Randy Tucker: Ferreting out the fakes

Guest Column:

Some of my friends are very competitive poker players. They enjoy the thrill of risking a little cash on a combination of luck, skill, and an innate ability to recognize when another player at the table has a good hand or is just trying to bluff.

Gamblers call this a tell. It is the ability to pick up on a nervous twitch, a not so casual look, or some other inconspicuous type of body language.

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As a football player, and later a coach, we called them reads.

Playing defensive end I had a better than average chance of guessing the play by simply looking at the offensive tackle’s fingers when he dropped into his three-point stance just before the ball was snapped.

If his fingers turned red, and then white around the knuckles I knew he was about to drive into me hard. Putting your weight forward on your hands lets you fly off the line quicker, hence the change in finger color. If on the other hand his fingers barely touched the grass, I knew he was about to take a couple of drop steps, and hinge block to protect his quarterback on a pass.

It’s a skill I taught all of my defensive players over my three-decade career as a football coach.

Quarterbacks will give a play away as well. Many absentmindedly lick their fingers on a pass play just after breaking the huddle, that’s a great read.

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I learned to read the guards on a running team. They’ll always take you to the ball. Good guards are more important than good running backs in a quality program.

These are just little keys you can look for to you an edge as an athlete. Other keys in life are much more important, and last well beyond your playing days.

There was a guy from California who purchased a farm near ours when I was a teenager. The first thing he did was put up locked gates on every entrance to his new property.

My dad and a couple of other friendly neighbors, along with almost everyone we knew never locked anything up. We left tractors and trucks with the keys in them in case a neighbor needed to borrow one. When we did, or they did, it was always returned filled with fuel.

My dad had a saying that has proven true over the many decades that have passed since he first told it to me.

“Watch the guy who has a lot of locks,” dad said. “He’s telling you he doesn’t trust anyone, and you can’t trust him either. It’s the guy with all those keys on his chain that will steal from you.”

Dad was right. I’ve witnessed this behavior many times over the intervening years.

It’s a common statement that was expressed well in Shakespeare’s classic Hamlet. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” says Queen Gertrude.

It is the bard’s way of saying someone is making much too big an issue of an otherwise mundane situation. In other words, they’re not sincere, they don’t have good intentions and they’re likely to be lying. These are all bad traits, especially in someone who is overreacting to some innocuous issue.

The person who is constantly reminding you of how ethical, honest, and above board they are, is most likely someone who is none of the three. They’re more likely to be cunning, conniving, and have very little interest in the truth, or any other facet of honesty.

We see them all the time in a wide variety of situations.

My friends on the reservation sometimes include me when they say this little gem, “My grandmother was a Cherokee princess, daughter of the chief.” When I hear it, it always gets a laugh from everyone in the crowd.

Could someone’s grandmother be a Cherokee princess? Well, no. They could be Cherokee, but the five civilized tribes as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole were once collectively known, didn’t have royalty, and the concept of one man or in many cultures, one woman, as the only leader, the “Chief” is European. Not a way of governing among Native Americans. So the clueless character making this statement is obviously not telling the truth, and they’re too ignorant to realize it. That’s a tell, a read, or a key, (depending on the term you choose) that many of us can witness in action first hand.

It’s those who constantly profess their ethical, honest, forthright, high moral traits that you need to watch. Dollars to donuts, they don’t practice any of these principles.

Another interesting tell is the guy who claims he won some major award, played a key role in a national championship college football game, or was all-state in three different sports every year in high school. In my walk of life, I run into these characters all the time.

What they don’t realize is that if you were an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team all anyone has to do to verify that is pick up their Smartphone and Google Olympics with your name. If you were indeed an alternate, a few hundred to a few hundred thousand hits will return instantly.

It’s tough to lie about your success in something in the days of instantaneous digital research.

College football rosters now list every member of a team that ever played at most universities. If you were on that national championship team, they’ll have your name, your number, how many tackles you made, or how many catches you made along with your height, weight, and your college major. It’s getting harder and harder to be a phony.

But, it’s not that hard to ferret out the fakes.

I was honored to attend the Marine Corp Birthday Party held by our local Marine Corp League a couple of times. The stories these young, and not-so-young Leathernecks shared with me were true gems, and I’ve written about them a few times.

At one function that had a guy show up who obviously had never been a Marine, or in any other branch of the service. It’s called “Stolen Valor” and it’s all too commonplace for a wannabe to memorize a few facts about a military unit and try to pass themselves as a veteran.

As a kid growing up on Air Force bases I knew more about wing numbers, MOS (military occupational specialties), rank, vehicles, aircraft, and the names and locations of various Air Force bases than this imposter at the Marine Corp party did with his attempt at faking service. I’d never claim to be a member of the military, but when these guys open up, my childhood growing up as a dependent of an NCO helps me understand what they’re talking about.

You don’t have to interrogate, investigate or browbeat someone to find out what they’re about. If they try to impress you with stories of how wealthy they are, of how big the mansion they live in is, or my favorite as of late, how ethical and honest they are, take it with a grain of salt.

A final note on that phrase, which traces its origin to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder around 77 AD.

The great philosopher was offering advice to avoid being poisoned, a favorite pastime of the Roman elite at the time. “Take it with a grain of salt,” was meant as an antidote to many of the common plant-based poisons of the day, but it soon evolved into our modern understanding of avoiding being poisoned by lies, rumors, and gossip in metaphorically taking that same grain of salt.

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