Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff – on their way to being great leaders

If you had never heard of Kyle Williams or Billy Cundiff after last weekend, that would likely have been just fine to these guys. Professional football players get their fair share of attention but unless you are a superstar, or do something spectacular (good or bad), the general public won’t know you. Last weekend Kyle and Billy became known, if not by name then by the description, “The guy who fumbled” or “The guy who missed the field goal.” Everything else they have done, everything else about them, got lost in that description.

(photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)

And unfortunately the moronic in our society lobbed hateful mail, email, text, tweets, etc. at these guys. The criticism being of a personal nature, sometimes directed at their families. This is supposed to be Sports Doing Good, right? What is so good about this situation? And how does this help make Williams and Cundiff great leaders. We had the same questions.

We have always looked at sports as something someone does NOT have to be good at. Be good at school? Absolutely. Your life is often determined by how well you do in school, or at least, how well you learn a particular skill, trade, way of doing things. But sports? We play because we like it. We want to get better, sure, but will life be radically different if we weren’t? Probably not. And that is why I admire those involved in sports, especially those who are young. Each step in the progression as an athlete is a step in their progression as a person, and as a leader. In sports you challenge yourself to do better. You overcome obstacles, internal and external, to figure out how to make a certain pass, play defense, throw a ball. You learn how to work with others, share responsbility, be accountable, and strive to make others better. Those are traits not reserved to the soccer field or the baseball diamond. They are traits we see in the best people in our society, those we see as true leaders in any field or endeavor.

In some professions, your progression to the top of the field comes up with great wealth but also with great attention. From CEOs to actors to singers to wide receivers to field goal kickers, people know who you are and in their own ways, are dependent on you. (another characteristic that comes with being a leader.) That might financial dependence or just their feeling about a team or life in general. That is a lot to handle since you as a leader probably don’t know 99% of these people. Another characteristic of a leader.

Who would want to be exposed to this type of responsbility? Well, turns out it is those who excel at what they do and have the courage to do it in the face of the risk of great failure. Most fans bemoan how much athletes make or are jealous of their position on a team (not just pro, even college teams). “I would play for the Yankees for free.” Really? We don’t think so. Because other than the fact it is a job and no one works for free, the responsbilities inherent in those jobs are enormous. Maybe not every moment of every day but surely when you are in overtime of the NFC Champtionship Game or with 11 seconds left in the AFC Championship Game.

Whether the person is successful or fails in that moment does not define if they are a leader. Their response to the result does. And this goes for their teammates as well. What we saw from Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff, and from their teammates on the 49ers and Ravens, was admirable. They answered questions from the throng of media who were peppering them with the same questions over and over. Their teammates came out to talk about the team nature of the sport, how they won and lost together.

If you were a Giant or Patriots fan it was a great day. For the 49ers and Ravens, not so much. And for Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff, maybe the worst day of their lives. However, as the saying goes, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” These gentleman faced a great challenge and will do so again many times in their life. Though they failed once, their experience will strengthen them for the future, giving them the capacity to achieve even more in their lives. So even if they don’t feel it now, they have taken a great step toward being great leaders. We should all be so lucky.

(Cundiff photo: Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)