We can cry ourselves to sleep over humanity’s inhumanity to those who look, dress or worship differently; or, we can choose to make our little community a welcoming place for refugees where long-suffering and persecuted people can feel safe and hopeful. A statement.

  • And we can become frustrated that the values of school sports are so regularly undermined by the excesses of youth, college, professional and international sports that it feels hopeless to hang onto what we believe; or, we can choose to devote ourselves to maintaining our little niche of the sports world as a more principled place ... where scholarship, sportsmanship, safety and a sensible scope are recognizable and reliable core values. A statement.

The great conductor carrying his chair and cello to the rubble is real. It’s also a metaphor which reminds the rest of us of other daunting problems and the opportunity each individual person has to make a meaningful response – a clear statement – where we live, work and play.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.