They Took the Shot?!

July 12, 2021

In the aftermath of yesterday’s shootout loss for England in the European Championship soccer final, there have been, sadly but not surprisingly, racist tirades directed toward the black members of England’s team who missed the kicks.

Beyond adding my voice to those condemning these verbal attacks on moral grounds, I also want to suggest just how misguided these attacks are. Consider this fact: England’s team is predominantly White, yet three of five players who took the penalty kicks were Black. This suggests the Black players aren’t just among the very best on the team at this task; it also shows they were willing to get in the game and take the shot!

That’s right – it was these players who had the guts to do something in front of hundreds of millions of people. It was these players who showed the courage to act as the stress escalated to nearly unimaginable levels, knowing full well (in part, *because* they are Black) what the consequences would be if they missed. 

It reminds me of Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” remarks, where he noted that it’s “not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit,” he said, “belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” To have failed, while daring greatly, said Roosevelt, distinguishes those who take the shot from those “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It’s so easy for the gutless to impugn the brave from the safety of online anonymity. 

It’s also not enough for the rest of us to take comfort knowing we don’t and wouldn’t post hateful, racist drivel, or to condemn from afar those who do.

What’s needed, it’s clear, is…

… for all of us to get better at celebrating the efforts of those with the courage to dare greatly, rather merely criticizing their outcomes from the sideline; and, 

… for all of us to take the hard shots in our own lives, rather than hoping others will step up and do so instead of us. 

Written By

Jim Detert

Jim Detert is the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration in the Leadership and Organizational Behavior area at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and a Professor of Public Policy at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Prior to joining UVA, he taught at Cornell University's Johnson School of Management and was the faculty director for the School's leadership initiative.