Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thom Darden Versus Today's Football Player

In some ways, I pity young athletes like him. Some might question that statement after all,  these young athletes have  been pursued by all these coaches, and told how great they are ;  because they are ranked and  considered a Four or Five Star prospect. I wonder how special these athletes have been treated by various high school coach or coaches in youth football. As a matter fact, how about the parents of these young athletes, how did they rear their obviously talented, athletic sons?

These football mates of today might’ve been told that they could become or achieve anything that they desired. They might’ve been given special or relaxed discipline because they were favorites. And likely such things as school might’ve been made easier for these athletes like the academic side of school. So, growing up with parents, whose focus is on eliminating conflict or potential conflict, these athletic types may have been raised in a protective cocoon with not having to deal with life’s insecurities or failures. Their parents may have been helicopter parents and hovered over these kids and protected them in the process. Maybe they weren’t given many responsibilities like cleaning their room or taking a job. And, If that’s the case, then this bunch is more than likely extremely narcissistic and believe they are the center of the universe.

Further, if they are extremely narcissistic, then they likely believe that they are entitled, privileged and part of the chosen. This would translate into being so self-centered, that it would be difficult for many to become good teammates, as well as caring about others. If a player has difficulty being a good teammate, the world will not be there’s as their large head will not fit in their small football helmet. Not only that, the media has helped to diminish a sense of insecurity-anxiety and instead instilled a false sense of security in these young kids. They will find out about this at this next level; there will be somebody stronger, tougher and faster than them. In any event, I hope that I’m wrong about the character of many of these young men. I hope that this particular athlete enrolls at the University of Michigan, leaves his narcissism at the door, learns from Jim Harbaugh and becomes a team player. If that’s the case, he will become internally proud and develop a good sense of self. Then, we will all admire him.

A good comparison can be made of today’s young athletes contrasting that with Michigan’s Thom Darden. Darden was an All-American at the University of Michigan; was an all Pro with the Cleveland Browns; and holds the Browns record for single season and career interceptions. How did it begin for Thom Darden?

Thomas Vincent Darden first experienced notoriety as a skinny, seven-year-old southpaw in the projects of Sandusky, Ohio. At that young age, Thomas was a left-handed pitcher in the Adam baseball league. The story goes, that this southpaw was the best hitter on the team as well. He was scheduled to pitch an important playoff game when a most unlikely event occurred. A pesky mosquito bit him on his pitching hand. That bike not only hurt, but in the process, his hand swelled up so much that it was impossible for him to grip and throw the ball with any accuracy or velocity.

To make a long story short, Thomas told the coach, he could pitch with his right hand. The coach allowed him to pitch the important game and his team won. News spread fast, and he was a celebrity, even being interviewed by a reporter from the Elyria Chronicle, some 30 miles away from Sandusky. All right, did Darden get a big head, so that his baseball hat would not fit on his head?  Are you kidding, Thomas’s father, would not allow that in any way. The senior Mr. Darden made sure that Thom didn’t get a big head, and he learned about hard work and not taking shortcuts. His father taught him about pitching and about growing up, based on what you accomplish. His parents were not permissive, and you might say instilled” Tough Love.”

When Thomas enrolled at the University Michigan, he weighed approximately173 pounds and had a slight amount of insecurity about his ability to play at the Big House. In the spring of 1969, with coach Schembechler, Thom, excelled and at one, early in the year practice, tackled the running back behind the line of scrimmage. From that point on, young Darden knew he could play on the stage. And as a sophomore, coach Bo Schembechler made him his first “Wolfman” the hybrid position of linebacker [Being able to tackle like a linebacker] and defensive back [Being able to cover and intercept passes like a cornerback or safety].

This outstanding athlete did not allow his narcissism to get in the way of his character. That didn’t mean that it was easy or that anyone removed obstacles or sugarcoated things for him. He dealt with those issues as a superstar, All-American at the University of Michigan, and as an All-Pro athlete with the Cleveland Browns. He learned and dealt about adjusting to life and dealing with his issues successfully after the game-or should I say after the business of professional football ended.

Read more about him in “Bo’s Warriors-Bo Schembechler and the Transformation of Michigan Football” or better yet meet him in person at our book signing at Sesi Motors in Ann Arbor from 6-8 pm on September 17, 2015.

Go Blue Go!

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