Pretty in Pink: Greg Hardy vs Ken Taylor

Let me start this morning by offering the truism that there is a world of difference between substance and show. As an example of the latter, I offer you the National Football League, a league apparently so concerned about women and women’s health, (and I want to stress the word “apparently”), that they have put a pink ribbon on their iconic shield, while also supporting the cause of breast cancer awareness by having players wear an assortment of stylishly pink socks, gloves, hats and other accoutrements throughout the month of October.

I am sure the NFL does believe in this good cause, but because the League has had 6 players arrested already this year for domestic violence, and one for sexual battery, I suggest Roger Goodell’s guys consider adopting a less flamboyant approach to advocacy in the future. Perhaps they could do something more subdued — like quietly supporting research and/or funding domestic abuse shelters.

The 7 violations, by the say, don’t even include Greg Hardy, who didn’t play last year because he was initially convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. She testified that the 279-pound defensive end dragged her by the hair, hurled her on to a futon covered with weapons, and then tried to strangle her with his bare hands. Hardy conveniently reached an “out of court settlement,” and as a result, his conviction was dropped just in time for him to suit up with his new team, America’s team by golly, the Dallas Cowboys.

Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner who went out of his way to sign Hardy as a free agent, must have been channeling his inner Mother Theresa when he claimed, “He’s alright. He’s a good boy. We’re going to get him all straightened out over here and bring him in.” Isn’t it amazing how much compassion NFL owners can muster, especially when they need a good pass rusher? Only the good Lord himself knows just how much the cup of Jones’ empathy might overflow if some day someone like Aaron Rogers were in need of forgiveness and perhaps a new team. Why, I can almost hear Jerry now, waxing eloquently about the parable of the prodigal passer…

But before I get too dark on a Monday morning, let me point out that there is reason for hope because there is substance as well as show in the world today. As a case in point, you may remember “Argo,” Ben Affleck’s 2012 award-winning film about the dramatic rescue of American hostages from Tehran, shortly after the Iranian Revolution. The hero of the story was the understated (of course!) Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor, who put himself and his family at great risk by hiding 6 Americans, before later helping them escape from Iran.

Ken Taylor died this week in New York at 81.

According to newspaper reports, “Mr. Taylor always insisted that he had done nothing extraordinary; he instead preferred to characterize the episode as simply a triumph of Canadian diplomacy.”

Two lines from his obituary caught my attention: “When revolutionaries stormed the embassy on November 4, 1979, taking more than 60 hostages, nothing in Mr. Taylor’s background suggested that he was prepared for the potentially dangerous mix of espionage and intrigue that would follow. For much of his career he had acted as a trade commissioner, spending time at the Canadian consulate in Detroit.”

Taylor’s unassuming life reads like something out of a Graham Greene novel. But his passing presents an opportunity for us to ask, “Was he simply a government bureaucrat, or was Ken Taylor a quiet hero all along, just waiting for his moment?”

It’s easy enough to fall prey to youthful notions of the heroic. Whether it’s Clint Eastwood or Kobe Bryant, we can mistake celebrity for character. But a quick glance at Mr. Taylor’s photograph reveals an apparently oh-so-ordinary guy.Ken Taylor appears to be a 1980’s everyman, someone who would have been inconspicuous at Young and Bloor; nobody would have contacted TMZ about him, and odds are, he would not have been invited to hang out with the lovely Kardashians.

That is actually good news because it suggests that we all have within us that same noble possibility, however remote, however unrecognized. While Mr. Taylor may not have had a 40-inch vertical leap, what he did possess was something that can lift all of us: a simple and profound and wonderfully old-fashioned sense of duty.

Ken Taylor never wore pink bling, and he never thought of himself as anything special, but he was hailed as a hero in both Canada and the United States, where he was awarded both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Order of Canada.

On a day like today, when a long and sometimes bitter political campaign finally comes to an end, it might be tempting for some of us to be a bit cynical; we might smirk at quaint notions like “peace, order, and good government.” But Ken Taylor’s courage, his grace under pressure, his willingness to risk himself for imperfect strangers, bares witness to a timeless value, to a higher good. It is a good we can all aspire to, too, even if there is nothing in our background that would suggest we were prepared for “a potentially dangerous mix of espionage and intrigue.”


12 thoughts on “Pretty in Pink: Greg Hardy vs Ken Taylor

  1. Jim,

    Spot on re. NFL-the gratuity of it all is a bit much and I don’t think it really papers over the problems they’ve got.

  2. As always, a thoughtful and we’ll written piece.

    I have watched in horror over several years as style has taken a lead over substance. There has always been the mantra “fake it until you make it” – what happens if you don’t “make it”?

    The question that is seldom asked personally and professionally, is “how do you define success”? ‎As Yogi Berra said: “you’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there”.

    Social media has the power to affect tremendous change – just look at the Arab Spring. It also has the power to present unlimited ‎content for the vapid and vacuous.

    Much like Ken Taylor, the first step in pretty much every situation is knowing who you and what you’re about. Once you figure that out, clarity follows.

    ‎Character and integrity mean doing what’s right even when no one is looking. There is right and there is wrong. Learning the difference is all it takes. This is a solvable problem and requires a back to basics approach to life. Unplug occasionally and look up – there’s a whole world out there that is big and beautiful and filled with interesting people. Smile and say hello occasionally and you will be surprised at what happens.

  3. Nice.
    Exceptionally good counterpoint to Lamar Odom, whom you did not indict directly (to your credit) but I picked it up in the Kardashian reference. Yeesh.

  4. Great PPT. As I delve further into what is meant by leadership, the very qualities you have attributed to Ken Taylor are those I think we should be pointing to in the people I work with. It’s about the ability to stand up and do the right thing, without being given a position or told to do it.

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