When Opportunity Knocks, Don't Fence-Sit

Brett Favre and Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Alabama) share a distinguishing characteristic. Despite toiling in pro football and politics, respectively, they are both opportunistic. Not that being opportunistic in and of itself earns you a scarlet letter, but all too often how people pursue existing opportunities or create new avenues to success influences how they're perceived and how folks relate to them.

Working hard and smart on the job and cultivating relationships to move up the corporate ladder is a respected and tried-and-true route to a fulfilling career. Continuing education makes you a valued employee. Volunteering to help on projects outside of your core job puts you in a positive light with higher-ups and colleagues.

But lying and backstabbing and sleeping with the boss (unless she's as gorgeous) in the name of getting promotion usually backfires - although exceptions abound.

Ok, so we all get that. If you make your bed, sleep in it. The folks you pass - and piss off - on the way up are the same folks you'll pass on your way down. You reap what you sew. Whatever.

In the case of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, extending his career with two teams caused angst among his fanatical Green Bay Packer fans, and angered New York Jets fans, for whom he played for just one year.

Favre acted like an opportunist in the name of playing where he wanted to play when he wanted to play. Pro athletes, given the culture of their game and fans' short memories in their zeal for a championship, get away with being spoiled, single-minded, hedonistic, gun-carrying brats (right Gilbert Arenas?).

But in the case of Favre, to the extent he knows former Packers teammates, sports writers and fans would like to kick his ass for flopping from team to team after he said he was retiring, he appears to not be unnerved that he's not universally liked. His veneer says, "It's my life and career and I'll do it my way. So shut the hell up if you're not paying me."

I respect that outlook, which is rather brusque and insular but so be it. As a lifelong Chicago Bears fan who hates the Packers, I grudgingly watch Favre perform on the field because he might do something spectacular.

But in the case of the opportunistic Rep. Parker Griffith, who recently switched from being a Democratic to a Republican, there's something unctuously opportunistic, unnerving and supremely self-serving about his move. Chalk it up to my cynical view of elected officials at the highest levels of government, or attribute it to my disdain for the word opportunistic as in "exploiting opportunities and situations in general, especially in a devious, unscrupulous or unprincipled way," but I'm more thrilled than University of Alabama football fans right now that all but one of the Washington staffers for Rep. Griffith have resigned to protest his switch.

Sharon Wheeler, Rep. Griffith's former chief of staff, said: ''We cannot in good conscience continue working for him." Wheeler said she believes her former boss made a ''well-intentioned but misguided'' decision. She said he abandoned the legacy of conservative Democratic leadership in the north Alabama district, which includes Huntsville.

Rep. Griffith's legislative aides, interns and other junior staffers also quit, as did his spokesman, who had previously told of his exit.

To cover his rump, Rep. Griffith, who narrowly won his office last year, said he could no longer support the Democratic agenda on health care and other issues. He said he expected the resignations and that ''the staff members who have resigned have served this district diligently and I wish them well in their future endeavors.''

Switching political parties is the nadir and height of opportunism, which is why I'm amused that there are, some GOPers and party supporters who are decrying the move and aren't exactly welcoming Rep. Griffith, who, of course, isn't the first politician to make such a move. Dems do it too, as do so-called Independents whose approval ratings then suffer (right Joe Lieberman?).

But on second thought, whether it's Favre or Rep. Griffith, the words of former Federal Communications Commission commissioner Andrew Barrett suddenly ring anew in my ears.

"Because you'll get hit by a car" was his to my answer question years ago in an interview when I asked him why he just didn't sit in the middle of the political road and play both ends against the middle rather than convert from Democrat to Republican.

What an opportunistic outlook.

So if you ever decide to make a dramatic personal or professional change, do it in a big, theatrical way. Swing for the fences. Garner attention. Hog the spotlight. But don't fence-sit. Indecision is what kills deer crossing the road. It can kill your chances of differentiating self-respect from being respected by others.

Make no mistake, opportunism makes your vision crystal clear. Indecision leads to blindness.