Preserve the Meritocracy


I’m a true believer in meritocracy. When we have competition and meritocracy, things work. We get more creativity and innovation and growth, and it creates value and a better life for everyone involved.

My experience in the NFL gave me an opportunity to really witness how meritocracy works, and why it matters. If I played well, I was rewarded. I played more, we won more, and I got paid more. But I always knew that could all change. If I started playing poorly, we would lose more games, I could lose my starting job, I could take a big pay cut, and I could find myself out of the league completely. Professional football players can get huge rewards, but they have to prove themselves every day.

That meritocracy is what we love about sports. If you can’t play, then you won’t play, and if you work hard and get better, you’ll be rewarded. You have to earn your successes, and it all plays out in very visible competition for everyone to see. As fans, we want to see who is the best, whether Player A is better than Player B, whether my team is better than your team. Peyton or Brady? The Patriots or the Seahawks? These sports bring in billions of dollars—and live sports is the only thing propping up the rest of the entire television industry!

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Yes, there are scandals, and non-fans probably wonder what all the fuss is about whenever something calls the integrity of the game into question. It’s because of this idealized form of meritocracy and competition. In a country that is built on freedom, on anyone being able to succeed based on their own hard work and creativity, we want to protect a meritocratic culture that rewards greatness, not backroom deals.

So why am I spending so much time talking about sports and meritocracy? Because it’s something that follows the same model as the meritocracy that makes creates growth in America.

Entrepreneurship, hard work, and competition help make this country go. The lessons I learned on the football field have held true for me in every one of my businesses. I have to work hard, keep getting better, and be creative to succeed. Success is not guaranteed in any business. And I preach that same message to every entrepreneur and would-be entrepreneur. Nothing is guaranteed. We have to earn it, every day.

But I am always concerned about preserving that model. We have to preserve competition, and have success determined by merit. Without incentives for hard work and real success, you get a lot less of it. We need more entrepreneurship, more competition, more innovative people coming up with creative solutions for our problems. That’s what makes our lives better, and enables us to grow beyond our imagination.

This article was originally published by AMAC

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Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as,, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.