Justin Ricklefs


My Word is Stronger than Oak

I was a sophomore in high school. With a mouth full of braces and a new career path. Or so I thought.

See in 1996, Jerry Maguire came out. A kid that age that already loved sports was easy prey for the current of that movie.

Jerry had me hooked when he grabbed the goldfish and screamed, “who’s coming with me?” For a young kid that movie had all the components: love, money, sports, power, fame, bright lights, the chase, even a little rebellion.

Components that nearly 20 years later I recognize don’t fully satisfy but are still enticing.

There’s a scene in this movie that I’ve never been able to forget. Not sure anyone should base major life decisions on a sports agent movie, but this one line has rattled around in my mind off and on the last 20 years.

“What you do have is my word. And it’s stronger than oak.”

Photo credit: klipd.com

The superstar QB prospect that Jerry lands as a client has a dad that is trying to help his boy navigate this whole pro football thing. The dad is actually the one quarterbacking the boy’s journey, calling all the shots.

Jerry makes a trip to their home, kind of the final meeting to get the player / agent deal inked. Formalized. Put in a contract.

Cush, the QB prospect, and his dad, tell Jerry that he’s their guy. Jerry will be Cush’s agent.

When Jerry asks about documenting their relationship in a contract, Cush’s dad says, “You know I don’t do contracts, but what you do have is my word. And it’s stronger than oak.”

They exchange a firm handshake and Jerry drives away smiling and pounding his steering wheel to the beat of the music.

Stronger than oak.

That is until a better deal came along for Cush and his greedy dad. Another agent, the nemesis of Jerry, a guy named Sugar, swoops in and steals the deal. Sweetens the pot, promises more cash, more exposure, more fame.

The Cush duo doesn’t even have the gall to tell Jerry to his face that he’s out. They’re sitting in a fancy hotel, that Jerry likely paid for, overlooking Times Square. Cush is playing guitar, his ego building with each strum of the chords. The phone rings, they think it’s another reporter.

Photo credit: footballnation.com

Jerry answers the phone, pretending to be Cush. On the other line is Sugar the snake, whispering his sweet promises to Cush (or who he thinks is Cush).

The truth comes out. Team Cushman had betrayed Jerry for Sugar.

“You didn’t sign anything with Sugar, right? Matt….? Tell me you didn’t sign. What happened to your ‘my word is stronger than oak’ thing?”

And just like that it’s over. Jerry has to quickly jump into damage control, spin, find his next prospect.

And for 20 years, I keep thinking about the ‘my word is stronger than oak’ thing.

A situation popped up this last week that was unexpected. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but something that caused me to pause. And rethink a decision I had made. A commitment I had made.

Even though I’d given my word to this one situation, the other option looked alluring all of a sudden.

In a text exchange with a good friend about other more important topics, I mentioned this situation to him. Almost in a way to validate myself for the switch I was about to make on my word. As small and unnoticed as it would be.

His text back may be a phrase I remember for the next 20 years like I have the Jerry Maguire quote. He said, “what would you tell Silas to do?”

Our five year old, baseball-loving, trying to figure out life son. What would I tell him? Without question or hesitation, I’d tell him to honor his word.

To do what he said he was going to do. To be reliable. To be counted on. To show up.

Even if it’s a small thing that no one will care about ultimately? Especially if it’s a small thing.

I was grateful for this reminder. In a loving but direct way, he turned the tables back on me. He wasn’t going to tell me what I wanted to hear or thought I wanted to hear. He reminded me that I was about to be Cush’s dad, not Cush’s dad’s statement.

This entire week I’ve now been paying closer attention to the things I say. The words I give out. Are they as strong as oak? Or as strong as Cush’s dad’s word?

“Yeah sweetheart, I’ll play softball with you in 10 minutes.” 10 minutes quickly turned into 45 somehow, I’m sorry.


“Sure buddy, we’ll do Lego’s.”  After I check my email right quick.


“Yes babe, I’ll be home early on Friday so I can help you get the house ready before the sitter comes.” Well it was earlier than a normal day, but I had to get that proposal wrapped up.

“Leave me a message and I’ll call you right back” my voicemail at work says. Does it really need to be right back or will tomorrow morning be OK?

It’s not always easy, but it’s important. The people around me are counting on me.

What you do have is my word. And it’s stronger than oak.

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