All Commentary
Saturday, September 1, 1984

The Consummate Role Player


Mr. Foley, a partner in Schwabe, Williamson, Wyatt, Moore & Roberts, practices law in Portland, Oregon.

Modern culture embraces fatuous men and women made popular by the inept and dismal creators and patrons of alluring yet banal attractions. Those who establish fashion, by means of news stories or events, focus the attention of the adoring multitude upon sportsmen and mu sicians, actors and politicians, often inventing a larger-than-life montage of mere individuals who, upon cursory analysis, leave a great deal to be desired as human beings. Occasionally, this fascination of the prosaic obscures a remarkable person, one who, in an age devoid of heroes, deserves accolades and applause. If requested, I think I should nominate one such man, Corky Calhoun, as the pre-eminent sportsman of this past decade, not so much for his athletic accomplishments as for his demeanor on the court and his apparent comprehension of a lesson worthwhile for all of us to learn and apply in every function and post in life.

It requires a true afficionado of sport even to recall Corky Calhoun. He was the last man off the bench on a wondrous basketball team which, for a season and one-half, played Cinderella in charming fashion and transformed my tranquil home town at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers into a cacophony of cheers and pride.

The National Basketball Association’s Portland Trailblazers, a sorry expansion club in 1970, suddenly became a “team” in the finest sense of the word during the 1976-77 season. In a sport dominated by alleged superstars, often intent on individual accomplishment at the expense of others, an experienced coach (possessed of a Ph.D., no less) molded twelve players into a unit which rose to collect the crown and rule the sport for two-thirds of the ensuing year, until injuries felled all hopes for a dynasty.

The denizens who determine the existence and content of common heroes enjoyed a plethora of riches on this Blazer team: A colorfully-attired coach; a red-haired, deft-passing flower child at center; a muscular forward escapee from the late, unlamented American Basketball Association; a courageous blond Lilliputian in the land of giants; a speedy rookie from Dayton who blossomed in the spring; two men named Neal and Steele, first off the bench and capable of starting for almost any other club; and other individuals too numerous to mention; all welded into an entity which meshed like fine gears in a sonorous machine.

The Role Player

In light of these myriad demigods, why would anyone seek to sanctify Corky Calhoun, the man at the end of the pine? Simply stated, Corky Calhoun represented truly Homeric qualities in the life of sport. He recognized his role on the team and he played it with unyielding fervor. I recall him as a tall, slender black man, with long arms and brighteyes. He moved so smoothly that the very motion concealed his speed. He adhered to fundamentals and purpose. Most of all, I remember his smile which never left his countenance, even on the darkest of days. He enjoyed his work, his participation in a child’s game, and he performed well. He was versatile. By size and nature, he exhibited the characteristics of a “small forward,” but he could fill in at “power forward,” “off guard,” or, in a pinch, even at the post. No matter the position or the occasion, Corky Calhoun did his best (which was quite good) and he did it smiling. One would hope that he displayed these sterling features in his private life as well.

The world craves role players, men and women who possess a sense of fundamental value and who adhere to civility with a smile at a time when principle, integrity and honor appear to be forsaking this foundering ship. By virtue of human nature and great misfortune, the world is inundated with dictators—large and small—but bereft of role players. The proof abounds about us. For every person of principle, one discerns a host of rabble who delight in barking orders and directing mankind. Leonard Read termed the latter “dictocrats,” a most precise and scrupulous description.

Every planner, tyrant, slave master and social engineer—and those who direct them to positions of authority and feed off their misbegotten largess—all delight in dictating ends and means to their fellow citizens. The dictocrat decides what should be done and how to do it. He then commands others under his fleeting majesty to carry out his mandates or suffer the consequences. He cares nothing for the hopes, prayers and desires of the pawns. He controls them in the same manner as the lord of the manor dominated the serf of medieval times.

Doing One’s Best

Contrast the role player. He knows who he is and, just as important, who he is not. Corky Calhoun made a fine Corky Calhoun; he would have appeared very foolish if he had attempted to pass himself off as Bill Walton. The role player exhibits an awareness of participation in a greater plan, equivalent to the precept of team play in the NBA. One who recognizes natural law and governs his actions accordingly survives the vicissitudes of life with greater equanimity than one who flails at windmills. The role player seeks perfection of self. He does not consider himself to be the supervisor of the world. He knows that self-improvement constitutes a sufficient task for a lifetime and beyond. The role player subscribes to fundamental principles of moral law and right action, in much the same way that Corky Calhoun played position defense when called into a game. Most of all, the role player exemplifies with his smile (which may mask his fervor and passion) an acceptance of his role in life without quibble, quarrel or envy.

Many a panjandrumatic habitué of the entertainment, political or so-cial scene devotes his life to the envious pursuit of shallow goals in an effort to avoid accountability and acquire the mythical something-for-nothing. The crowd substitutes self-aggrandizement for self-improvement, immoral acquisition for proper creation. The live-for-the-day hacks sponsor consumption in place of saving, and rely on theft and coercion in place of productivity and trade. The congruent quality of the show-off differs significantly from that of the role player: The former deals with appearance, the latter with reality. The consummate role player recognizes the essence of the shadows in Plato’s cave; the pre-reflective dictocrat accepts demonstrated untruths as gilt- edged and unassailable verities.

Perhaps some of the alarming disarray of error afflicting mankind in the last quarter of this century could be set aright by the development of a few men and women emulating the courtside appearance of Corky Calhoun. Few of us are destined to shake the earth or perch it on our shoulders. Most of us possess quite limited talents and numerous faults. Those who fit the latter category should ascertain and practice high principle with fidelity within a self-perceived and supremely acquitted role. To do so entitles one to St. Paul’s accolade applied to those who run the good race.


  • Ridgway K. Foley Jr. is a litigation lawyer who is passionate about individual and economic freedom, and has authored numerous scholarly articles on related subjects.