Sometimes a thing happens that you anticipate, that you’ve seen happen many times before, but it still surprises you. For me that thing happened Sunday in the Minnesota Vikings–Seattle Seahawks NFC wild-card playoff game when Vikings’ kicker Blair Walsh shanked a game-winning 27-yard field goal with just seconds left. I’m accustomed to football heartbreak—I’m a Vikings fan after all. I saw Gary Anderson’s miss in the 1998 NFC championship game and Brett Favre’s interception in the 2009 NFC championship game. This heartbreak isn’t new, but goodness, it stings every time.
Just moments after bellowing “NO!” at the TV and then sinking back onto my couch it dawned on me that someone else was stung much worse than I was: Blair Walsh, who just blew the game, the season. He had a chance to win it and he failed. Then many fans turned on him with hateful, vile social media posts. How awful must he feel?
The way Walsh handled his failure is a lesson for us all. He was crushed. He felt the full weight of letting his team and its beleaguered fan base down. He felt the pain more pointedly than anyone else in that stadium or watching on TV from five states away. We know this because he admitted it publicly.
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He did not shy away from critique or questions. He didn’t hide or give a “no comment.” He respected the job reporters had to do and the desire of the fans to hear from him. Walsh committed to improving and to come back better next season. He knew his response would not change things, but it was exactly the right way to handle critics and squelch their ire.
From one perspective we ought to expect such a response from someone who made a mistake. None of Walsh’s actions were exceptional in themselves, but they were remarkable because of their rarity. He showed humility and empathy to the fans’ pain and frustration and faced their criticism. It’s so rare to see a public figure frankly apologize and admit his failure, so much so that Walsh’s unexceptional actions were actually quite exceptional.
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Do we have the humility and self-awareness to respond like Blair Walsh did? Can we apologize without caveats, own our failure, and commit to improvement? Painful as it is, no other response so satisfies the conscience or diminishes conflict.