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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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Did Fatherhood Win with Super Bowl Commercials?

Aside from all the great stories that come out of the Super Bowl from each team, let's talk the important stuff — the commercials! Since my teams are rarely in the big game, the commercials are my favorite part of the night. That said, if you follow me on twitter you know I found the Tide/Joe Montana commercial about "no stain being sacred" to be my favorite of the night.

While I'm certain my "fatherhood radar" is working at peak levels considering my working at NFI; I'm finding it more and more interesting how a brand not only spends it's money to be funny and memorable, but how much a brand perpetuates stereotypes of fatherhood in the process.

Here are four examples of commercials from the Super Bowl that are funny and/or thought-provoking, but most of them simply leave us wanting more from brands and fatherhood.
 

Throwback Thursday—Tony Dungy Receives Fatherhood Award

Today, you probably know Tony Dungy as the anaylst on NBC's "Football Night in America". But Dungy retired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts after making the playoffs in each of his last 10 seasons (7 with Indianapolis; 3 with Tampa Bay). With his win of Super Bowl XLI, he became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl as the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears. 

Even The Best Heroes Have Flaws

I’ve been trying to avoid cliché topics while blogging about fatherhood: easy, male-oriented things like sports, cars, and other supposed notions of manhood. However, it’s difficult to avoid, especially with the 2012 NFL Playoffs set to go underway next week. I’ll 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 Payton’s life – revealing dark secrets that could mar the legacy of the Bears legend. Infidelity, a child out of wedlock (that he reportedly didn’t acknowledge), drug addiction and a hidden affinity for fast food are all laid out for fans to read. I didn’t want to leap to judgment, but I couldn’t 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 he’s 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, Payton’s widow, disputed Pearlman’s claims. She didn’t deny that her husband was troubled, but she also didn’t throw her husband’s name into the gutter, nor confirm any of Pearlman’s 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 Payton’s 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 Payton’s life except for the parties involved – which is immediately rendered one-sided because Payton isn’t here to defend himself. Until then, I’ll continue to think of Sweetness as one of the best ever to play the game and remember what his own son said during Payton’s 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. That’s 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 NFI’s 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.

Keeping the Father in the Family & Keeping the Scholar in Scholar-Athlete

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 Rolle’s 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 my—shall we say—hindquarters and get it in the game. That’s “coachspeak” for think. So, it makes me wonder if there is not something else going on here. Could it be that some don’t want other college players to follow Rolle’s 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, it’s not hard to see why Rolle has taken the path that he has. On hearing Billick’s comments, Rolle’s 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 couldn’t agree more…Fortunately, Rolle has gotten some good coaching at home over the years.

Good Player. Great Father. Take Two...

Following on the heels of the Brodrick Smith story, Tennessean.com reports that Vince Young stepped in to be dad to Trenton and Tyler, the two younger sons of the late Steve McNair. The boys' school hosted a Dear Dads event, and Young surprised Trenton and Tyler by showing up and having breakfast with them.

"Those are my boys," Young told the Tennessean. "I wouldn't say it was to pay anyone back; it was just out of love. Steve would do it for me. He pretty much did it for me when I was growing up. I have a history with the boys and I want to do anything I can. I am their big brother."

The one thing that seems absolutely clear here is that Trenton and Tyler need a father, and Young is willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the boys to have that. We need more dads (and father figures) like Vince Youngs, and not just for children whose fathers have been forcibly removed from their life by violence, but also for those children whose fathers are unable or unwilling to be involved. In any case, kudos to Young - for great performance on and off the field.

NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and Fatherhood

Buffalo Bill-great, Bruce Smith, gave a stirring speech at his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame over the weekend.

Throughout his remarks, Smith spoke of the positive, life-changing influence his father had on him. Here are a few choice lines:

"He didn't tell me what it means to be a man, he showed me by example."
"Because I knew I was important to my father, I understood my significance in the world."

It is clear that the strength of this family helped them get through many struggles throughout Bruce's childhood.

Smith also spoke of his love for his mother, and his dedication to his wife and son. To his son he said, "Austin, my son, the unconditional love I have in my heart is like none other I have ever experienced before.... I am so proud of the respectful, empathetic human being that you have become. The path that you will follow in life is yet unknown, but I know this for sure; that your courage, intelligence, and strength in character will be your guiding compass."

A great fatherhood legacy is being passed on in the Smith family - from Bruce's father, down to him, and down to his son. It is a beautiful, powerful thing to watch. View his whole speech here.

The Other Side of the Story

Just when we thought we were done grieving the loss of several celebrities (well, perhaps the media will never give up on grieving Michael Jackson), former NFL quarterback Steve McNair's life was tragically taken this past weekend.

As people praise "Air McNair" for his electric performances and thrilling stats, there is another side of the story to look at: the four children he left behind.

Sadly, fact of the matter is, he left his four kids - Junior, Stephen, Tyler, and Trenton - behind long before he left this earth. Like too many high-profile athletes, McNair wasn't the leader he needed to be off the field. McNair left his family behind in pursuit of his mistress, giving his children a tarnished legacy, a bad example, and a violent separation from their father.

Not surprisingly, McNair himself was raised without a father. It seems as though history is once again poised to repeat itself, as it does so often with father absence.

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