There are times when you've simply got to fight. If you've got to kick, then kick. If you've got to scratch, then scratch. Scream, bite-however you do it best, go and do it. Bad, good, or indifferent, if someone knocks you down, get back up and keep fighting. I've heard it said before, if you can't solve a problem, then you're playing by the rules.
That's not to say you should go through life breaking rules. But sometimes fighting a rule for the right reason is an effective way of achieving your goal. I hear about people every day who challenge the system by writing letters, making phone calls, enlisting the help of someone in a powerful position. Sometimes it's what you've got to do.
This goes even for little things, like a restaurant saying you have to wait 50 minutes for your table when you've had a reservation for weeks. You're there at the time you made the reservation for, you're on time, you're ready to eat some good food, but now they're telling you they're backed up and you're going to have to wait. I understand a little bit of a wait, certainly, but unless there was a big kitchen fire or something and they had to run out to buy more food, waiting for an hour is, to me, unacceptable. So you say, 'That's unacceptable to us, because we played by the rules. We made a reservation, we showed up here in good faith that we would be able to sit down around the time you said you'd have a table, and we expected that you'd act in good faith, too.' Sometimes it works-they find a place for you right away. Sometimes it doesn't, and then you have to judge whether the battle is big enough to take it to the next level by asking for the manager or the owner or calling the Health Department from their phone.
The point is, you don't have to accept something if it doesn't seem right to you. I have a friend who dislocated her shoulder when she fell off her bike crossing some railroad tracks. (Evidently she didn't think the sign that said, 'walk your bike across the tracks' applied to her, but that's another story for another day.) She had already had one operation on that same shoulder, when she had hurt it playing volleyball years earlier, and now she was going to need another one. She set up an appointment with her primary care physician, who gave her a referral to an orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery. Well, the surgery didn't work. Eighteen months later her shoulder was still slipping out of its socket, and she finally decided she was going to have to see another surgeon. She spent hours locating the best shoulder surgeon in her area and made an appointment, and he agreed that she was in bad shape. He said she had only a 50-50 chance of ever being able to play any kind of sports again, but that he thought he could help her.
Relieved, she called her insurance company and was told that they would pay only part of the fees he charged because he was considered an 'out of network doctor.' This was outrageous to her. She'd already had one bungled surgery, and now they were saying, 'We aren't going to pay for your guy; you're just going to have to take your chances with one of ours.' Well, that wasn't acceptable to her, obviously. So she got on the phone and stayed on the phone for weeks, and sent letters and faxes. She kept getting denial after denial after denial. Finally, she had one last option, and that was to show that the surgeon she wanted was the only one in the area who knew how to perform the procedure she needed. She got letters from him and from other doctors and their staffs and presented it all to the insurance company. They relented and agreed to pay for the entire thing.
Because she fought, and kept fighting even when she got knocked down, she ended up getting the service she probably should have gotten from the insurance company in the first place.
You can't be afraid to challenge something. It is important, though, to pick your battles, because fighting can be exhausting. You've got to make sure it's something worth fighting for.
That's one of the reasons I really admired Muhammad Ali when I was growing up. He was an incredible fighter, in the ring and out of the ring. He took a stand against fighting in the Vietnam War because of his religious convictions, and he was willing to give up his title for those convictions. That told me a lot about Ali the man. He said, 'You know what, you can take all this stuff I don't believe in. I'm not going over there.' It wasn't whether he was wrong or right. That wasn't the point. It was that he believed and he was fighting for that belief. It wasn't a very popular stand at the time. A lot of people didn't like him for it. They thought he was a Communist. They called him all kinds of hateful names. Look at him now. Guess what? He's one of the greatest faces out there that people want to meet. My dad was in the service, and even he said, 'You know what, son? I don't believe in what the guy's doing. But I admire him. He took a stand.'
I maybe followed Ali's example a little too literally. I went to the University of California at Berkeley right out of high school. People at Cal are a little different. They have a voice, and they speak out. That's probably why I wanted to go there. I've always been one to speak my mind, whether it's politically correct or not. It's never gotten me in serious trouble, but it has created a few situations.
I started as a freshman, but it became clear real soon that I was going to have problems with my position coach. He was one of those guys who didn't like anybody questioning his authority, and he met his match in me, because while I didn't question his authority, I was always asking why. Why are we doing this? Why are we doing that? How is this going to make me a better player? He didn't like that, and he let me know it, and I said, 'Fine; I'm gone.' I transferred to Monterey Community College and got my AA degree. And then Cal wanted me back, so they moved the defensive backs coach to another position and I went back. But then the guy who became my position coach left Cal to join the 49ers, and they moved the other guy back. One more time I said, 'I'm gone.' I wasn't rebelling; I was fighting my battle. I ended up at San Diego State and had a great year, and we finished 10-1. That was worth fighting for.
It's important to choose your battles wisely. You'll be far more effective in winning those that are truly important to you.
During the 2002 season, after we lost to New England 44-7, I knew I had to get my guys to fight. Simply fight. Get knocked down and get back up fighting harder. I walked into the meeting room and slammed my fist on the projector. That set the tone.
'Gentlemen, this ain't about football anymore,' I said. 'This is about a fight. We've got to fight to get this thing right.'
Eventually we did.