Archive for football

Parenting and Football Part V: Domestic Violence

I. Spouse/Partner Abuse: “The Cleveland Curse”

I am using this subtitle because the most publicized cases seems to come from the Cleveland Browns and their successors, the Baltimore Ravens.  The Browns won three NFL championships in the early 1950’s and totally embarrassed my beloved Baltimore Colts in the 1964 championship game 27-0.  Unfortunately for Browns fans it was to be their last championship but they could console themselves with the fact that they had the player who was the consensus MVP of his era, Jim Brown.  Brown’s success on the playing field, however did not carry over to his relationships in that he had three different domestic violence charges against him in the decades that followed.  In all three cases the women later withdrew the charges.  In the third case, Brown was convicted of vandalizing his wife’s car in 1999 and served four months in jail for refusing to carry out his counseling and community service.  The other Browns player is the quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has had a couple of suspected incidents with the police in Dallas seemingly ready to press charges after the lat.  Just this week he was dropped by the Browns due to the alleged assaults and what seems to be serious substance abuse and mental health issues with Manziel, who’s had little success as a pro after winning the Heisman trophy with Texas A & M.

Just as Jim Brown had his first incident shortly after winning the NFL championship, so too with the Ravens, who moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996.  The Ravens won the Superbowl in 2001 and again in 2013.  Shortly after the 2013 title game, two of the Ravens’ role players received one and two-game suspensions (without pay) for domestic violence.  The first really prominent domestic violence incident for any US athlete occurred in early 2014.  Ray Rice, the Ravens’ star running back, was celebrating in an Atlantic City hotel with his fiancee, when an argument erupted and Rice struck her severely in the face.  In May, Rice was allowed to enter a counseling and diversion program, a lenient sentence that is given to only one percent of those convicted of domestic violence in New Jersey.  In July Rice was given a two game suspension by the NFL.  Shortly after that the TV network TMZ released a videotape of Rice’s assault in a now-famous elevator and he was immediately released by the Ravens.  Rice is still not back in the NFL, most likely because he is over 30, long in the tooth for an NFL running back.

II. Child Abuse: The Adrian Peterson case

Peterson in some ways is the reincarnation of Jim Brown in that he has been the NFL’s leading running back in the past five years.  As many experts in the field confirm, the perpetrators behavior can usually be traced to his/her own childhood.  In Peterson’s case he was one of 10 children and had a harsh, almost Dickensian childhood.  At age seven he saw his beloved nine year brother die in his arms after being knocked off his bicycle by a drunk driver.  At age 13, Peterson’s father was sent to prison for laundering drug money.  Peterson’s dad had been a noted college basketball player and was very active in developing his son’s athletic talent.   They talked nightly by phone and Adrian visited him regularly but it certainly was a lonely high school experience for him.  At age 18, Peterson was considered one of the top recruits in the nation but only the Oklahoma University coach was able to be admitted to the prison and talk with dad before the prison changed its policy to ward off the hordes of college coaches hungry to land a national-class running back.  After an all-American stint at Oklahoma, Peterson was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.  Adrian, like his dad, sired several children (seven) but in his case it was with various women.  One of the kids died at the hand of a stepdad, to add to Adrian’s baleful biography.  The case against Peterson began in May, 2014.  He had swatted one of his sons (who lives mostly with his mother) with a thin branch that Peterson, like many from small-town Texas, calls a switch. The boy was left with bruises, welts and cuts on his legs, back, arms, buttocks and scrotum.

On September 17, the NFL, no doubt reacting to the storm of derision it received after dithering over the Ray Rice case, suspended Peterson(who’d played only one game) for the remainder of the 2014 season.  In November Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor reckless assault charge; he was ordered to undergo counseling, pay a $4,000 fine and perform 80 hours of community service.  The greatest penalty of course was loss of almost a full year’s salary, about $15 million in Peterson’s case. During his suspension Peterson married the mother of one of his sons and soon to be two.  They visited his hometown, Palestine, Texas and the small town of 13, 000 in East Texas turn out for a parade in his honor and hundreds stood in line for over an hour to shake his hand and give him support: a truly Texas vs. the world occasion.   Peterson says that through counseling he was able to learn other methods of discipline.  He was also able to gather strength from his Christian faith, reunite with many friends and family members(including his father,who was finally released from prison) and be reinstated by the NFL for the 2015 season and resume his dazzling career.

III. Historical, Ethnic and Gender Issues

I can remember hearing years ago that “rule of thumb” referred to the diameter of a stick that was the permissible size for a man to use on his spouse or child.  After recent research it seems that was an apocryphal word origin: it was never the law itself but it was referred to in both English and early American courts.  Another old saw relevant to DV is “spare the rod and spoil the child”.  I came from an Irish Catholic family who definitely followed that adage, although not to an extreme degree.  Those extreme measures fell to the nuns in my parochial school.    I vividly recall an 8th grade experience in which a very elderly nun snuck up behind me as I was whispering to a classmate(a mortal sin there!) and implanted a ball point pen in my cranium.  Today, that would surely be cause for the nun’s dismissal but it was de rigeur in the 1960’s!  This also happened to be in Oklahoma, where corporal punishment hung on longer than anywhere else in the US.  Peterson’s behavior probably never would have happened had he grown up in the Northeast or Northwest.

Woman As Aggressor: The Unspoken Truth Of Domestic Violence

As for gender issues, see the observations of an MD in the above link.  He cites a UK study in which 40% of the domestic violence there is perpetrated by females.  American professional football players, having reached Brobdignagian proportions in the last generation, have little fear for their physical safety in any reciprocal encounters (most DV is reciprocal and of those, the doctor finds that most are initiated by women), but that’s not true for most males, particularly kids.



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Parenting and Football Part III: The Rise of Injuries

The biggest sports news early this month was that professional football was returning to Los Angeles, America’s second largest city and the world’s entertainment capital, after a more than 20 year hiatus. It was little noticed that the proposed new stadium for the Rams is to be on the site of the old Hollywood Park horse track. I believe this is a good example of how sports popularity has changed over the last two generations.
Prior to 1960, the consensus was that the three most popular American spectator sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing. I can recall a 1950’s-era sportswriter being asked why, after a career of several decades, he was finally retiring. He answered succinctly: “Two reasons……..January and February.” In those days football ended in December and one had to wait till March for baseball’s spring training and the basketball playoffs. The only way for sports fans to get through the winter was horse racing and boxing’s “Friday Night Fights’, the latter being a fixture in my household.
The 1950’s was the peak in popularity for all three of those sports and by 1980 all three were greatly diminished, after a last gasp in the 1970’s: baseball had the Yankees rising from the dead with the arrival of Reggie Jackson, boxing had Muhammad Ali/Joe Frazier/George Foreman and the horses had the unforgettable Secretariat.
As stated before, 1958 saw the NFL’s first overtime game and with it pro football’s gradual rise to the summit of American sports popularity.  That overtime championship game put the Baltimore Colts and their quarterback, Johnny Unitas, in the spotlight, but there was a well-loved but often overlooked player on the team who is the perfect lead-in for the topic of injuries in football.  He was a huge defensive lineman, Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb.  He quickly became a crowd and media favorite (to see the fanaticism of the 1958-59 Colts’ fans, watch the classic “Diner” in which a fiancee must pass a long test on the Colts as a prelude to a marriage proposal), mostly due to his sheer mass: he was listed at 6’6″, 285 pounds but was said to be actually 320 and surprisingly very fast for a big man.  Lipscomb would be today’s typical pro lineman but was considered a freak of nature in the 1950’s.

The 1950’s of course was  the era before TV money began to inflate players’ salaries.  Even adjusting for inflation, players made only a fraction of today’s players: it was said the average 1960 NFL player made $6,000 and even the heralded Unitas made only $14,000 (@$140,000 in today’s dollars, compared to today’s average NFL salary of $2 million).   Thus, virtually all players of that era were forced to have an off-season job and usually never entered a weight room till August.  The stereotype was the NFL player who sold cars or insurance or ran a bar-restaurant for eight months a year.  In 1960 expansion came to the NFL, the first Superbowl was in 1966 and TV money steadily climbed from that point, which lead to year-long training.

By the 1990’s the typical lineman was approaching “Lipscombesque” proportions and the laws of physics began to kick in: large immovable objects were encountering irresistible forces at high speeds all over America.  A recent glaring example of this has been today’s equivalent of the 1958-59 Colts, the New England Patriots, the most consistent team of our new millennium.   The Patriots were rudely pushed off the road to a Superbowl repeat, mostly due to the fact that their linemen were decimated by injuries: our generation’s Unitas, Tom Brady, was roughed up by the Broncos because his offensive line had had 39 different combinations of players this season.

Next week we’ll go on to a modern-day Colt, Jeff Saturday, and how he views football for his two sons.   We’ll also cover the new Will Smith movie, Concussion, and its possible consequences for football at all levels.


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Football and Parenting Part II

Since today is Martin Luther King Day (and the first anniversary of this blog) I’ll begin by looking at the era of the early 1900’s, which in 1904 saw the first black professional football player and the beginning of a three decade period with only a handful of others. Pro football then had a 13 year period of segregation, followed by gradual integration in the post-WW II “jackie Robinson Era”.
The early 1900’s also saw the first widespread awareness of health dangers for players. In 1905 more than 18 players died (some from broken necks and backs) and scores were severely injured. President Theodore Roosevelt, a big football fan himself and the father of an injured Harvard University player, convened a White House conference late that year to seek how to reduce, if not eliminate, as he called it “brutality in the sport”.
Football in those days was more like rugby and many injuries occurred in what today would look like a rugby “scrum”. That 1905 conference was considered by many to be the catalyst for the introduction of the forward pass and the beginning of modern football. The new passing game alone seemed to reduce injuries and was widely hailed in the years to come, both for reducing injuries and making the game more spectator-friendly. What did not come out of the White House conference was any rule changes regarding helmets. Mandatory helmets finally came to the NCAA in 1939 and the NFL in 1943.

One of my beloved Baltimore Colts, John Mackey, emerged in the 1960’s and is considered by many to be the greatest tight end ever and was extremely important both in the NFL injury saga and in bringing much-needed health  benefits to retired players.  Mackey missed only one game in a distinguished 10 year career and was considered virtually indestructible.  In 1970 he was elected the first president of the NFL Players Association.  Mackey led the players on a strike after the owners locked them out and he was able to secure more than $12 million in much-needed benefits for his players. In the years ahead he was instrumental in securing the right of free agency for his players.  Several years after retiring from the NFL, Mackey began showing signs of dementia.  Three decades later, in 2007,  one of Mackey’s successors as head of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, was able to negotiate the “88 Plan”, named in honor of Mackey’s number: it provided for $88,000. per year in nursing home care for retired NFL players suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

More recently, the man many consider the most popular player from my old hometown, Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers, was found to have severe brain damage (after a more than 20 year football career as a hard-hitting linebacker), which physicians say caused episodes of violence and lead to his suicide.  Stayed tuned in the following two weeks for a discussion of concussions and domestic violence in football, which will hopefully help you decide if your son should play football.


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Football and Parenting Part I

As stated when this blog began last January, I wanted to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and thus I wanted the blog to always incorporate historical and geographic perspectives.
America’s first century, from 1790-1890 saw a largely agricultural nation just beginning to follow the British into industrialization. The idea of a “sport” was beyond the imagination of the vast majority of the nation, laboring from sunup to sundown. as the late, great comedian George Carlin would say, “Most people were just trying to get through the goddamn day.”
Baseball had its first professional team in 1870 and was the undisputed “national pasttime” for about a century. I grew up in Oklahoma which was the home of the nation’s most famous player, Mickey Mantle, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Just after Christmas, 1958 I was in my grandmother’s house and happened to see my first football game, the NFL Championship between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts. By pure coincidence it was the first overtime game and widely considered the most exciting and historic professional football game of all time.
I was completely hooked on the sport and my new favorite team, the Colts, who seemed to have the game’s most exciting players: John Unitas, Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore, all of whom were voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Being an Oklahoma resident, I also became hooked on the Oklahoma University Sooners, who still hold America’s longest college winning streak at 47 games.

I also started playing regularly in my neighborhood park.  It was tackle football but no one ever wore pads nor helmets and I can’t recall even a minor injury.   Of course this was the golden age for Baby Boomer kids and we also spent much of the day on bicycles, with nary a helmet in sight-injuries seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s mind, including our parents!

Although we also played baseball (and I attribute my love for numbers to calculating baseball batting averages back in the 50’s) it seemed rather staid and sedentary compared to football, especially with JFK playing it on the White House lawn!

My family moved to Dallas, Texas in 1963 (which allowed me to see that same JFK in person just a few minutes before his assassination) and my brother and I were able to see Dallas Cowboys games from the end zone for only a dollar-the team was so bad in those early years that, in the second half we were able to move our seats to the 50 yard line.

The whole idea of avoiding football due to dangers of a concussion never entered my, or my parents’ minds!  It quickly became a moot point when I was cut from the freshman team-seems they didn’t want a 6′ 140 pound string bean, even if he could catch most passes thrown his way. The next sport up was basketball but I was far too clumsy for that one.  That was followed by track and my first year was humiliating (losing to a classmate who was a chain smoker), but 18 months later I was able to reach the top as a two-time State of Texas two mile champion.

In that pre-Title IX era I was able to get a full athletic scholarship to the nearby Southern Methodist University, part of the football-crazy Southwest Conference. I ate all my meals in the athletic dining hall and got to know a few of the behemoth-demigods on the football team.  SMU, to its credit, was the first school in the conference (and one of the first in the entire South) to have a black player on scholarship, Jerry Levias.  We all thought it unusual that Jerry drove a brand new car although he came from a poor school in Beaumont.  My first spring at SMU began to clear up that mystery when I saw the Cowboy’s Don Meredith (an SMU alum) and a bevy of Southern belles help to recruit freshman prospects in the dining hall.  SMU was to become infamous in the annals of college football by being given the “Death Penalty” in the 1980’s for years of egregious recruiting violations-in essence turning the football team into a junior version of Dallas Cowboys!

Stay tuned for part two next week, when we’ll go into concussions and the domestic violence issue in pro football.



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