Late last week, there was a football game in San Francisco, California, that was celebrating some extra special. It was an occasion meant to honor the U.S. military, and just about everyone stood in respect to these extraordinary Americans. One in particular did not stand, however, during the display of our flag and the playing of our national anthem, and that was one of the backup quarterbacks on the San Francisco 49ers’ team; there were others, to be honest, who also did not stand. They did not stand because they couldn’t: they were uniformed members of our military forces who served their country in foreign hellholes and lost limbs in this display of their love of this country and its people. Many of them had tears in their magnificent eyes; all of them saluted their nation’s flag.
Not so the odd-looking third string quarterback.
But, actually, there are football players, and there are football players.
One doesn’t need to reach that far back in history to find one of the great ones, and that would be J. C. Watts. J.C. Watts, (the J.C. stands for Julius Caesar, his beloved father’s first names, as well), was not only a nationally acclaimed football star for the University of Oklahoma, where he was the quarterback, (first string) but he later played professional football in the Canadian Football League. He had been offered a position with the New York Jets, but it was not for the only position he wanted and excelled in, that of quarterback. J. C. Watts then moved on to become a businessman, local elected office holder, and then the Member of Congress for the 4th District of Oklahoma.
J.C, Watts ran and won as a Republican. A conservative Republican. A black conservative Republican.
He ran on a very clear conservative platform: he let Oklahomans know that he favored the death penalty, endorsed school prayer, sought a balanced budget amendment and would work for welfare reform. He also opposed abortion and cuts in defense spending.
Clearly, J.C. Watts was a very tough guy.
As he was known to say about his father, Buddy Watts: “My father raised me to be a man, not a black man.” A lifelong Democrat, Buddy Watts was also known to have said about blacks voting Republican: “a black man voting for the Republicans makes about as much sense as a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.” Nevertheless, the senior Mr. Watts did support his son in his numerous election bids.
A wonderful raconteur, Watts related a parable on how sometimes in life one has to start at the beginning. Again.
He told the story of how, during his years of paying professional football, a particular game played by his team, of whom he was the leader as quarterback, performed so horribly that the coach called everyone involved together for a necessary talk – not a pep talk, a deadly serious talk that he felt was vital to turn his miserable team around. The coach clearly felt it was necessary to clear all destructive habits the players were currently practicing, and force new constructive activity to be utilized by the players; in effect, to go back to the beginning.
The coach stepped up in front of his players, and held up the inflated brown leather oval object used in all their games, and said:
“Gentlemen, this is a football.”
They got it.
Throughout his professional life, J.C. Watts wanted very much to provide black people with a choice, and so throughout his career promoted the Republican Party with black organizations. He often attended NAACP meetings and met with representatives from historically black colleges, saying: “Most black people don’t think alike. Most black people just vote alike. Why is it that so many people in the black community [who] would agree with Republican issues, why don’t they vote Republican? I think that’s the question we have to ask.”
As one of the only two black representatives in Congress at the time, however, he often stressed that he represented his district, not his race. Watts actually declined an invitation to join the traditionally liberal Congressional Black Caucus while he served in Congress: “I think the CBC and I want the same things for the black community,” he said, “The difference is how we get there.”
After a distinguished career of four terms in Congress, the final 2 years of which he served as in the leadership position of Chairman of the House Republican Conference, beating future Speaker of the House John Boehner for the honor, J.C. Watts did an unthinkable, George Washington-like, thing: he announced his retirement. He had won his last Congressional race with 60% of the vote in his district in Oklahoma, and had what was clearly a safe seat where he could have spent the rest of his political life. This is exactly what most of the professional politicians, (which is most of the politicians, actually), in Washington do, capture a seat in elective office and then stay there forever at the public teat. Not so J.C. Watts:
“This business is hard on families,” he said at the time of his retirement announcement. “I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. There are other things I want to do and can do. You have to be careful about getting on this treadmill.” He added: “The strength in this business is not hanging on. The real strength is to let go.”
J.C. Watts was so well thought of by his Congressional peers, who are a pretty vicious and cynical bunch, that even the notoriously partisan and knee-jerk liberal South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn said of his departing colleague: “I hate to see him go. J. C. is someone who really has been quietly and forcefully doing a lot of good.”
Also reacting to Watts’ retirement was noted civil rights leader Rosa Parks, who, in 1955, famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. She wrote to Watts: “If you can, please remain as a pioneer on the Republicans’ side until others come to assist you. I am glad that I stayed in my seat.”
That particular bit of advice must have been hard to turn down.
So, if one were going to take life advice from a football player, would one choose the policeman/pig sock wearing third stringer, or Julius Caesar Watts?