Written by Jonathan Adams
Setting: Seattle, Wash. Cold, grey and rainy. Geographically isolated from the majority of sports culture. Known nationally for indie rock and coffee. Not necessarily hip-hop and football.
Protagonists: Macklemore, Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and roster full of underdogs
Baptized my vices and the bar is my church/
Traded my artist and I pawned off the easel/
Spend it all searching for God, Neon Cathedral
Act I: The Journey Before the Journey
In professions measured by numbers, it’s understandable that you would look at 43-8 and think it was easy. See the million albums sold and four Grammys and think the path was easy. In a year of one million albums sold and a Lombardi trophy, to miss the fact that the journey was almost cut short. Ended before it really started. The paths almost didn’t cross. No, not like this.
The story may have climaxed in the Northeast, but that’s where it was almost put to death in the 90’s. Pete Carroll got his first shot as a NFL head coach with the New York Jets where he was fired after one season. He later had a brief stint with the New England Patriots where he was fired as head coach for the second time.
Macklemore is open about his addictions. How his Grammy winning album “The Heist” almost didn’t happen. “The thing that pulled me back was knowing that I wanted to be a musician, and that if I wanted to do this I had to get sober. So I’d go a month and be sober, make a bunch of music and then fall back off and vanish for a couple months and go back and forth like that,” Macklemore recently told MTV.
Those close to Pete Carroll knew despite his success collegiately at USC, he wanted the chance to show his philosophy and ethos could work at the highest level in the NFL. Yogi Roth, a former assistant under Carroll, tells Monday Morning Quarterback, “Pete told me once, ‘They already killed me once—they got me in New York and they got me in Boston—so I’m going to be me. They can’t hurt me now.’ For Pete that was a very humble way of saying, ‘I’ve been through a lot, and if I go to Seattle I’m going to do it the way that I’ve laid it out, exactly to my personality and to my philosophical approach.’ ”
It’s the philosophical approach that has been unconventional but effective. One that helped win a Super Bowl with 40% of a roster full of undrafted players. The remaining 60% full of late round picks including a defense led by a converted wide-receiver “too tall” to play cornerback and an offense led by a player “too short” to play quarterback.
When Carroll was hired in Seattle, there were not just critics but an audience of critics. People doubted his philosophy would translate to the NFL, pointing to his brief NFL head coaching career in the 90’s.
What is it about Carroll’s philosophy that makes us uncomfortable? The idea of treating grown men like actual men and not objects. We have been told that football’s brutality must also be met with equally brutal head coaches. Abuse is often categorized as tough love.
Mid-season the critics thought they were right as two Seahawks players were suspended within a few weeks of each other for drug-related offenses. Suspensions, many believed, to have stemmed from a lack of discipline in the Seattle locker room.
Carroll’s philosophy of “always compete” has extended not just onto the football field but also to the hearts and minds of young men. Right after the suspensions, Carroll was asked when he thought it was time to give up on people. Carroll noted that the Seahawks were, “looking for the best in people maybe at times when they don’t even see it. So, when do you stop competing? I don’t know. I’m going to work hard at it.”
However, there have been those that have backed Carroll’s ways. Former NFL great Michael Irvin is one of them. “…Pete Carroll has taken a lot of confused, young people who never had a father, and he gives them an opportunity by speaking to their person and bringing the best out of them in their profession.
“You’ll never hear me talking bad about people who give others like that an opportunity and a second chance because I’m one of those supposed problem people,” Irvin told The Seattle Times before the Super Bowl.”
It seems at a baseline level that we know this philosophy to be true. The idea that people are the most productive and can reach their full potential when they are in an environment where they are completely cared for is a widely accepted idea in most workplaces. With the recent release of a report detailing the toxic environment in the Miami Dolphins locker room, some have written of the vulgarity as “just a football locker room.” When did the expectations get lowered to accepting that the evolution of a healthy working environment could not happen in the sports world?
Yet, those who dismiss Carroll’s approach as soft only need to look at the recent Super Bowl film. It was the Seahawks physicality and punishing hits that many point to as why the Seahawks had such a dominant performance.
It’s easy to dismiss Macklemore as a novelty, somewhat of an enigma. A white rapper with a cute song about buying clothes at a thrift store. Yet, beneath the surface, is an artist not afraid to speak out on social issues and open up about his own demons.
Humbled by the road, I’m realizing I’m not important/
See life’s a beautiful struggle, I record it
Act II: The Collision
The story goes that Pete Carroll liked a Macklemore song that was on the radio. He later found out the rapper was from Seattle. A few days later, Carroll walked to a local music venue down the street from Century Link Field.
“It was packed. They were growing crazy—thousands of people—singing his songs. Everybody knew every word of his songs. They loved him. He announced that night that his song, ‘Thrift Shop,’ had just made it to No. 1 on iTunes. All that happened within three days. I thought, This guy’s awesome.
“I walked down into a team meeting and asked, ‘Has anybody ever heard of a group called Macklemore?’ Two guys raised their hands. Nobody knew him in our little world. And  months later, here he is,” Carroll recounted the story to the Los Angeles Times.
And so began the unlikely friendship between the grey-haired head coach on his third NFL go around and the Caucasian rapper who is on a continuous battle to stay sober.
I stand here in front of you today all because of an idea/
I could be who I wanted if I could see my potential/
And I know that one day I’mma be him/
Put the gloves on, sparring with my ego/
Everyone’s greatest obstacle, I beat ‘em/
Celebrate that achievement/
Got some attachments, some baggage I’m actually working on leaving
Act III: Why Redemption Always Requires Failure
Nationally renowned author Malcolm Gladwell looks at an old story with perhaps a new lens in his new book, David and Goliath. The basic premise is that weaknesses and shortcomings can actually become our biggest strengths. “When you interview successful leaders, they will always start with what went wrong,” Gladwell noted in a recent interview.
Sure, there is the story that Carroll and Macklemore seem like unlikely friends. But there’s a story behind the story that is begging to be told. The success Seattle has experienced athletically and musically happened not just in spite of failure but because of it.
Carroll’s early NFL failures led him on a journey of self-discovery which caused him to completely rewrite his coaching philosophy; one that a full roster of young men who were largely castaways bought into to become champions. It’s Macklemore’s journey through addiction that caused him to produce a record full of vulnerability that would not be possible if he had it all together.
Deep down we want this to be the case, because if it is true for them then it could be true for us. You and I are not the people we want to be. Not on most days. We want to believe that our pain is not wasted. That we can move from being prisoners of our past to being unafraid to live in the present.
Can we go back, this is the moment/
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight ’til it’s over/
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us/
Like the ceiling can’t hold us
Act IV: Hope Revealed
On a cold, New York night the speakers blast the Macklemore hit “Can’t Hold Us” as has been the case all season when the Seahawks score a touchdown. Soon blue and green confetti comes down as the Seahawks stare at their reflections in the silver Lombardi trophy. The scoreboard says 43-8, but just like in life, it does not tell the full story.
The story of second chances? Sure, but also of third, fourth and fifth chances because sometimes we just can’t get it right the second time around. The Seattle rapper provides the soundtrack for a coach once thought to be a retread, players once thought to not be good enough and for a city that has never seen a football world championship.
If Macklemore were here he might say it like “Raise those hands, this is our party/We came here to live life like nobody was watching/
I got my city right behind me/
If I fall, they got me. Learn from that failure gain humility and then we keep marching ourselves
This is the story of a rapper who identifies himself as an addict befriending an AARP head coach. “It’s very important to go into the rooms of AA, smell the shitty coffee and be reminded that without sobriety, I would have no career.”
May we be reminded of our flaws and may it propel us to each other’s redemption.
May we have the courage to be people of the third, fourth and fifth chances.
God knows we need it.
*Lyrics are from Macklemore’s latest album The Heist
Jonathan Adams is the founder of Transcendent, a non-profit dedicated to the intersection of faith, sport and society. You can contact him at Jonathan@WeTranscend.org.