How a Fatherless Generation Affects the NCAA and the NFL
An athlete’s character has always been a big factor in how their life goes, but there has never been a time (at least not in my lifetime) when an athlete’s character has been on 24-hour display. We have the Internet, social media and extremely inquisitive reporters to thank for that, but mostly, those on display (in a negative way) have only themselves to thank. When all is said and done – and when negative news hits the Twitterverse – those who are in the headlines are there because they’ve put themselves there.
That fact aside, it’s become my life’s work to examine – and help solve – the reasons why people (including athletes) put themselves in bad positions. Why do athletes meltdown, freak out, lose it and blow it?
I've heard politicians, pastors and pundits talk about the fact that we are living in an unprecedented time: we are witnessing the maturation process (or the stunted growth) of people who are entering adulthood without having had their fathers in the home. "The Fatherless Generation." When I first heard talk about it a few years ago, I was struck by the weight of that claim. I grew up with both of my parents in the home, so I couldn’t identify with the lack of a male parental presence. However, my Dad and I didn’t have the close father-son relationship I desired. I was a grown man in my mid 30s, reeling from a failed NFL career and abusing cocaine and alcohol before I realized I’d had that desire. So, I did identify with the idea of having that fatherly void (even though my Dad was – and still is – in our home).
The whole fatherless generation thing got me thinking. How many of the young men in the NCAA and the NFL we’re watching self-destruct right before our eyes have that same void? It’s no secret the percentage is high. But, at what point will NCAA athletic directors and coaches and NFL owners stop treating this fact as just another unfortunate statistic, and start factoring it in as a chronic problem that is likely at the root of all the poor choices athletes are making?
Let’s use me as an example. I wanted a close relationship with my Dad. For whatever reason, we didn’t have one. As a young kid, I didn’t have the maturity to understand that he did the best he could with what he knew about fatherhood, and that he didn’t have the best example, either.
As a kid, all I knew was that my Dad rejected being close to me. I took that rejection and channeled it in several ways (all of which were, by the way, to get the approval of my Dad). One way I channeled it was by excelling in sports. Another way I channeled it was by being a ladies man. But later, because I had developed a habit of trying to fill a void with poor substitutes, I channeled that rejection in destructive (and nearly fatal) ways. Three NFL suspensions, a DUI, millions of dollars, three rehabs, a police taser and 23 days in jail later, I finally learned that the feeling of rejection was at the root of all those mistakes.
Believe me, I don’t play the violin about it, and I take full responsibility for my life’s choices. But, before passing judgment on NCAA and NFL athletes who are making choices that seem other-worldly stupid, consider that there’s always a root under the fruit we see on someone’s tree. And, many times, these roots exist through no fault of their own. That is not to say that athletes don’t know right from wrong (they do), and that they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions (they should).
I’m just saying the leadership in these young men’s lives – in the NCAA and the NFL – need to take a different tact. God bless the NFL and the network of one-off speakers schools and NFL teams bring in to drop nuggets of wisdom into their lives during the season. But, something fresh and new needs to be done to cut the bad judgment, poor choices and arrest records off at the pass. I’m here to put my two cents in if NCAA and NFL leadership is really interested in pulling those roots up.