Longtime NFL reporter and former Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks died Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. He was 56. Banks worked for over 30 years in the ultra-competitive, often cynical, world of journalism.
Kevin Seifert, current ESPN national NFL writer, shared a fascinating memory about Don on Twitter:
“In the summer of 1999, Don moved from the Minneapolis Star Tribune to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a cross-town move that generated competitive enmity in a two-paper market. I was hired to replace him at the Star Tribune as the Minnesota Vikings beat writer. It was tense. We, and our papers, fought over everything, from morsels of information to priority seating in the press room (don’t ask). Until one day, a prominent player had a series of bad games and was in danger of losing his job. When he made a rare appearance in the locker room, Don and I approached him. The player said to Don, 'I’ll talk to you' and then pointed at me. 'But not him. He’s new and I don’t know him.' Don quickly said something like, 'No, he’s fine. It’s just him and me. I’m sure he’ll treat you fairly.' The player shook his head. Don repeated his attempt. Finally, the player said, 'Ok, shoot.' Don had given up an easy exclusive, prevented an embarrassing moment for me and, most importantly, lowered the temperature among the reporters who covered the team. In the heyday of newspaper competition this was no small thing. I have, and will always, remember that moment as an example of how a small gesture can have a lasting impact. Sometimes, winning isn’t the right thing.”
I loved this story. It’s inspiring to hear about people who live counter-culturally because it is simply the right thing to do. The world of newspapers has hit a number of challenges since 1999 but could it be that how competing papers and media members have treated each other has not been helpful in advancing their industry? Could the same also be said in every other industry where competing organizations push each other down?
When I started in consultant engineering right after college, I worked for one of the two national companies in town. We were located on opposite sides of our city. There was fierce competition between the two firms for employees and we often bid on the same projects. I heard why our company was better and what recent projects our competitor messed up. Statements made about our company would come back to us. In criticizing each other and pushing the competitor down were we hurting the industry and the market space as a whole?
In any life endeavor, when we push others down do we not go down with them? Ella Wheeler Wilcox in a poem entitled “Which Are You?” says:
There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Just two kinds of people, no more, I say.
Not the good and the bad, for 'tis well understood,
That the good are half-bad and the bad are half-good.
No! The two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift and the people who lean.
You make the call for your life but today and tomorrow I will choose to be a lifter. God bless you! See you next week.