Eli Manning’s career and yours

From the outset, let me make something clear: I’m not much of a football fan. In fact, having watched sports actively for 66 years (Dad took me to my first Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbetts Field when I was four), I’m not much of a professional sports fan anymore. This week’s humiliation of Eli Manning is a perfect example of why I feel this way.

But please don’t think I need the lesson that sports is a business; I’ve been around way too long not to know that, and I knew it long before most people alive today did. I can tell you about business decisions overriding sports decisions in the mid fifties, the sixties, and into the seventies – even before the famous 1975 Curt Flood case that began free agency.

What makes me crazy is that, with notable exceptions, those business decisions – like McAdoo unceremoniously benching Eli Manning – are often not only bad sports decisions, but bad business decisions, too. And then to hear the predictable platitudes on having to make those “hard decisions” – well, it makes you want to vomit, doesn’t it? This was neither a good sports move nor a good business choice. It wasn’t a hard decision; it was a cold one.

Which brings us to you. How many of you have I seen privately in my office or publicly at my workshops and other gigs, who were similarly treated during the Great Recession of 2008-09? Or in the years since? How many stories can I tell about so many of you who faced senseless and (frankly) wrong layoffs, especially after performing so well for – and staying so loyal with – your employer? How many times did you take the hit for other bad decisions that weren’t yours? Kind of like Manning is taking now with so much going wrong with his organization, from Mara to Reese to McAdoo to player injuries and so on.

It gets worse with the Giants – as it did when you were shown the door. It’s not that they have a bright young star whose time is now to replace Eli. Just the opposite: they’re giving the ball to an unsuccessful reject from the Jets, for crying out loud! Kind of like when your employer ditched you – a proven veteran – for a younger, unproven, underskilled bench player. (Happy to say, some companies have learned the folly of that. A little late, but lesson learned nonetheless.)

In 2013, by which time our job market had proven its resiliency, I wrote a six-part commentary series on major workplace trends. The fourth asked “Is loyalty extinct?” Through data and anecdotes, I pointed to a growing portion of the workforce to whom loyalty is either a foreign or a four-letter word. The lack of loyalty, I said (I still do), also shows up on the part of the employee. That’s not the case with Eli, by the way. I think he’s being extremely civil.

Anyway, my commentary concluded that if loyalty is not actually extinct, it does, for now, look like an endangered species.

So is it really a surprise the Giants acted this way? Look at your career and those of your neighbors, friends, relatives, and coworkers. No, it’s not a surprise, and at the heart of it, Eli’s career and yours have a lot in common (salary aside, of course).

A couple of weeks ago, Verizon slashed their workforce. It wasn’t the first round nor will it be the last. And who’s next? You don’t need a crystal ball to figure that out, but even without it, you can make certain assumptions:

  • Yes, loyalty is still in question, despite our earnest desire to build relationships.
  • The scope, pace, and succession of change in today’s workplace (and world, for that matter) are more dynamic that ever before. Stuff like this is going to happen, right or wrong.
  • So no, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room. We are all Eli Manning.

Having quoted this special Henry David Thoreau thought many times, here it is again: “You must live within yourself, and depend upon yourself, always tucked up and ready for a start.” Could Eli have done anything different? Probably not, or at least, not before this incident. Could he have done something different once it happened? That’s open to conjecture.

But the question for you is not whether Eli could have done anything different; it’s whether you will – and whether you’ll plan for contingencies.

We are all Eli Manning.

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