There was a time in the 1970s when the Atlanta Braves were bad. They were a chronically last place team in an awful stadium, with indescribably bad food, and no hope. Surprisingly nobody came to the games. The Braves were desperate to attract fans and in the process created some epically bad promotion nights designed to mask the fact that the team lacked a commitment to winning. They held wet t-shirt contests (yes, really they did). They had a promotion that once you bought a ticket you could continue to use that ticket until you went to a game where they actually won. And in perhaps the weirdest promotion night ever, they had “headlock and wedlock night”–34 couples were married in a group ceremony on the field, followed by a wrestling match (it ensured that at least 68 people came to the game). The Braves were not alone in trying to mask a lack of commitment to winning: the hapless Indians had “dime beer night” (you can guess how that went) and the White Sox had “disco demolition night” between games of a scheduled double header with the Tigers which resulted in game two being forfeited to Detroit due to a small riot. You can’t make this stuff up.
Headlock and wedlock night popped into my head twice at meetings over the last few weeks. Maybe it happened because I’m going to see the Marlins play this week, but both meetings (one involving academics and one student life) involved activities that were failing to meet expectations. In both instances, some of the people in the room (by no means all), thought the solution lied in distracting people from the failure. If only we had the right slogan, marketing materials, or “entertainment value” people would respond in the way we hoped.
Last week, I wrote a blog post about wanting to celebrate failure in the college. More precisely, the lessons learned from the experience. Failure is inevitable, but it is never an excuse for a lack of commitment to winning. If you want to build pride, reputation, and tradition, if you want people to join your team or take up your cause: commit to the relentless pursuit of winning in class, on the field, throughout campus, and in life. Yes, you will inevitably fail along the way. But if failure drains your commitment to winning, get out of the business. If you don’t leave now, ideas like “headlock and wedlock night” aren’t far away.