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Wellington Mara: Giant of a leader

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

In an era of loudmouth celebrities and overpaid suits, the remembrance of a decent man seems almost retro. Wellington Mara, who became co-owner of the New York Giants football team at age 14 and guided the team from the early days of the National Football League until his death last year, was one of those old-fashioned leaders.

Unlike today’s owners—who are highly leveraged and starved for cash—Mara didn’t let money dictate his decisions.

Starting in the 1950s, he drafted talented players such as Frank Gifford and Roosevelt Grier, took troubled players under his wing and refrained from meddling. He hated cutting or firing people.

In recognition of Mara’s benevolence, seven busloads of players showed up for his funeral last year.

This isn’t to say that Mara didn’t have flaws. After one hard loss to the Redskins, he demolished a folding chair. And he was patient to a fault. During a low stretch in Giants fortunes that lasted almost 20 years, Mara stayed the course, angering fans.

At the same time, he also never moved the Giants to another city or abandoned his players, as some owners have. And his basic goodness is best told by one example:

In the early 1960s, when the NFL was negotiating a national television contract, Mara persuaded the other owners to divide the profits equally, even though the Giants could have walked away with the lion’s share.

That one act proved to be visionary, immensely profitable for the entire league … and darned decent.

—Adapted from “The Lives They Lived: A Giant Among Giants,” Charles McGrath, The New York Times Magazine.

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