I am not a die-hard Carolina Panthers fan by any stretch of the imagination. This will not be an in-depth analysis of why the Panthers should have kept Steve Smith, or of how he would actually benefit the team. Honestly, my sports knowledge resides pretty much entirely within the realm of baseball. However, when I heard of the Panthers legend being cut from his beloved team, despite having one more year left on his contract, for statistical and performance reasons I felt I should weigh in, because the mentality and philosophy behind a cut such as this is one that has profound and dangerous implications far beyond the playing field.
What I have gathered from news reports, and the passionate reactions of fans, is that Wide Receiver Steve Smith was a loyal and foundational player in the Panthers organization. He was a player who played well, played tough, and played hard. He was cut as part of a thorough retooling being done by the General Manager, David Gettleman, honing in on statistical results, getting the best performance for the least money, and putting the bottom line first. “Decisions,” Gettleman said in a statement about the releasing of Smith, “either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good, and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view”. Ultimately it did not matter what Smith had done for the Panthers. All that mattered was what he could produce tangibly for the team in the here and now. If he was not producing in a measurable, statistical manner, he would be deemed unnecessary and unessential.
Now, I do not want to engage in any debates about the practical wisdom behind this move. Rather, I want to discuss the philosophy behind the move: results come first. As Gettleman said, “it is imperative to take an unemotional global view”. I have seen several sports commentators argue that time will tell whether Gettleman made the right choice, that the win/loss record of the team next season will either validate his decision or prove it foolish. I would like to argue, however, that even if the Panthers go on to win the Super Bowl unhindered by Smith’s declining abilities, Gettleman made the wrong choice, for the philosophy used to arrive at the decision is a dangerous and questionable one.
Panthers fans are outraged at the moment, and rightly so. But why? It can be statistically proven, evidently, that Smith was a liability to the team, not producing as he once did. Should they not instead by excited by the fact that ownership has placed such a high premium on winning that they are willing to cut even the most revered name in franchise history? No, of course not! Why not? Because Panthers fans understand that there is something fundamentally wrong with cutting a loyal and revered player simply because he is not physically capable of performing at the same caliber, and produce the same results, as he once did.
What Panthers fans are mad at is a destructive philosophy, a subtly dangerous mentality that has taken quite the hold on American culture: consequentialism. A consequentialist holds that the consequences of an action either justifies or condemns the action. Thus, Smith was cut (the action) because if cut the team will win more (the consequence). Because the goal of victory has been placed above all else, Gettleman sees no reason to honor the loyalty and history of Steve Smith’s past efforts for the Panthers by allowing him to finish the last year on his contract since it means victory. This is the same philosophy that drives much of American business: the point is to make as much money as possible. If employees can be cut to maximize profit, then they should be cut, regardless of previous company loyalty, work ethic, or personal situation.
What is dangerous about this philosophy is that people become numbers and profit-makers rather than fully realized human beings, where their needs, loves, wants and desires are acknowledged and respected. Ultimately, human beings are considered means to ends, instead of ends in themselves. This opens the door for all sorts of unethical and heartless practices. When the results, the win, and the bottom dollar reign supreme, man can be abused, used, and manipulated. What is the worth of a man? Gettleman points to his statistics, the businessman points to his productivity.
I, however, would point to the man himself. Or rather, what dwells inside the man, and that is the image of his Creator. Humans are intrinsically and inherently valuable, regardless of their statistics, regardless of their productivity, regardless of their abilities, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, social class or anything else. The day that we place material goals above the welfare of people is the day we lose our humanity. For on that day, we will have become little better than brutes, thinking only of ourselves, thinking only of what we stand to gain, and shunning the fact that in order to save our lives we must first lose them.
So, my fellow Carolinians, go on and complain about Smith being cut. You are certainly justified. But think about why you are upset, why it just seems “plain wrong” for a loyal player to be cut simply for statistical reasons. Sometimes doing something the right way is more important than victory. Sometimes losing is preferable to winning, and treating people as people is always superior to maximizing profit. Let this situation remind you of the fact that how we accomplish our goals is just as important as the goals themselves. Let us examine ourselves, always watchful and wary of the selfish tendency to view our fellow humans as means to our own ends, rather than as the ends they were created to be.