Dads not always bad when it comes to sports

By Troy Murray

As dad’s weekend approaches, we’re reminded of the effect a father can have on his son or daughter. Advice from someone with experience can be valuable, especially from someone as close as a parent. Fathers can encourage their child to pursue their passion and receive the undying support.

Then there are those dads who believe they’re doing the right thing by pushing their sons to the limit. Henry Bibby, the father of Sacramento Kings guard Mike Bibby, pushed his son to the limit on his way to a NCAA basketball national title at Arizona and a spot on an NBA team. His reward? His son wants absolutely no part in him. The same thing goes for Hall of Fame forward Rick Barry, who is father to four current or former NBA players – Brent, Jon, Drew and Scooter. All refuse to talk to him.

The same can be said for Marv Marinovich, the former offensive lineman and assistant coach of Oakland Raiders. His son, Todd, is now infamously known as “Robo QB” because of Marv’s brilliant idea to turn his son into a NFL caliber quarterback. Growing up, Marv refused to let Todd eat fast food or drink a single soda. He monitored every minute of his son’s development and drilled him from infancy in hopes Todd would become the next Joe Montana.

And it worked out – at least, at first. Todd was named the 1987 All-USA Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for a national record 9,194 yards. He “chose” to attend his dad’s alma-mater, the University of Southern Cal.

Todd led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl when he was a redshirt freshman. Life is good, right? Maybe not so much for Marv’s son. In his sophomore season, Todd was arrested on drug possession charges, but he persevered. He made it to the NFL as a first-round draft choice but his football career was cut short by his persistent drug problem.

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Bad sports dads are a dime a dozen. Those that push their sons, strip them of their childhood and make choices for them because of the dream of one of one day becoming the father of a professional athlete. Pushing your kid into sports, or to become better, rarely works. If it does, the effect is usually temporary.

The fathers that back away from their sons are the ones that see their child succeed – fathers like Earl Woods, Cal Ripken Sr. or Archie Manning.

Add John Levanti, Phil McDonald and John Venegoni to the list of fathers that raise their athletic sons correctly. These men formerly played football at Illinois and are the fathers of current Illini football players Nick Levanti, Ryan McDonald, and Mark Venegoni.

You might be asking, how are these men any different than Marv Marinovich, who practically forced his son to attend his alma mater? I assure you that it was purely the choice of all three men’s sons. All three were raised in Illini households, attending Illinois football games, in Venegoni’s case, as early as six months old. Venegoni, who guided Carmel to the Illinois football state championship his senior season as quarterback, was recruited by several Division II and Division III schools. He chose to skip out on the scholarships he was offered because, as he said, “It was in my blood to go here.”

And for the most part, the fathers stepped aside when it came to coaching youth football. Although Phil McDonald coached the Holland (Mich.) Rockets up to eighth grade, Ryan said his choice not to get involved past that point, letting the developments in his son’s football career work itself out on its own.

But the one thing that was stressed by both father and son was the element of choice involved in the whole process and the support that followed.

“My wife and I both tried to encourage them in to do whatever they chose to do and to do it to the best of their ability,” Phil McDonald said. “Whether it was education, sports, or any extracurricular activity, we just wanted to find things they loved and give them the passion to do things well.”

Isn’t that what’s it all about, anyways?

Troy Murray is a junior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].