Technical Foul: A Word on Sports Analogies in the Workplace

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As of last Saturday, I have completed four months of my brief fact-finding mission into what is commonly referred to as “a real job.” To say my findings have been “unsettling” would be a considerable disservice to those who suffer stoically beneath the fluorescent suns of this near-unlivable purgatory for – I’m told – multiple years at a time, in a row. The meetings and memos brought terror followed by tears. The delightful sexual tension portrayed in the movies is entirely absent. The musty silence is shattered only by forced banter, courtesy laughs, and Office-references, which is odd considering most of the inhabitants of this jungle have their lips firmly planted on someone else’s ass. None of these atrocities, however, could have prepared me for the mind-numbing banality to come. I refer here, with a shudder, to the wretched sports analogy.

Corporate executives and propagandizers have an abiding and inexplicable infatuation with sports analogies. They love them. They love them more than they love neglecting their families and harassing their secretaries. They love them more than they love fleecing the middle class and drinking Scotch out of Dixie cups at 10:00am. Tell them you flattened a competitor like a 130-pound junior varsity quarterback, and they will literally wet their $1000 Italian silk pants.

Observe. At the large, soulless corporation I work for we call our employees “team members.” Certain key team members are “team leaders” or “captains.” Our backup team leaders are known as “the bench.” When a team member is out of line, he is not lectured, he is “coached.” We don’t have meetings, we have “huddles.” I’m not writing a business plan, I’m drafting a “game plan.”

And that’s only the beginning. Some days I’m supposed to be the “quarterback,” others I’m simply “coaching from the sidelines.” We are reminded constantly that coaches don’t play the game. They call the plays; their team executes those plays. We talk about wins and losses. When things get stressful, we’re asked things like, “Are we going to take a sack, or are we gonna fight hard for those extra yards?” We’re on the goal line, we’re in the red zone, we take shots, we fumble, we throw up Hail Marys, we make the occasional slam dunk, but we never EVER, under any circumstances, quit before the final whistle.

I get exhausted just thinking about it. It is as if we cannot understand simple business concepts and instructions unless they are conveyed in SportsCenter-speak. If John Madden hasn’t said it, it is assumed I won’t be able to process it. How did this happen? When did football terminology became synonymous with persistence, execution, management principles, and life itself? The near constant use of these mediocre metaphors is demeaning to me, the English language, and athletes the world over. Additionally, it is annoying as hell.

We have business terms for the business world and sports terms for the sports world. Why must we mix the two? Are real coaches motivating real players in real huddles with the parlance of the corporate lexicon? “C’mon guys, don’t think about the game, think about locking in a new household retirement account that’s going to increase our assets under management by 8%!” Or “This is no unpaid internship, ladies. This is a management-track career with earnings potential in the high six-figures. So, start playing like it!” Sounds stupid, right? The opposite sounds just as ridiculous.

This unconscionable pillaging of our native tongue cannot persist. I am entirely serious. We must intercept this foul ball before I start swinging for the fences and K.O. my entire team. Isn’t work bad enough? Must we pollute it further with these asinine allegories? I say no. I say we fight it. I say we call a timeout on sports analogies before someone winds up on the permanent injured reserve.

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2 Responses to “Technical Foul: A Word on Sports Analogies in the Workplace”

  1. Stewy Says:

    Kent,
    You make me happy in pants
    -Ryan

  2. Sportsfan Says:

    Eloquently written. Hilarious. Love it. You could play the field of world renowned magazines with this article… You could take it all the way

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