Preferential Treatment

Why is everyone so upset with Brett Favre?  I think it’s just jealousy.  There’s a notion in our society that everyone is equal and should be treated equally, the rules apply to all, no exceptions.  While that sounds all well and good (and slightly socialist), it’s not the least bit true, nor should it be.  I’m not suggesting that we should discriminate or treat anyone as less than human or without common decency and respect, but there are cases where people have earned preferential treatment based on their abilities and actions.

Brett Favre is a Hall of Fame quarterback.  He owns virtually every passing record ever conceived of.  He’s led teams to two Superbowls, winning one.  Anyone who doesn’t think the Minnesota Vikings just increased the likelihood of playing into late January or further is deluding themselves.  That’s not saying it’s guaranteed, nothing ever is, it’s a risk, and obviously one well worth taking for the Vikings.  And ask yourself, if you had a great quarterback who was 39 years old coming off an arm injury, would you rather see him playing summer scrimmages and preseason games the same as the 23 year old rookies, or do you want to see him taking the important snaps in December and January?

This entire story is all about resentment.  It’s about a group of media people who had to pay their dues more than it’s about Favre, people who had to spend their time in journalism school, work for years in a tedious newsroom somewhere, and fight for the positions they now have or still fight for the ones they aspire to, all the while, following industry procedures and step-by-step ladder climbing to seniority.  They resent a guy like Favre, who has the natural skills and capabilities to circumvent the standard procedures under which everyone else is subjected.  And they despise him for it.

I, for one, take the opposing view.  We should celebrate people like Favre, people who have the courage to stand up and say “I see a better way to get this done,” people who aren’t afraid to put themselves and their reputations on the line by fighting the established procedures.  And make no mistake, he is taking a risk.  If this bombs, Favre will forever be a primadonna who destroyed a team some thought would be a Superbowl contender without him through his own sheer selfishness.  But if it works, he’s a legendary hero who took control of his own career in a league that chews up and spits out players like no other in professional sports.  How many other sports have contracts that the players are demonized if they complain  but management routinely fails to honor with impunity?  Favre has leverage and he’s used it well.

One of the big problems in our society today is that the old system where you start at the bottom and slowly climb your way to the top is faltering.  Anyone who has ever worked in a corporation of any size can tell you that.  How many management people do you know who got there through accomplishment or just because they put up with the procedures, did adequate work and, more than anything else, stuck around long enough to be promoted?  Most of the best and brightest among us will routinely chafe at “procedures” designed to treat everyone fairly.  These do far more to drag down the top people than they do to raise up everyone else.  We deal with them for a while, but when it’s obvious that the rules are holding you back, it’s difficult to keep the contempt for them and those who enforce them secret.  So we either quit or get fired.  This system we’ve developed over the past half-dozen decades or so is handicapping our ability to succeed, both individually and collectively.

This isn’t a new problem, in fact it’s been around as long as there have been employers and employees.  The guy who invented the wheel had to quit and go out on his own to find a market for it because his boss had seniority and preferred his own idea of an oval.  Instead of rewarding mediocrity, as we so often do by discouraging people who can clearly excel beyond the bounds of their positions, we should be encouraging everyone to think beyond their job descriptions.  Those who earn it deserve the latitude they need to continue to excel.  Those who don’t, deserve the increased scrutiny.

The term preferential treatment assumes that it is unfair and unearned.  I disagree.  Some people have earned the right to be exceptions to the rules.  If someone 23-years-old walks into a job where they are clearly capable of so much more, they should be allowed to explore that, rather than held back by 40- or 50-year-old management who’ve never had the capacity or courage to go beyond the procedures.

As companies and institutions get older, larger and more complex, the list of procedures grows and their ability to make exceptions, be flexible, and above all, adapt to rapidly changing circumstances evaporates.  This is what we’ve seen in print publishing the past few years, an industry so stuck in its own little world that no amount of warning from inside or outside would have made a dent.  I know for a fact that there have been people in virtually all publishing companies throwing up warning signs for years, to little or no avail.  If someone had listened, or broke free of the bounds of procedure, we might have a much different industry right now.

But there are no superstar quarterbacks in publishing; no writers, editors, graphic designers who can wield the kind of leverage that Brett Favre does in the NFL, and that’s a loss for us.  If Favre had followed the rules, Green Bay would have put him out to pasture two years ago, preferring a younger, less accomplished, and not insignificantly, cheaper alternative.  Instead, he forced his way out of Green Bay, and now found his way to the team he wanted to go to all along, the Minnesota Vikings.  And don’t feel bad for the New York Jets, where he spent last season.  Favre brought ticket sales, jersey sales, and some much-needed spotlight attention to a down franchise, almost dragging them into the playoffs.  They got their money’s worth.

And if Favre does somehow manage to win the Superbowl this year, it will be an accomplishment we all should celebrate.  A man who bucked the system, threw aside the procedures and rules, got what he wanted and it worked.  The ultimate success by Favre this season will prove that the rules are highly over-rated, and there is always another way.  If he fails, you can be sure that it will be celebrated with unmitigated glee by all those who have never had the courage to challenge the establishment that owns them, whatever that may be.

For me, I’ve never been a big fan of procedures or the establishment.  They’re  just more obstacles to overcome, in my opinion.  So I’ll be rooting for Favre and a victory for those of us who find the rules tedious and in the way of what we truly want and are capable of achieving.   Go Vikings!

Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 3:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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