Ive been trying to avoid cliché topics while blogging about fatherhood: easy, male-oriented things like sports, cars, and other supposed notions of manhood. However, its difficult to avoid, especially with the 2012 NFL Playoffs set to go underway next week. Ill be the first to tell you, I am not a huge football fan these days. The years of being a Washington Skins fan have begun to take their toll on my enthusiasm for the game.
To seriously date myself, over twenty-two years ago in 1989, a classic video game was born. To older gamers like myself, Tecmo Bowl a clunky simulation of NFL football was one of those iconic, male-bonding games that you just had to have if you owned a Nintendo Entertainment System. In high school, I can tell you that my studies suffered as result of playing this game to the point of aching thumbs and sleepless nights.
Although I wasnt a Chicago Bears fan, I played them in the video game because I admired late Hall Of Fame running back Walter Sweetness Payton and I got a chance to meet him in Washington, D.C. during an event for teens and sports in 1990. He was still a vision of health, much stronger looking in person than on television and I didnt get to say much to him. But I walked away thinking that I may have met the greatest running back of my time.
Payton played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the Bears, entering the Hall in 1993 after retiring in 1988. He unfortunately passed in 1999 at age 45 as a result of rare liver disease that made the muscle-bound Payton wither away. In the years gone by since his passing, books and articles have been written about Sweetness, but a story I recently came across
nearly crushed my image of him.
Cleveland publication The Plain Dealer
ran a piece last week focusing on an upcoming biography from writer Jeff Pearlman which digs deeper into Paytons life revealing dark secrets that could mar the legacy of the Bears legend. Infidelity, a child out of wedlock (that he reportedly didnt acknowledge), drug addiction and a hidden affinity for fast food are all laid out for fans to read. I didnt want to leap to judgment, but I couldnt ignore what I read.
Pearlman, a former Sports Illustrated
writer, was an old-school journalist who undoubtedly fact-checked with the best of them. Clearly hes not accepting vague accounts from the reported 678 interviews he conducted to complete his book. I trust the writer to have interviewed close friends of the player and write the truth. The truth, it appears, was less than glossy but does it take away from the fact that Payton did leave behind some sweetness along with his legacy?
In a series of interviews last fall, Connie, Paytons widow, disputed Pearlmans claims. She didnt deny that her husband was troubled, but she also didnt throw her husbands name into the gutter, nor confirm any of Pearlmans other claims. Mrs. Payton is also set to release her own memoir.
On the positive side, Walter and his wife started a foundation, which serves underprivileged children, and there is also a cancer research fund in Paytons name. His oldest child, Jarrett, assisted with running The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation
in the past.
The truth is, none of us will know what truly happened during Paytons life except for the parties involved which is immediately rendered one-sided because Payton isnt here to defend himself. Until then, Ill continue to think of Sweetness as one of the best ever to play the game and remember what his own son said during Paytons Fame induction, I am sure my sister will endorse this statement, we have a super dad.
Payton was not only a role model for many in his sports position, but as a husband and father he was a role model at home. Thats why NFI places such an importance on helping men understand the value - and difficulties of - entering the union of marriage. Men considering marriage, or those organizations working with young men, may want to consider NFIs Why Knot?
program, a perfect place for men to start before making the vital leap into matrimony. Learn more at www.fatherhood.org/why-knot
Joe Ehrmann is a former defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts and the Detroit Lions. He and his wife Paula have four children and are cofounders of Coach for America, whose mission is to inform, inspire, and initiate individual, community, and societal change through sports and coaching. Joe’s new book InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives was released on August 2 and is available for purchase on Amazon and other retailers. NFI:
You start the introduction to InSideOut Coaching
by telling a moving story about driving home one night with your young son, realizing how much you love him, and recognizing that your father never felt that way about you. Why do you think a father’s love plays such a crucial role in a child’s life?JE: Young people are hardwired to get that affirmation and love and acceptance, particularly from their dads, as well as their moms. Their basic self-concept of who they are is dependent on that relationship. Look at the tremendous number of dads who have abdicated that responsibility and leave children with huge questions about their identity and worth. Dads are one of the chief artists in painting the picture of who we are. As I travel the country, it’s the number one condition of children in America – it’s the lack of closure in those wounds as you grow from childhood to adulthood that continues to impact children’s relationships and identity.
In an age when 24 million children are growing up with an absent father, we need dads mentor kids in their sphere of influence who need a father figure in their life. NFI calls this being a Double Duty Dad
. How can coaches fill that role for their athletes?JE: Sports engage more individuals, families, and communities than any cultural activity, religion, or group. 20-30 million children play youth league sports and 10 million play interscholastic high school sports. 40 million children stand in front of the one of the most influential adults in their lives. Coaches have an unparalleled platform and position to formulate children’s self-worth and identity. When you have players who don’t have a dad, it’s an incredible opportunity to be an example of what it means to be a man. Coaches can teach what fatherhood is, what a dad looks like. Coaches have an opportunity to help kids make sense of their relationship with their dad. The challenge is that coaching has been reduced to win-at-all-costs mentality. NFI:
Who was the most important coach in your life and what character quality of his made the biggest impact on you?JE: I played for coaches from age 10 to 36. I looked back and charted every coach I played for and graded them if they were transactional (transactional coaches use players’ athletic ability for their benefit) or if they were intentionally transformational in my life (transformational coaches change the arch of their player’s life – they understand that’s the responsibility that comes with the power of the whistle). The most influential coach in my life was my college lacrosse coach Roy Simmons Jr., a man of great empathy and compassion. He was an artist – he saw the aesthetics not only of sports but of life. Lacrosse was a Native American sport, so he taught us about Native American history and took us to art museums. He coached me in a way that I saw things in myself that I had never seen before. When I started thinking about my coaching philosophy, I knew I wanted to be outside of the traditional model so I looked back at him.NFI:
Describe the InsideOut Coaching Process/ProgramJE: It’s based on attachment research. Attachment is the formation and maintenance of relationships. 40 years ago a psychoanalyst in Great Britain working with juvenile delinquents asked how some parents had the ability to enable their children to attach to them, or to relate to them, in a way that optimized their development, but some didn’t. The answer has to do with how a parent has processed their own story about themselves. It doesn’t matter how suboptimal or abusive your childhood was, if you make sense of it and integrate it, you are not destined to repeat it with your own children.
My wife and I decided if that’s true in the parent-child relationship, it has to be true in the player-coach relationship. The biggest predictor of a coach’s ability to allow his players to attach to him in an optimal way is if the coach has processed his own story and understood the role of his father and coaches in the formation of his self-concept and developmental need. Once a coach develops his own narratives and makes sense it, it creates an empathic response to his players.
The InsideOut process is building your own narrative by asking 4 questions. 1: Why do you coach? Is it about you or your players? 2) Why do you coach the way that you do? Is the way that you run practices and relationships with players repeating the way you were coached or are you trying to be transformational? 3) What does it feel like to be coached by you? What does it feel like to be a young person with all the pressures (psychological, social, sexual, parental, etc.)? What does it feel like to have you as a coach in the midst of all their developmental needs? 4) How do you define and measure success? Most coaches have none of these things written out or know how to think through it. These questions can only be answered with integrity from your own narrative and life history.
When I started coaching, I had a clear purpose statement about the intent - why I was coaching, what I wanted to accomplish in the lives of my players. I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good. Every practice, drill, and game are designed to help fulfill that purpose.
What motivates you to do what you do through Coach for America and your other initiatives, such as Building Men and Women for Others?JE: I’m a product of the 1960s – I was in college during the convergence of the civil rights, women rights, human rights, and war on poverty movements. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a better venue to address these issues than sports. Sports are a metaphor for change. Secondly, I have my own narrative. I’m in touch with my own anger, abuse, and issues I’ve dealt with. I’m very empathic when I think about my own players. When my brother died, Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning was influential – he says that the greatest of all human freedoms is the ability to choose how you will make meaning out of your circumstances. I’ve taken the painful parts of my life and figured out how to make meaning out of it to help others. I’m making sure that at the end of my life, I will have been relationally successful and have left a mark to make the world a better place. For me that venue is sports and coaching. NFI:
Anything else you want to share with us?JE: It is the moral responsibility of every citizen to step in when children have parents who can’t or won’t take care of them. That’s what NFI’s Double Duty Dad initiative is about – when you see children who are abandoned or needing, it ought to touch us. If there’s one problem in America, it’s an empathy deficit. That’s the result of the socialization process of men who are denied access to their feelings or emotions as they grow up. The three scariest words to a boy are “be a man” – we’re telling boys to disconnect their hearts from their heads. So when men become dads, they don’t have the empathy to connect with their kids, and that’s where the problems begin. We need to create empathy – humans are wired with empathy, it’s what separates humans from animals, but it needs to be nurtured. Thanks to Joe Ehrmann for taking time to talk with us! Check out InSide Out Coaching by clicking here.
This is a post by Mike Yudt, NFI's Director of National Programming. Mike is a married father of two young sons. Mike shares his thoughts on encouraging your kids to participate in outdoor sports as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."
As a father of two boys (ages one and three), I am often dreaming of who they will become as they grow older. Like most dads, I would love to see my sons take an interest in sports. Growing up, I played soccer and ran track (with a little bit of basketball mixed in). If Im honest with myself, I would love to see my sons show similar interest in the great game of soccer and in running. But I often will catch myself as I want to make sure that I am not living vicariously through them and imposing something on them that they are not interested in. I firmly believe that as fathers we should expose our children to a variety of activities (not just sports) to determine where their interests and abilities lie.
My wife and I recently enrolled our three-year-old son, Caleb, in a four week program that introduced him to the basics of three sports: soccer, basketball, and t-ball. It was a great opportunity for him to enjoy these games, learn from people other than mom and dad, and play with other kids. At the end of the day, Caleb seemed to enjoy t-ball over soccer and basketball. In fact, one of my proudest moments came when he picked up a ball that was hit and threw it all the way from shortstop to third base to get the lead runner. Im sure he wasnt thinking about getting the lead runner, but his throw was spot on and I could not have been prouder.
Caleb is also currently enrolled in a swim class. In fact, he has his second to last class tonight. I am proud of him for getting in the pool with someone other than mom and dad. At this age, thats a huge step for him and I know someday he will be swimming laps around me. And Im sure his little brother Joshua will be as well given how hard it is to keep him out of the pool during Calebs swim class.
The journey of teaching our children to love sports can be a difficult one. Ive had to check myself along the way to make sure that I am not placing unrealistic expectations on my children. The last message I want to send to my children is one of me being frustrated with them because they dont take an interest (or show an ability) in what I enjoy. So the conclusion I have come to is this: as fathers, we should challenge our children to excel at all they do. But we should never push them too much so they cease to enjoy their childhood and dont have free time to just be kids.
Over-programming our childrens lives is a phenomenon that is frankly not healthy for our children. Yes, kids need structure and programs certainly serve a purpose. If I didnt believe that, I would not have registered Caleb for the sports and swim classes that he has enjoyed this summer. But my wife and I also make a point to allow him and his brother to have ample time to use their imagination and to make up their own games. And were constantly amazed at what they come up with.
Lets allow our children the flexibility to be children, rather than scheduling every minute of their lives. Lets be patient and encourage our children to try new things that can challenge them to grow. But lets not give them an unnecessary burden to carry at such a young age. Just one dads thoughts
It was good to see that an NFL team was smart enough to draft Myron Rolle. Despite being the top high school recruit in his class year and an All-American at Florida State, many pro teams were lukewarm and questioned his commitment to football because Rolle choose to forgo playing his senior year to accept the Rhodes Scholarship, thus keeping the scholar in scholar-athlete. (Check out the video here
to see just how impressive this young man is.)
With the considerable money at stake, I certainly understand concerns that Rolles skills may be a tad rusty after taking a year off but some of comments by NFL prognosticators were just nonsensical. For example, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said Rolle's intellect could be a hindrance on the field: "If you want to create hesitation on a guy, make him think. This guy can't help but think." Huh???
I played football in college at Princeton and I raised a son who was a scholarship football player at the University of North Carolina. One thing that I remember vividly is that whenever I made a bone head mistake, my coach would admonish me to get my head out of myshall we sayhindquarters and get it in the game. Thats coachspeak for think. So, it makes me wonder if there is not something else going on here. Could it be that some dont want other college players to follow Rolles lead and take full advantage of their scholarships by making their studies a priority? That would certainly make life more difficult for college coaches because practice times usually conflict with biology lab times. Well, I hope this is not the case, especially given the dismal graduation rates in many top college football programs and the need for more African American men--football players or not-to earn college degrees.
Interestingly, its not hard to see why Rolle has taken the path that he has. On hearing Billicks comments, Rolles father, Whitney, said, "These people, they feel as though you can show commitment in only so many ways. We have taught all our kids if you're going to do something, do it 100%, so to hear these people say that they question his commitment to football, it's a disgrace.
I couldnt agree more
Fortunately, Rolle has gotten some good coaching at home over the years.
One of my favorite things about the Olympics was the personal stories of the competitors. (The sleep deprivation from staying up way too late watching the Olympics…not so much!) Natalie had a great post recently highlighting the role that Apolo Ohno’s father played in motivating him to excel in speed skating. I want to briefly comment on another well-decorated Olympian – for this athlete, being
a dad was the motivating factor in his story.
During one of Bode Miller’s alpine ski races, the commentators on TV remarked on the change in Miller between the Torino Olympics in 2006 and the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. As the commentators said, Miller “talked a lot of trash” and partied a lot in Torino and despite being a contender in five races, he left without any medals. But, the NBC commentators noted, this year we saw a humbler Bode Miller, who ended up winning gold, silver, and bronze at Vancouver and becoming the most successful American skier in U.S. history. I would venture to guess that his change in attitude has something to do with the fact that he became a father between the Torino and Vancouver Olympics – his daughter Dacey was born in February 2008.
This San Diego Union-Tribune article
describes Miller’s commitment to being involved in his daughter’s life, to the point of even cutting down his time in ski competitions. Miller told Tom Brokaw on Nightly News
that no medal or victory celebration compares to being a dad and spending time with his daughter, which he said is the best experience ever. Maybe Miller’s new attitude and motivation at the 2010 Olympics came about, in part, because he now has someone more important than himself in his life – his daughter – and, as many dads can testify, becoming a father brings a change in perspective that often affects every other aspect of life.
The Vancouver Olympics are over and we wait four years to potentially see Apolo Ohno and Bode Miller at the next winter Olympics. But for both these athletes, the impact of fatherhood, either as a son or father, will continue well beyond their athletic careers and that’s worth more than any gold medal.
Some of us were chatting in the lunch room the other day and I was impressed (and amused) with the ingenuity of one of my colleague's kids, so I thought I'd share their brilliant idea for a little inspiration.
Dave, one of the dads here at NFI, was called down to his basement by his three energetic boys - Pierce, age 10, Luke, age 8, and Jeremy, age 6 - to observe their very own NBA skills challenge. His boys love the NBA all-star game and decided to create their very own event.
These budding basketball stars transformed the basement with elevated toy basketball nets, roaming spotlights (provided by an energetic use of flashlights), and a charismatic announcer to present awards and even interview the winners. They even created a skills course with stations like in the real NBA contest by, for instance, cutting a hole in some cardboard as the target for the passing accuracy test. Dave and his wife had front row seats for the all star event.
Next time you're wondering what to do with your family on a rainy day, take some inspiration for Dave's creative kids and make an all star even of your own!The all stars after their event(clockwise from L to R) Pierce, Luke, and Jeremy.
P&G may be saying "Thanks Mom
," but for Apolo Ohno, its his dad that has been there every step of the way. In fact, Team Apolo is a team of two: it's what the Olympic champion and his dad, Yuki, call themselves.
Like any parent of an Olympic athlete (and all parents on some level), Yuki Ohno has sacrificed so much to see his son succeed and is always present in the stands cheering him on every step of the way. Yuki is a great inspiration for dads everywhere - especially single dads. As this Good Morning America feature
will tell you, things weren't always easy for Apolo and his father. But Yuki was committed and dedicated, and he inspired Apolo to achieve.
This father and son team have achieved Olympic greatness seven times and as short track wraps up this week, we're sure to see more pride beaming from Yuki's face.
Check out this ad where Apolo talks more about the inspiration and support his dad is for him:
Of all the images Sports Illustrated could have chosen for its post-Super Bowl issue, they chose this one.
Way to go Sports Illustrated!
As was noted on this blog last week, the scene of Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees holding his son, Baylen, on the field after the game was a priceless fatherhood moment - one for the ages. And now it has been "immortalized" on the cover of the nation's premier sports magazine.
Think of the joy this image will bring Brees' son as he grows up! Every child wants to know he is loved and valued by his father. Baylen Brees will have this indelible image to look back to as a reminder of the affirmation he received from his father during what was certainly a lifetime highlight for dad.
Chalk this one up as a victory for involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood.
Anyone who is even a little bit interested in college football has heard of Urban Meyer's unexpected early retirement.
Oh wait, I'm sorry. He's not retiring, just taking an "indefinite leave of absence"...? Apparently Brett Favre Fever is spreading to college football.
At any rate, Meyer stepped down after a health scare, when he awoke with severe chest pains and lost consciousness for a stretch of time. His greuling schedule and relentless efforts were taking their toll.
As Florida fans and tv pundits scrambled to understand the decision, Meyer's 18 year-old daughter immediately celebrated her father's choice. The NY Times
quotes her as saying, "I get my daddy back." Wow.
Whether or not Meyer coaches again, he's had to learn a lesson the hard way. Work-family balance is an elusive ideal, hard for any parent to achieve. Let's take a lesson from this football great and aim for excellence on and off the field this year - at work and with family.
The Washington Post recently profiled Kenny Anderson
, former NBA star and also father of seven children. The millions of dollars from basketball paydays didn't stretch quite as far as child support payments and Anderson's formerly lavish lifestyle. But on the other side of a finished NBA career and bankruptcy, Kenny Anderson seems to have grasped the really important things:
"Anderson says nothing woke him up to the realities of his new, post-basketball life quite like seeking custody of Kenny four years ago, just as his own career wound down.
"That was the turning point in my life," he says. "He was a big savior. He changed me. I'd never had custody of any of my kids. I was like: 'All right, I got my son. This is real here. I gotta teach him how to be a man, how to be better than me.' Every time I look at him, I look at stability."