October 04, 2021

By Alaina Uricheck ’24

J.C. Watts Jr., former Republican congressman, minister, retired professional football player and current chairman of the Black News Network, instructed Susquehanna students to “never waste their pain,” as he presented the university’s annual Alice Pope Shade Lecture Leading by Faith – From the Sidelines to the Aisles of Congress.

Watts used his experiences playing sports and time spent in Washington, D.C., to explain that history is “meant to offend so that society can learn from it because history belongs to all of us.”

Watts stressed the importance of acknowledging and dealing with dysfunction in one’s own life. Trying to normalize dysfunction, Watts said, is dangerous and leads to confirmation bias and group think.

“Group identity will get you to the point that you say, as a woman you have to think like every other woman; as a Black person you have to think like every other Black person. Group identity says, don’t ask where you’re marching, just march,” Watts said. “I think that’s where politics is. It’s not about right, wrong, best practices, what works.”

Watts urged students to identify their dysfunction and take steps to address it – and he used football to get his message across. Watts graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1981. While there, he quarterbacked for the Sooners, leading them to two consecutive Big Eight Championships and Orange Bowl victories. From 1981 to 1986, he started for Ottawa and Toronto in the Canadian Football League.

“Athletics teaches you how to deal with dysfunction,” he said. “If you throw three interceptions, the coach is going to remove you from the game. He has to. And you’ve got to face reality.”

The political insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, Watts said, was a symptom of dysfunction, and something he believes the country needs to recognize and address. While it “speaks to how bad our system has decayed,” Watts is optimistic about the future of the country.

“I don’t think God allows crisis or trials in our lifetime to tell us what we are. He allows it to tell us what we are not,” he said. “This isn’t the first time politics has been nasty. America is still the world’s best hope.”

Susquehanna University’s annual Shade lecture is made possible by the Alice Pope Shade Fund. Established in 1983 by her daughter and Susquehanna graduate, Rebecca Shade ’54 Mignot, the fund supports bringing nationally and internationally renowned religious scholars and leaders to campus. Prior Shade lecturers have included former Irish President Mary Robinson, retired Sen. Joe Lieberman, Liberian Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee and television journalist David Gregory.