"Negativity takes you halfway to defeat."
This was a phrase my grandfather shared regularly when my brother and I would get down or frustrated, even with trivial happenings in our young lives. Although he applied it to even the smallest of events, this saying was rooted in the turmoil and chaos of his experiences throughout World War II, which he experienced while working at the side of Gen. George S. Patton.
While the phrase is simple, the meaning is complex. The point is not to be blindly happy or content, but to keep life and its occurrences in a perspective that is genuine and doesn't become an unnecessary burden as you're facing adversity. Penn State coach James Franklin shared a similar sentiment with his "positive outburst" after the Army victory (see above), when he exclaimed, "I am going to come in here every single week and be positive."
Today's always on world is marked with short memories and shifting perspectives, where it's easy to get caught up in the negativity and the desire for a simple black-and-white, matter-of-fact view of things. Perhaps it's rooted in the continuous barrage of information and distractions that inundate us from all directions. Or perhaps it's because many of us desire instant gratification, particularly when it comes to our sports teams.
Or maybe it’s just that our memories are getting shorter. Either way, when it comes to sports, it is easy to lose perspective on the overall view of our teams and simplify things down to straight wins and losses while forgetting the trials and tribulations the squad is facing.
At the moment, this is especially true at Penn State.
Nittany Lion fans know the story all too well, so rehashing it is pointless. However, it's been a mere 39 months since the NCAA handed out what equated to a futile attempt to destroy the program. I remember debating for months after the sanctions where handed down with many supporters who felt it would take a decade or longer for Penn State to even become competitive on a cursory level.
I didn't see that realistically happening, given the unique passion and commitment of Penn State's faithful. Some viewed me as a "homer" or "dreamer."
Now the memories of that perspective have largely evaporated, replaced with views of a squad that is widely seen as just another squad. But is it?
Sure, the scholarship sanctions have been lifted and the vacated wins restored. However, the Nittany Lions are still recovering from the attempted "death" blow dealt by Mark Emmert and the NCAA, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And that seems to be lost on some.
Admittedly, I've recently fallen into this trap and lost some perspective — largely because of the expectation I have for the team's execution and performance. I have at times gotten wrapped up in the moment and have been harsh on the coaches and players. Again, that's not to say that they are above criticism, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Penn State:
• Has the 14th youngest starting lineup in the nation
• Has the youngest starting lineup in the Big Ten
• Has the 14th fewest seniors on its roster, with 13
• Has the third fewest seniors in the Big Ten
• Has the fifth most freshmen on its roster nationally with 61
• Has the most freshman on its roster in the Big Ten
• Has had 22 freshmen play this season (17 redshirt, five true)
• Is tied for 18th nationally with 13 first-time starters
That's not to say that the team, coaches or players are above criticism, nor that fans should avoid voicing their displeasure with the squad. Success in collegiate sports matters deeply to fans, or else the records and rankings would be irrelevant.
I’d also suggest that the day fans STOP having high expectation for the program is the day it is in REAL trouble. The thing about riled-up fans is at least they care, which is much better than the alternative.
However, while criticism can be warranted, maintaining perspective is a critical dimension with one's criticism.
While Franklin took some flak for his "positive outburst,” we can’t forget everything he and the program are still up against. That positive attitude has resulted in another bowl bid and has brought Penn State within one victory of guaranteeing another winning season (which will be four straight since the sanctions hit).
I’ll always believe what my grandfather said — that negativity takes you halfway to defeat.
So it stands to reason that positivity is half the battle when climbing out of a difficult situation.