By Cynthia Zordich, Player Engagement Insider
Though 11-year NFL veteran cornerback Lorenzo Lynch came into the league at 5’11”, his grit and grind measured off the charts. After getting cut by the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent rookie, Lynch returned to his hometown of Oakland, California to stew and brew. When Coach Mike Ditka called to bring him to the Bears, Lynch tore into the Windy City like a tornado. His mission was to clear a path. His own. It was 1987 and talks of a strike were looming. Lynch’s in-your-face, through-your-face approach to camp wasn’t gaining him many friends. So, when the Bears approached him to cross the picket line, and offered him $1,000, he took the money and ran right through it. For three games, he was the strike team captain of the Chicago Bears. When the strike ended, instead of handing Lynch a one-way ticket back to Oakland, they handed back his playbook and said, “Practice is tomorrow at 7:00 am.” Lynch was now a member of the newly devised, five-man Taxi Squad. It would be a weary welcome to the league.
“Reality for me was that the veteran players hated me because I crossed the line. I was a scab,” Lynch said. “(Wide receiver) Dennis McKinnon wanted to fight me one game because I wouldn’t get off the bus. No one wanted me on their bus. Finally, (running back) Walter Payton called me over to sit next to him. ‘Little B.,’ he said, ‘For you, every practice is a game. You got to tape up and go at it every play like it’s your last play. They’re gonna come up and shake your hand like it’s done, but you’re gonna say no. I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
For Lynch, the Hall-of-Famer’s advice was career changing. It fit his position and his personality. Sure, it didn’t win him friends, but the way he saw it, he had more friends than he knew what to do with back in Oakland. Lynch would go on to cross lines and bust up chins throughout his NFL career. After three seasons with the Bears and six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals he would return to his roots and play for his hometown team, the Oakland Raiders. It was a long way from selling hot dogs and sodas at the Coliseum as a kid just to get in to watch his favorite player, safety Jack “The Assassin” Tatum.
The First Team All-Pro finished his career with 17 interceptions, 505 tackles and two touchdowns. He also racked up good friendships with many teammates that he still keeps in touch with today. Players like Ernie Jones (Cardinals), Larry Centers (Cardinals), Sean Smith (Bears), J.T. Smith (Cardinals) and Derek Kennard (Cardinals).
Now a husband, and father of three, he and his wife Lovelea, an elementary school teacher and children’s book author from Chicago, are raising their children in Dallas, Texas.
In celebration of Father’s Day, we sat down with the family to talk about the fine line between parenting and pressuring your children to succeed in sport and life.
“You try to raise your kids with the same mentality that you had growing up, but it’s challenging,” Lynch admitted. “It’s a different time and different situation. They have a lot of stuff handed to them so that was a fight my wife and I had. In the beginning, I felt it was my job or duty to give them the best of everything, the best shot in life. But my wife would argue that I was doing too much for them. My father would say, ‘You’re making them soft.’ So, I had to stop and that was challenging. I had to learn to give less, do less and to teach them that in life you have to work hard for what you get, that you have to fight for what you want. In the end, now that they are grown, I see that was the right thing to do because they are not spoiled.”
For his approach to parenting, Lynch would adopt a mantra from a favorite high school teacher who used repetition as a tool. “He would repeat the information over and over and over again until it became music in your head.”
The Lynch kids would grow to have a continuous loop of their father’s diatribe, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it, you gotta sacrifice to be on the top, fight for what you love, run through every obstacle, prepare to win, prepare to fail, jump back, don’t back down, compete, compete, compete.”
Lynch calls his parenting technique, “repetitive encouragement.” Circling back to the loop, Lynch points out that it is the fighting for what you love that is the basis for everything. “Without the love for it, you’ll never do it. You’ll never fight for it, because your heart isn’t in it. When I look back on how I had to fight to get into the league, I know, for sure, I would never have done it, if I didn’t love the game.”
Lynch feels that it is up to the parents to introduce their kids to everything; to help their kids find their niche. Then, it’s time to sit back, without pushing, and let them fall in love with it, first. “You don’t want to push hard because you could push them away from it.”
In Sacramento, California, Lorenzo and Lovelea started a Pop Warner Football and Cheer Program for kids aged 6-15. They came in contact with a lot of parents, and from that experience, walked away with life lessons they would apply to their own parenting.
“We saw parents who were so over the top, so mean,” Lynch shared. “The kids were scared to make a mistake because of the pressure from the mom and dad. We had the chance to see this first-hand and to see that the parents, who actually thought they were helping the kids by pushing them, were stifling them. Then, I had to take into account the added pressure my own kids had from my playing at a high level, and I knew that I never wanted to add weight that would make them feel they were disappointing me, or worse, themselves. I just try to encourage, encourage, encourage.”
When Lynch’s oldest son, Lorenzo, Jr., came to him before his freshman year in high school to say that he was going to stop playing football in order to concentrate on baseball, the younger Lynch admits that it was hard for his dad, at first.
“I remember I came home and told my parents the last thing they ever expected to hear in our home, Lorenzo, Jr. said. “’I’m never playing football again, only baseball.’ This was during a time when my cousin Marshawn Lynch had just signed with the NFL. Everybody clearly assumed I would play pro football, too; it’s in our genetic make-up, to be athletic. I explained to my Dad that I still liked football, but I love baseball. He was sad for weeks, but he said he was not disappointed; he just wanted me to give it my all.”
Reflecting back Lorenzo, Sr. adds, “I remember that I went to speak to my own father about it, and he said, ‘He’s got to go where his heart is. If he doesn’t want to play, you can’t force him. If you force him he’s playing for you now. So, if something goes bad he’s going to want to blame you. Just go ahead and encourage his decision and go for the ride.’”
That ride has taken Lorenzo, Jr. all the way to the 2017 MLB draft. The 6’3” 220 lb first baseman and outfielder played college ball for Arlington Baptist College. He has worked out for the Minnesota Twins, the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds.
“He did his work and they know where he is,” Lynch said. “We’re just waiting for a call from that one team that will give him the chance. Wherever he goes – he’s going to move up and move up fast.”
For Lorenzo, Sr. the switch to baseball was a whole new world. Aggressive by nature he quickly learned that baseball is more refined, rather a nod and shake than a rattle the bleachers. He adapted to this new culture, just as he will for any ride their younger son, Landon, 19 or daughter, Layken, 11 takes them on.
Landon plays an instrumental role in the Lynch Legacy Foundation with ADHD research, an initiative inspired by Landon who was diagnosed with ADHD in the sixth grade. He coordinates all of the camp strength and conditioning programs, and serves as a camp and karate instructor. Landon is also planning for a future in physical therapy.
Layken is diving in to all of her sports, school and activities and is enjoying the time finding her niche.
“Whatever our kids do, that’s our passion,” Lynch declared. “Whether sports or clubs or education, it doesn’t matter as long as they apply the same life lessons that we taught them to everything they do. That, ‘Go after it, – don’t let anyone take anything from you’ fight.”
To reinforce the grit that runs through their blood, Lorenzo and Lovelea take their kids back home to Oakland and Chicago often.
“In the summers, I like to bring them back to Oakland to taste the air,” Lynch explained. “I like the reserved suburban mix with the Oakland street savvy. Oakland gives you a little edge. That edge. That hunger. That never quit no matter what happens. That whatever you put in that’s what you get out. I think they have that edge in them and I like it.”
When asked the best advice he could offer other fathers out there he shared, “Well, I will tell you this, and this I learned from my own father, you just encourage and teach as much as you can, but once they get out there on the field, you sit back, and not right behind the dugout or on the sideline or in the front row, way, way back out in the bleachers, and you watch them play, watch them come into their own. When it comes time for practice, get them there on time, make sure they are safe and leave cause the kid is different when the parent is around. Leave. You already did everything at home. Let them do their thing. When you pick them up don’t talk about the game or the practice. Wait and let them do the talking even if they are talking about everything but the game or the practice. It could be their homework that’s on their mind or someone they like or just life. They may get around to the game and when they do, say what you have to say and move on to something else. I see so many parents out there who don’t mean to, but are ultimately hurting their kids by over-coaching them, taking all the joy from the game because they are pushing, pushing. Taking away from life experiences, like adversity, because they are coddling. Kids will survive adversity if we let them and be stronger for it.”
I planted a line of redwood trees in my back yard. I grew a whole line of them so I could have some shade and privacy. One day I looked out and saw that they were all dying. I cut off a branch and took it to the nursery. I asked the woman, “Hey, what’s going on with my trees?” The woman said, “You’re watering them every day, huh?” I said, “Yes.” She responded, “You’re lovin’ your trees to death.”
Lorenzo Lynch and the Redwood Tree Theory
For more information about the Lynch Legacy Foundation visit https://www.facebook.com/Lynch-Legacy-Foundation-ADHD-research.
Cynthia Zordich is the co-author of When The Clock Runs Out and founder of nflthread.net. She is the wife of Former NFL Safety/current UM DB Coach, Michael Zordich, and the mother of Former Fullback Michael Zordich (Carolina Panthers), Former D-1 QB Alex Zordich and Daughter Aidan Zordich (Assistant, Funny or Die).