By Cynthia Zordich, Player Engagement Insider
Some really great NFL dads took time out of their packed Super Bowl LI schedules to create lifelong memories with some really great kids – their own.
Spread out on the field, listening to instruction in typical pre-game positions, were dozens of NFL players. Missing were their game day faces - for all focus was on the kids buzzing around them. Players were all smiles as their kids ran circles around them – stopping only to give their dads a kiss, a hug, a jump on the back, a toss of the ball, a tackle.
The three-hour All Pro Dad program is designed to strengthen father/child relationships and deliver useful fatherhood tips. Dads and kids rotate through stations and participate in interactive games that combine football, fun and family.
The morning kicked off with a family breakfast at the NFL Experience. Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive tackle Clinton McDonald welcomed the NFL families with insightful reflection.
“What you are giving today is time," said McDonald, heading into his fourth season with the Bucs. “Time is the most important thing you can give as a dad. My father didn’t have a lot of money, but he had a lot of love. We had principles in our house. We had faith. We spent time together. What does that mean? That the time you spend with your child today will impact his future. I am what I am today because my dad invested his time in me. In my education. In my athleticism. In my character.”
For many of the NFL dads present at the event, it seems that juggling between the demands of work and the needs of family requires tapping into the same skills that brought them success in the league: finesse, instinct and intuition.
“It isn’t juggling,” clarifies Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of Football Operations and an All Pro Dad spokesman. “It has to be intentional. It’s a choice that no matter where you are, you have to stop and make sure your kids have what they need and that includes time with you. What I was called to be was a father and it is important to me that my wife and my kids are proud of me for what I am as their father, first.”
“The best lesson I've learned from being a dad is learning how to balance my life,” shared Carolina Panthers cornerback, Ted Williams. "The football side and the father side. When I'm on the field - I'm all business with football, but when I'm with my family I'm the fun-loving dad that can't get enough of the good fun times that I have with my kids. They really bring so much joy to my life. In the Williams' household, we all understand that time is the most important thing in life. You can't ever get it back so we cherish every moment that we spend together."
“There is a certain strategy to fatherhood,” said former NFL cornerback LeMarcus Newman. “I have a plan for my family. A strategy. I try to give value to all that we do. When I travel for work, I explain to them why I’m not there, what I am doing each day. I want them to see that I took a sacrifice for them by being away from home. But I also make sure they know I am still caring by calling them every morning before school, calling every day after school, asking questions like, ‘Did you do your homework? What did you do at school today? Is anything on your mind?’”
When Newman and his wife, Amber, set off to obtain their master's degrees they sat their children, Amai and Lathan, down to explain how it would affect them as a family.
“We explained that they would have to sacrifice too,” Newman said. "That when they had homework – we would have homework. That for a while, there would be less trips to Chuck E. Cheese, less visits to the park, because we would all have work.” Adds Amber, now CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Brazoria County (Texas), “We were so proud of them because they were unselfish and when we graduated from TSU (Texas Southern University), we know they were proud of us too. We saw the pictures.”
Newman credits his own father and mother, Leo and Dorothy Newman, for his discipline and commitment to family. “Growing up in a military household, you know, it’s strict, and everything is by the book. I chose to mix love with that discipline. I encourage my children to succeed by teaching them that when you say you’re going to do something – you get it done. And if you need help, you’ll get it from me.”
For former nine-year defensive back, Scott Turner, becoming a parent was a choice he made when he adopted his nephew, Solomon.
“Fortunately, at that time, I had a lot of great dads in my life,” Turner said. "The Darrell Greens, the Tim Johnsons, the Aeneas Williams, the Troy Vincents and of course my godfather who has been a great influence in my life. They were all fathers that I wanted to emulate. When my son came, I wanted to pass on what I learned from them – not just from a football perspective, but a character perspective. I’m just trying to reproduce in Solomon, what they produced in me.”
Whether passed on, learned or innate, it is clear that All Pro Dads are aware that their actions impact the lives of their children. Big actions - taking part in events like this and subtle actions - like tucking them in at night.
Vincent summed it up with this: “If you want to know about a man as a father, you ask two people. You ask the child and you ask the wife. She’ll tell you exactly what kind of husband he is, they’ll tell you exactly what kind of dad he is.”
To back up his statement, we made our rounds and went right to the source: the wives and children of these NFL players and asked, “What makes your NFL dad an All Pro Dad?”
“He is caring, supportive, kind. All the key qualities you want in a dad.”
Brieon Paige on All Pro Dad, Stephone Paige - Kansas City Chiefs
“He is just THE BEST DAD!! Now I’m going to get all teary-eyed.”
Paula Paige on husband, Stephone Paige – Kansas City Chiefs
“The fact that he can make the time to be a great dad and a great husband. Even when he is working hard and away from us, he makes the time to talk to us before school and after school or whenever we need him. And when he is home, we do things together. But mostly, I like just sitting next to him - just being with him.”
Tanner Vincent on All Pro Dad Troy Vincent – Dolphins, Eagles, Bills, Redskins
"My uncle is a great dad because he has shown me what it takes to provide for others when you can't provide for yourself."
Solomon Turner on All Pro Dad Scott Turner – Broncos, Chargers, Redskins
“My Dad is loveable and he is special and he is funny! I love to cook with him – he teaches me how to make pancakes and eggs and potatoes. We race against each other and I’ve beaten him a bunch of times.”
Amai Newman on All Pro Dad LeMarcus Newman – San Francisco 49ers
“Every day with my dad is a good day. I love when I know he is on his way home. I can’t wait to see him. I can’t wait to play with him - especially football in the back yard.”
Lathan Newman, son of LeMarcus Newman
“The thing I love most about my husband is that he is the head of our household. Whatever lead he takes is what we do because we know that he has put great thought into it. We know that he will protect us and that it is in his heart to make decisions that will benefit us all.”
Amber Newman on husband LeMarcus Newman
All Pro Dad is the passion project of Family First co-founders, Mark and Susan Merrill. Family First is a non-profit organization that provides parenting and marital support for families. In speaking with Susan Merrill about the NFL - All Pro Dad partnership, she shared that it was a natural fit.
“A study had just come out showing that 85% of the juvenile delinquents were fatherless. So, we thought, ‘How can we change this? Let’s do something that’s fun - like football.’ We were going to church with Clyde Richardson, from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he offered to reach out to [Hall of Fame Coach] Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy was our original spokesman for All Pro Dad and his participation has helped make the program what it is today.”
Since that time, over 50 NFL players have become spokesmen.
Passion. Discipline. Work ethic. Commitment. Loyalty. These are the characteristics vital to play and coach professional football. The All Pro Dad spokesmen exemplify these virtues not only on the field, but even more importantly in their roles as fathers. These men realize the true victory in life is not on a scoreboard, but is measured by the love and honor of their children.
If you are a current or former NFL player interested in becoming an All Pro Dad spokesman, coach or player, contact All Pro Dad at www.allprodad.com.
If you are a current or former player interested in participating in next year’s NFL-All Pro Dad Super Bowl Event, please visit nflplayerengagement.com and click contact.
Cynthia Zordich is the wife of former NFL Pro/current University of Michigan Coach Michael Zordich and the founder of nflthread.net, a private platform for NFL Women. She is the mother of Former NFL Fullback Michael Zordich (PSU '12), former UB Quarterback Alex Zordich ('13) and Penn State graduate Aidan Zordich (Advertising '14).