Brad Stevens: the Consummate Anti-Pragmatist

Believing in the Butler Way and hoping for the triumph of the humble, it was painful to watch Butler’s dismal shooting performance in the NCAA championship game on Monday, especially after seeing them play so well throughout the tournament.  Being an admire of coach Brad Stevens, I was paying close attention to his post-game comments.  Here are a couple quotes I would like to share with you and comment on briefly, as they are indicative of the values of the Butler Way I wrote about in my previous post.

“I want to operate with as much integrity as I possibly can every single day.  I want our players to understand that when they move on. I’ve said before, the results don’t matter [as much as] the process and the way you go about things.”

Stevens’s view that the means are more important than the ends is the antithesis of pragmatic thinking which says that the ends justify the means.  Pragmatic ethics judges an action by its effects or results not by universal moral principles based on a transcendent moral order.  Thus, in the pragmatic mind, the result of winning justifies such unsavory means as not holding players to academic standards.  Pragmatism values people (and especially college athletes), for the results they produce, and thus commodifies them.  This is a major concern in college athletics today:  that the student athletes are being used to enrich the NCAA and college athletic departments.

“It’s hard to talk about the game and really care about the intricacies of the game when you’re talking about the personal relationships and the things that you develop as a team over time. You know, when you see the freshmen in there bawling their eyes out because they know they’re not going to get to play with [the seniors again], you know you have something pretty special. Seniors always get upset. When everybody’s upset, that’s a unique thing.”

By esteeming results above means and objectifying people, pragmatism makes achievement more important than relationship. Of course Coach Stevens had ambition to win and felt disappointed to lose, but his mind was on the well-being of his players and he was able to appreciate the depth of the friendships built on his team.  An anti-pragmatic mindset values relationships above achievement.  Jesus himself establishes the priority of relationships in his summary of what matters most in the law of God:

35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).

Jesus is plainly teaching here that life is about love.  What lasts in any endeavor are not the achievements but the relationships formed in the process.  And Brad Stevens possesses a wise perspective that an important part of his job as a coach is to cultivate caring relationships on his team.  No matter what field we work in may we all learn that people are more valuable than our accomplishments and practice prioritizing relationships.


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