How the '12th Man' Can Transform America

SEATTLE - FEBRUARY 05:  Fans wave the 12th Man flag to celebrate Seattle Seahawks victory in Super Bowl XLVII during a parade
SEATTLE - FEBRUARY 05: Fans wave the 12th Man flag to celebrate Seattle Seahawks victory in Super Bowl XLVII during a parade on February 5, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Forgive me, but I don't believe that the Seattle Seahawks really won the Superbowl. It was the "12th man" that won it. How else can we explain how an underdog team that was "too young," with a quarterback who was "too short" decimated the Denver Broncos?

I've been inspired this football season by the "12th man" and how this concept has contributed to the unstoppable momentum of the Seattle Seahawks. Simply put, the "12th man" is the torturous noise the fans make at Seattle's games -- creating a daunting and oppressive atmosphere for the Seahawks' adversaries.

On another level, the "12th man" represents the fans' palpable enthusiasm that creates a tipping point to the 11-man professional sports team, generating win after win. The "12th man" has become a higher power that instills almost superhero confidence in the players, coaches and community. The combination of the team and "12th man" made anything possible. "Why not us?" became the mantra that produced a winning team.

At the core of the "12th man" phenomenon was a synergy and shared responsibility between the team and the fans -- an enthusiasm and "yes we can" attitude that would not yield to doubters and nay-sayers.

This attitude started with owner Paul Allen who, in 1997, rescued the team from being exported to Southern California. He set the example for giving back to his community, resurrecting and redirecting a throw-away team that could do no good. Over the years, the fans have responded and, together, the concept of the "12th man," with its palpable enthusiasm, was born.

This movement can be an example for all of us in America. We need the "12th man."

A NBC News poll taken prior to the State of the Union address shows that most Americans are not confident about the future or our country's direction. Another poll taken by Weber Shandwick shows that 60 percent of our country believes that we have a problem with civility that spills over from politics, to our neighbors, to our schools. In many circles, and certainly fueled by feelings about disharmony, income inequality and lack of corporate hiring, negativity is rampant. People have lost the zip in their stride and the confidence in our country or the upward mobility of the American Dream.

The "12th man" tells us that we can do and be anything. It injects a pride and sense of responsibility that, together, we can move forward.

We each can be the "12th man" to create wins in our families, schools, communities and nation. If enough of us make that choice, we can bring about a tipping point for a new attitude about success and making a difference. Every human being needs "wins" to be successful at life, and we each can help. The Seahawks have shown us that the "12th man" can inspire wins, and wins can ensure more wins.

The force that stands in the way of the "12th man" taking our country by storm is apathy and disbelief. Why bother? Nothing's gonna change. If I try, I'll just get shot down, laughed at and humiliated. If I'm a courageous and mindful corporate manager, my shareholders will ridicule me.

This attitude is reflected in the story of the child and the starfish. An old man sees a child walking along a beach, repeatedly throwing an object into the ocean. He stops the child and asks what he's doing, to which the child replies, "Tide's coming in and without water, the starfish that are washing up onto the beach will die." The old man says, "But there are thousands of starfish and only one of you -- you can't possibly make a difference." The child reaches down, picks up a starfish and hurls it back into the ocean. "I made a difference to that one," he says.

That boy was the "12th man."

My friend Ken Lanci, a prominent businessman content with building companies and personal prosperity, decided to be a "12th man" after he had a major heart attack, technically died in the ER, and was revived by the defibrillator's electric shock. In his recent book, "Working for the Greater Good of All...Really," he describes how he "saw the white light and felt the love of God," but felt compelled to come back and do something more meaningful in life. After wondering for several months why he was brought back, he concluded that he was meant to devote his life to "working for the greater good of all." Now, every day, he throws his starfish back into the ocean.

Unlike Ken, many people have given up on a lot of things in our country, dissuaded by the "impossibility" of it all. Building shared success and opportunity for all, closing the achievement gap in urban education, or creating a country of civility, respect and positive politics are big issues that will not find solutions without human intervention, without the "12th man."

Skepticism and cynicism are the spoilers that will drag down good ideas, courage and resolve. We see this daily in Washington. Big issues -- immigration, fiscal harmony, income inequality -- are on the chopping block because prominent leaders don't have the guts to have a conversation and push them forward.

When I was on the road pitching the idea that, through dialog, education, role-modeling and shared values, it is possible to restore civility to America, prominent leaders did not believe that civility could happen. It was too big a problem. This attitude has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We can do better. Will you be the 12th man?


Stuart Muszynski is the founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Project Love/Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialog around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to