Hokepoints: Keep Believing

Submitted by Seth on September 30th, 2014 at 4:56 PM

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Todd Howard came to Michigan in 1998, following the national championship season. We both grew up in the same middle class suburb (Southfield) before moving to more affluent ones. But he was a highly recruited scholarship athlete who played cornerback for four years on the Michigan football team, while I was sort-of recruited journalism student who played guitar on a couch at the Michigan Daily.

Todd now coaches defensive backs in his post-Southfield hometown of Bolingbrook. We've developed a recent friendship over M football obsession, and some heated disagreements, plus wives pregnant at the same time. His perspective is one of a guy who came to Michigan and had it made clear upon arrival that no player is bigger than the program. His perspective is also one of a player who played in an era when "getting your bell rung" was common, "shaking off the cobwebs" was routine, and everybody "saw" a few more snaps than they actually played. But he's also a modern high school coach with responsibility for player safety, and a defensive back who believes inside routes should be punishable by death.

He agreed to let me share a thing he wrote on Facebook and some bits from our text message marathon last night.

From the texts:

  • Supports Hoke, says he's a good coach and the right coach for Michigan.
  • Players always play hurt.
  • Doesn't know what's going on in the administration and can't affect it.
  • Want people thinking long-term: Michigan will be great again. Supports people speaking out, but turning away disgusts him.
  • Every effort should be made to show the players they're supported, including showing up to games and cheering for them and not distracting the coaches further.

The Facebook open letter to fans:

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Dear Michigan "Fans"...I really couldn't have said it any better myself. You took success for granted. 8 win seasons became the norm and you got comfortable. You never saw the hard work and late hours put in behind those brick walls of Shembechler. The lack of sleep, barely being able to drag yourself to class, minor addictions to pain killers, while fighting to remain academically eligible. PLAYING through injuries most of you couldn't make it up a flight of stairs with. The coaches preparation every week from sun up to sun UP, sacrificing valuable time with their own families so the BEST team possible could take the field on Saturday.

Now your "favorite" team is going through some adversity and look at you! Look at how you respond. Are you a Michigan FAN because it's convenient? Sure, every one loves a winner...if that's the case take your allegiance down I-96.

It's so easy for you to call for Hoke's job. You've never met him, never had a beer with him, never seen him COACH! Only interviews and cutaways on Saturday. If you think you want to win, multiple that by 100 and MAYBE you'll attain the same passion he has for football and an equivalent compassion for his players.

My brothers and myself are Michigan MEN, not FANS! So to read some of your comments and rants is a little disheartening. Is this how you would've ridiculed us had we not been as successful? Would you not inbox us autograph requests?

When you're team is up, cheer! When you're team is down, cheer LOUDER! When your team wins, congratulate them. When your team loses, sympathize and have pride in the fact they gave everything they could. That's a TRUE fan...but instead you're spoiled. It's a privilege to cheer for Michigan. It's a privilege to sit in the Big House...not an obligation. "The Expectation is for the POSITION!" Back to yours!!!

/adjusts Michigan hat

...as you were. HAIL!

[My rebuttal, after the jump.]

Sports fans don't turn out in huge numbers just to support the players; they're there because they enjoy it, and lately much of that enjoyment is gone.

psu98
This is the ticket I bought off Steve Kyritz. It cost me $13.50 to upgrade to superfan.

Specifically to Michigan, what used to be a bargain was made prohibitively expensive. Let's not underestimate the fallout: Michigan Stadium didn't drop from 113,000 to "103,000." It dropped from capacity plus a wait list of 200,000. The wait list is gone because Michigan put a $1,000 price tag just to be on it, leveraging the 300,000 potential fans to just 80,000 willing to pay triple the price. They leveraged the students even harder, and this was compounded by an awful home schedule to fill just 2/3 of the students' seats.

Losing teams always get less follow than winning ones, but there's far more at play with this team, because the athletic department has been driving off fans with mercenary policies. Of course the stadium is filled with fair-weather fans; a big portion of them only went because they were offered free tickets and the weather was fair.

This isn't the same program which our freshman year cost $81 for season tickets, and featured McNabb vs Tom Brady, Saban's MSU, Randel-El, #9 Penn State, and #8 Wisconsin (and EMU, but that was on Rosh Hashanah), not to mention the banner, the band, and flinging toilet paper and marshmallows from our pockets that also had flasks of rum & coke. Students today pay more than that for their App State tickets, and can't sell their tickets to non-students unless the buyer pays an exorbitant fee. They get frisked on their way in, get treated like criminals once they're seated, and last year had to put up with a seating policy that separated them from their friends.

I didn't mention winning in there, but of course our freshman season was a team coming off a national championship, and of course that mattered. I went to the PSU game on a friend's ticket and we cheered so loud in that end zone that Paterno ran out the clock in the 3rd rather than try another goal line play in our proximity. That wasn't just because the team was good—you guys barely got by Minnesota the week before—but because the fan experience was otherworldly.

There's nobody in sports easier to root for than the players in college football, and there's no Michigan fan who can look at a guys like Peppers (made himself great and emerged from the deepest part of the depth chart), Butt (7 months ago his ACL wasn't even attached), or Gardner (who's still picking bits of 2013 linebackers out of his sternum) without immense admiration for what they go through to be out there.

The players probably do share much of the blame—if they'd practiced harder, tried harder, focused better, their execution could have prevented the holes the team fell into. Fans tend to overlook that because the players are young and unpaid. When there's a player who clearly can't play we mostly get mad at the coaches for putting him in a position to fail.

The things that really drive fans away have nothing to do with the players. When you ask most fans who've stopped paying attention this year what did it, they point to specific events: 1) Michigan running the clock out against Notre Dame but trying to pretend like they were still trying by having the starters in there, which got Funchess injured. 2) Michigan doing the same exact thing against Utah. 3) The Morris incident, and 4) again running down the clock punting the ball away down 2 scores late in the 4th quarter. #3 is an issue of national embarrassment, for which many fans believe they need to make an example to show their displeasure. The rest are fans taking a cue directly from the team. They don't doubt the players put themselves through hell to prepare for those 60 minutes on Saturday, until they see the coaches letting those same minutes slip away when the game isn't out of reach.

The thing is, very few fans are going to be as emotionally invested in the team as a guy like me (and I wouldn't have gotten there if it wasn't for that PSU game in '98), even in good times, and NOBODY is as invested as the players and coaches. You can't hold the entire Michigan fanbase to the standard of the players' passion. Fans will invest only as much time and money as they find worthwhile against all the other things in their lives. The greatest team in history couldn't fill a high school stadium with fans as loyal as a player. To get a 113,000 fans to show up and be loud, it has to be epic, and I don't mean fireworks; I mean defending national champs with names like Swett/Irons/Gold/Steele vs. Ron Dayne.

This team can't get out of its own way long enough to beat a bad batch of Gophers. Before you ask why Shane was in there after a clear headshot, ask why he was in there after a clearly unproductive handful of drives. Michigan was inserting a sophomore QB who clearly wasn't ready to play because in five years they still haven't figured out that Devin Gardner has different skills than John Navarre. I know as well as anyone that there's more to the story than that. But you know as well as anyone that it's painful to watch potential greatness get wasted.

Michigan will have this problem for a long time, because they've spent the last few years chasing away any fan who won't pony up more money than a typical household can justify, because they've obliterated the student experience which spit out guys like me for generations, and because for most of Michigan's home games this year the thing on the line is "either we cream them or we're not very good."

A true fan is someone who wants the team to win. If we extend the definition any further, it's just alienating more people from a dwindling base.

Comments

TheLastHarbaugh

September 30th, 2014 at 5:16 PM ^

Did he have the same sort of thoughts with regard to Rich Rod? If not, he can kindly kick rocks.

What is happening is indefensible.

This blurb from Howard is so tone deaf and out of touch I question if he's been paying attention to what has been going on, at all. 

Have we really never seen Brady coach? If not, what the hell does he do every Saturday?

Also, as a coach, I'm sure Todd Howard has never benched a kid for not performing, after all, the kid tries hard, and that's really all that matters. If Howard were to bench a kid for consistently making mistakes or not playing well, that would really make him look like a fairweather coach. If his DB keeps giving up long pass plays and is constantly screwing up by being in the wrong position that just means he needs to coach harder. At no point is anyone ever accountable for their actions because, hey, they work hard. At no point is there ever a thought to give someone else an opportunity after years of failure.

This is the exact sort of bullshit we need stamped out. Hoke is a Michigan Man. Michigan Men can do no wrong because they are Michigan Men.

Apparently, being held accountable for one's actions is not the quality of a Michigan Man.

getsome

September 30th, 2014 at 6:40 PM ^

exactly - that long paragraph above re howard the coach as well as the 2 sentences following it pretty much shred to pieces the same stale argument which howard and many like him seem to always recycle.  

i love howards passion and while i didnt play at um, i did play college ball so i understand the commitment and passion from players perspective, but hes misguided.  um's program has been stepped on and laughed at for years with just as uncertain a future bc the distorted michigan men ideals foolishly crowbarred brandon and hoke into positions for which theyre not qualified (or at very least not the choicest candidates)  just bc theyre both michigan men.  

bo could spout whatever he wanted bc he consistently won or challenged for league titles (though obviously never won NC) even in supposed down years - bo (and his players and staff) earned that right.  

effort, hard work and desire only matter to a point - just as almost any other job / pursuit in the world, it eventually comes down to performance / results / execution and these guys are obviously still failing.  the whole michigan men concept / argument only carries so much weight, that card can only be played so often - and hokes / brandons both expired.  

if the expectation is truly for the position, then i assume that also applies to HC and AD - both have consistently failed to meet expectations for the positon and must be replaced. i dont speak michigan men, does culture recognize all the desire, hard work and effort in the world likely never equates to major success for hoke at this level ??

scottva1

September 30th, 2014 at 5:03 PM ^

I definitely agree with the Bo quote, but we are not just losing. We are getting destroyed. Its barely even competitive and the amount of coaching blunders and BS too much to handle.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad

Feat of Clay

October 1st, 2014 at 8:43 AM ^

The University has a problem talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to students and what they can pay for things.  

There is legitimate and honest concern about lower-income students and how we can do better attracting more socioeconomic diversity to campus.  There is also concern about the way that their financial constraints might alter their U-M experence and prevent them from enjoying things that other students enjoy.

On the other hand, I have also heard a flippant "they can afford it" attitude when it comes to costs and students.   People use our student demographics (i.e. skewing wealthy) to justify charging for things and for increasing fees.  The asumption is that financial aid will take the edge off for lower-income students, and wealthier kids will absorb the cost no problem.

There are several problems with this.  One being that financial aid does NOT cover all things (season tickets, for one example).  Two being that there are plenty of middle-income students who definitely DO feel the squeeze when prices go up.  Three being that even if you are wealthy and can easily afford it, paying more for something may change the way you feel about it, including your expectations and how much hassle you are willing to put up with.

I do not take part in conversations at the Athletic Department, so it's possible that they don't have this problem.  But it's elswhere at the University.  Wouldn't surprise me at all if it's also part of why tickets for students have gone up so much.

CooperLily21

September 30th, 2014 at 5:09 PM ^

The "true fan" and "support the team" concepts are just silly phrases used when its convenient for people to push their agenda.  Is a guy like me who has been a die-hard fan for over 30 years, attended countless games, donated countless dollars to the AD, etc. not a "true" fan because I want Dave Brandon fired, want the AD administration overthrown?  Some say no, that's not how a true fan acts, not how a true fan supports the team.

I feel the opposite.  I think a true fan knows that this is a marathon, not a sprint.  That one season (or two or three or four) does not make Michigan football great or terrible.  I think supporting the team means doing those things the help the program win that marathon.  Cheering on the team but also doing the things that are excruciating like breaking down the program to make it better in the long run.  I personally cannot imagine having a ticket to a game and not going to show my disgust - its just not in my DNA to let a ticket go unused - but I sure as hell hope a lot of other people do it.  Things need to change and if the only way to make change is to appear to not "support" the team, then so be it.

A true fan wants the team to win but, more imporantly, wants to be proud of the program as a whole.  Can anyone truly say that its great to be a Michigan Wolverine right now?  Will it be great next year if Brandon is around?  If Hoke is around?

harmon40

September 30th, 2014 at 6:17 PM ^

r.e. "true fan" and "support the team" concepts being silly phrases.

As UM football has been excessively commercialized, it seems absurd to blame customers for losing interest in a shoddy product. 

Reminds me of pro sports franchises that lament the lack of "true fans" who are willing to fill the stands even if their team is not competitive.  Since the dawn of free agency, MLB, NFL, NBA, etc have been ramming it down our throats that "hey, it's always been a business anyway."

Well, fine then.  No problem.  Just don't ask us to buy a lousy product so that you'll have the money to make it better eventually.  Improve the product first and then the fans will come.

DB perhaps was not aware of the lessons that the pro sports have learned via their labor problems, canceled portions of seasons, etc: don't teach your customers that they can live without you...they just might do it

 

Blue in Yarmouth

October 1st, 2014 at 9:17 AM ^

well said. Since I can't say it better I'll simply add this:

It seems like Todd Howard has  taken a page out of the Dave Brandon/Brady Hoke playbook in that he treats fans like something they scraped off the bottom of their shoe. The condesending tone these people use when speaking about the fans makes me wonder wny any of us bother.

One other thing I'll note: It isn't the fans who are the priviledged ones. As paying customers we have a right. It is the athletic teams, athletic department and all it's employees and coaches who are the priviledged ones. They get to run around and make money off playing and coaching sports while we pay to see the product on the field. 

So if some of us get a little upset with things like cost of tickets, game experience, the feeling of being a part of something, winning games, feeling pride in the institution take a big hit I don't think some condesending rant is going to make things better...maybe that's just me though. 

 

BayWolves

September 30th, 2014 at 5:11 PM ^

Your rebuttal is excellent. You can't expect fans to rally behind dismal performance and questionable coaching calls. And don't give me that "you have to have played college football to criticize" nonsense. I will bet the players saying this criticize politicians, actors, and chefs but have never been any of the above. Free country, free speech, your right to express what you feel. That is all.

GoWings2008

September 30th, 2014 at 5:16 PM ^

But I'd have an easier time rallying behind questionable coaching calls and poor performance if the "other stuff" was still in tact, namely morality, integrity, honor.  DB, in my opinion, NEEDS to be the first to go.  Hoke probably needs to go, too, but Brandon first. 

copacetic

September 30th, 2014 at 5:12 PM ^

Using quotes around a word like fans, and making assumptions in an atempt to alienate them because they disagree with you doesn't usually make for a very strong argument. 

mtzlblk

September 30th, 2014 at 5:14 PM ^

are giving up on the players at all...quite the opposite.

There is a huge amount of talent on the field and I'm sure those kids are killing themselves trying, yet they are not being developed, they are not being provided a framework, or a suitable strategy in which to succeed. Do I expect this group to vie for a national championship this year? Absolutely not, but whatever gaps this team has certainly do not warrant the current, downward trending, results.

This is not going to improve by trying harder, those are platitudes from a coach that is clearly in over his head, and was from the beginning. Everyone can wish real hard, but there is no saving this. I'm sorry.

swan flu

September 30th, 2014 at 5:15 PM ^

I absolutely despise when athletes take the stance that their anecdotal experience trumps all logic and statistical reasoning.

 

Having a beer with a guy does not qualify you better than me to judge someone's ability to coach.

Reader71

September 30th, 2014 at 5:29 PM ^

No, but he has studied a lot more film than you. He has practiced more than you. He has played in more games than you. He has been around more coaches than you. Todd Howard, it is safe to say, knows more about football and coaching football than you do.

Its not the beer that counts in this scenario.

swan flu

September 30th, 2014 at 5:38 PM ^

But the attempt to discount everything I say because I wasnt part of a DI program is horse shit.  And athletes do it all the time. It's annoying.

Thats like saying the only people worth commenting on healthcare reform are doctors and nurses. The only people allowed to write book reviews are published authors. By discrediting someone's point of view due to lack of a specific kind of experience is absolutely asanine.

Reader71

September 30th, 2014 at 5:55 PM ^

I don't think Todd Howard or anyone else is trying to discount everything you say. I played ball, and I came on here to learn about the zone read from Brian Cook, an engineer.

But for you to say that your opinion is as valid as Todd Howard's with regards to coaching football is just wrong.

swan flu

September 30th, 2014 at 6:01 PM ^

i never said it was as valid. Todd Howard, and others, using the "Ive been in the trenches so I know" is an attempt to say Howard is right on EVERY point and my oppinions have zero validity.

This mentality eliminates all discourse. I bet you have a lot you can teach me about what value a coach brings, but Ill also bet that your experience gives you a certain bias. Its not a bad thing, its just a thing. Acknowleding bias is a very important part of civil discourse.

To go into a discussion with a predisposition to discount anything I say because I havent done it is dumb,

Reader71

September 30th, 2014 at 6:15 PM ^

Regarding bias: oh yeah. I think I am more self-aware than most of us in that respect, but I'm always huge on facing and, of possible, eliminating my own biases. I've said many times that I won't ever be able to hate Brady Hoke.

My one question would be, why do only former athletes have to admit their biases? Everyone has them. Ace said on the podcast that Hoke is an idiot and incompetent. Does that mean that his rebuttal here is any less valid? No.

But you did imply that your opinion is as valid as Howard's. It was in your first post, where you said that having a beer with Hoke does not make his judgment any better than yours. Bias aside, Todd Howard knows more about coaching than you. That's nothing to be defensive about, its just an accident of your respective personal histories.

Reader71

October 1st, 2014 at 7:40 AM ^

Thanks. I might be wrong on all accounts, and I think Howard is wrong on some, but I'm not trying to be.

I'm just a guy with a different viewpoint than most who thinks there might be some value to Michigan fans in hearing it. I dont care if you agree or disagree, but you might be able to use my comments to understand the way an old ballplayer might feel.

pescadero

October 1st, 2014 at 8:10 AM ^

The assertion that ON THE AGGREGATE a football coach and former player is more LIKELY to be correct I have no issue with.

 

The idea that on any INDIVIDUAL question that is true - not so much.

 

The idea that random internet dudes opinion/idea should AUTOMATICALLY be given less weight, without inspection, than that of a coach/former player IS exactly that logical fallacy.

 

Experts on average will have a higher probability of being right.

 

MI Expat NY

September 30th, 2014 at 5:38 PM ^

Coaching is hard.  I doubt there are many people calling for Hoke's head that think they could do a better job.  Undoubtedly there are some that do, but those people are idiots.  However, you don't have to know a lot about the technical skills of coaching to be able to recognize when a guy is failing as a coach.  Brady Hoke has one job (ok, not really, but you get my point), to win football games at a place where it should be easy to win football games.  HIs team isn't even competitive right now in his 4th year.  In a year when his program should be firmly in his image.  You don't need to be a guy that has spent hours upon hours within football to recognize this fact.

At this point, it is the beer in the scenario that counts.  Because if Howard wasn't comfortable having a beer with Hoke, he'd be able to see beyond his bias towards reality.  

DoubleB

September 30th, 2014 at 8:30 PM ^

The head coach should be judged by his wins and losses, not the nuance of coaching a Division I program which very few people truly understand. 

Howard's point is correct as well. People don't understand what it's like to coach a Division I program. The whining about punt formations and bad play calls and the like are just that . . . whining from people who don't know what they're talking about, who haven't watched a lick of film and don't understand the basics of football.

You want to argue the Michigan punt team is poor. . . no question about it. Or that Hoke should be fired for the underperformance of Michigan football . . very fair and valid argument (and I think the right decision at this point). But not many are qualified to judge the minutiae of Brady Hoke's detailed coaching.

ldoublee

September 30th, 2014 at 8:57 PM ^

Not having 11 players on the field for a play is not a "nuance". That is as basic as it comes--and I coached for over a decade and would be completely embarrassed if a team I was part of didnt have 11 guys on a special teams unit ONCE, let alone twice. There is no defending that.

Gulogulo37

October 1st, 2014 at 11:30 AM ^

Now THAT'S an appeal to authority. And the problem I have with a BS appeal like that where you pit Hoke vs. casual fans is that it ignores all the other people who coach football and realize that the shield punt is objectively better.

This is all leaving aside the fact that realizing the benefits of a shield punt isn't that difficult. Seth broke it down a couple weeks ago. Shield punting lets you get more guys after the ball. Getting more guys after the ball is good. Do I know every detail about the technique of how the lineman block? No. Do I need to in order to realize shield punting is better? No.

Jon06

September 30th, 2014 at 5:15 PM ^

What is happening is not an expression of a lack of support for the team.

What is happening is an expression of disgust with the lack of leadership and accountability in Schembechler Hall, starting at the very top.

What is happening is an expression of support for the players, who just deserve better.

dragonchild

September 30th, 2014 at 6:56 PM ^

The petition is up to 8806 as of 6:50 PM EDT.

Note the petition says nothing about not supporting the players.

Howard needs to understand that Brandon will happily use the players as the political equivalent of a human shield to continue running our athletic department into the ground.  If our only options are cheer or cheer harder, Howard is basically showing (whether he understands or not) deep contempt for the fans.  He thinks players are entitled to fan support.

He couldn't possibly be more wrong.  And quoting Schembechler doesn't make him any less wrong.

The fans GIVE their support to the players.  In fact, they PAY for it.  It is NOT an entitlement, but Howard is taking it for granted because it's given willingly.  Without the fans the program would be a shoestring club holding bake sales to pay for pads.  The fans, however, are entitled to a voice, especially considering they're bankrolling the whole thing.  Even if the players are not paid, the fans pay for the equipment, the facilities, the travel costs, the opportunity basically.  Yet even now, their anger is directed at the coach and AD, not the players.

I get his point, but Howard has no place telling fans what to do.  At all.  He needs to step away from the keyboard because this sort of entitlement is counterproductive.  A football team without fans is really just a sports club playing purely for the love of the game.  Despite the insane resources provided by fans we give the players the benefit of the doubt.  Having any sort of expectations for fan behavior means Howard has this completely backwards.

gbdub

September 30th, 2014 at 7:25 PM ^

Well done. Howard feels entitled to the fans' support, and that's grating. He didn't play for my benefit, he played for his teammates, his coach, his scholarship, his NFL dreams. His efforts are commendable, but they weren't made as a gift to me. And that's fine - I don't expect the players to feel any obligation to the fans, other than not embarrassing the University (and losing doesn't count as embarrassing). I'm proud that our University gave him that chance, and happy that I got to share some joy in it. He owes me nothing - where does he get the idea that I owe him?

To insist that the fans are obligated to keep their opinions to themselves is absurd. We have to watch the thing we love for no rational reason lurch and sputter and get torn up on the news and just take it? This is at heart supposed to be fun, and when it ceases to be fun it's ceased to give me anything. Yet Howard would take away even my ability to complain, to wish for more, because in his mind I owe it to him, him who is already hyperprivileged with something us poor saps can only dream of.

That hurts.

champswest

September 30th, 2014 at 5:18 PM ^

two pieces, I'll go with Todd Howard.  When the players hear cheers, they think that they are for them.  When they hear boos, they also think that they are for them.  As long as the players are playing hard and doing their best, I will support them.

And as for Hoke, despite his record he doesn't deserve the name calling and profanity that has been directed toward him on this blog and elsewhere.

Go Blue!

Monocle Smile

September 30th, 2014 at 5:18 PM ^

I expected more out of Todd Howard.

It's so easy for you to call for Hoke's job. You've never met him, never had a beer with him, never seen him COACH!

This is barely even feelingsball. It's a non sequitur.

Reader71

September 30th, 2014 at 5:52 PM ^

You do know what he means.

You, me, Todd Howard, and millions have seen him coach on Saturdays. None of us are happy with the results. But Todd Howard has also seen Brady Hoke coach on the other days of the week. He knows how he instructs players, how he molds them into men, he's heard the speeches, he knows why its like to mess up and run the stadium steps at 6:00am. Todd Howard has reason to believe that Brady Hoke can turn the program around, and his reasons come from personal experience.

We've all seen Hoke coach for three hours on 12 Saturdays out of the year. But those are not the only days he coaches. They are the most important days, they are what he is ultimately judged by, and this is rightfully so. But the head coach of a college football team is a lot more than just a guy calling plays on game day.

We might be wrong in our predictions of success. I, for one, am finally off the Hoke bandwagon; the Morris situation didn't do it, I had lost hope by halftime. But we at least have a reason to feel the way that we do. Brady Hoke is one of the guys who made us into the men we are today. It's a shame that fans cannot or will not try to realize that.

Don't pretend you don't know what he's talking about. Todd Howard deserves some respect from the Michigan fans. Disagree if you want. I disagree with some of the things he said. But don't try to act like its s non-sequitur. It does follow, if you empathize with someone else for even a moment.