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Old 12-05-2010, 01:44 AM  
Tribal Warfare Tribal Warfare is offline
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Mellinger:Chiefs buck NFL trend on players from two-parent homes

Chiefs buck NFL trend on players from two-parent homes
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star

Right now, as you read this, Scott Pioli is obsessing about the Chiefs roster. This is the job description of the general manager, of course, so he constantly thinks about his roster, never stopping, during his 20-minute drive to the office, 16-hour workday and, if he’s honest, a bigger chunk of his time with his family than he’d like to admit.

His thoughts come out in phrases that are now clichés around town, such as “finding the right 53,” and they come out in conversations with coaches, assistants, janitors, teachers and most anyone else he sees.

We’ve heard plenty about this in Kansas City by now. Coach Todd Haley talks about not liking “yo-yo guys,” who are fast one week, slow the next, and bad for the locker room in between. The Chiefs seem to think about these issues of character and dependability more than most teams.

Passionate fans can tell you that six of the Chiefs’ seven draft picks this year were college team captains, the highest percentage in the NFL. The Chiefs signed Thomas Jones as much for his leadership as for his running ability, and contract extensions for Derrick Johnson and Andy Studebaker are rewards for their attitude and hard work as much as for their sacks and pass coverage.

This is the part of the Chiefs’ story that we’re getting to know very well.

What virtually nobody is aware of is that the team is also a fascinating, if unwitting, social experiment.

• • •

Eric Berry’s father coaches little league teams, and Berry’s mother attended each of his games growing up, except the time she was in labor with his little brothers. Mike Vrabel’s parents are both educators and still married.

Dexter McCluster’s high school coach credits much of McCluster’s success to two supportive parents. Same with Tony Moeaki. Jones’ parents both worked in Virginia coal mines and still live together.

Stories like this are all over the Chiefs’ locker room, and, intentionally or not, the organization’s focus on “the right 53” is creating a team with a very different makeup than the rest of the NFL.

Depending on who you count, at least 11 of the 17 most high-profile players added or given contract extensions since Pioli took over grew up in two-parent households. Overall league numbers aren’t available, but nearly 70 percent of players at recent NFL combines were from single-parent homes.

This is a sensitive issue, and Pioli is careful talking about it. Drafting, signing and trading for players is a complicated process with gigabytes of information on all sides. None of it comes in absolute terms.

“We’re not so rigid in trying to find a certain kind of guy or background,” Pioli says. “I’m more concerned about the profile of the individual and the behavior than the background, because the background doesn’t necessarily define the person and who they’re going to be and what they’re going to be.”

So, no, the Chiefs won’t draft a linebacker just because he comes from a stable home, just like they won’t ignore a receiver whose parents split. Coaches and the front office want good teammates and hard workers, and there’s too much at stake to judge a man by how many parents he grew up with.

Larry Johnson has a strong mother and father and way too much knucklehead. Brian Waters is the NFL’s reigning Man of the Year, and his father has been in jail. Hell, Barack Obama comes from a broken home and Lindsay Lohan’s parents are still married.

So, plenty of exceptions exist, and besides, Pioli doesn’t handpick players because he’s in pursuit of some virtuous calling. He’s trying to win games, and he happens to believe the best way to do that is to focus on dependability and accountability, which, so far at least, happens to involve a disproportionate number of players from two-parent households.

Even if it’s done unintentionally — perhaps especially if it’s done unintentionally — an important and uncomfortable sociological question emerges:

Are kids from two-parent households somehow better suited for football success?

• • •

Before we continue, let’s all agree on a couple things. Two-parent households can be dysfunctional, particularly if the parents fight in front of the kids, and some single parents can put a married couple to shame in terms of care and support.

But research by Penn State professor Paul Amato found that single-parent kids have “more behavioral problems, more emotional problems, and lower levels of school engagement (that is, caring about school and doing homework).”

Other studies find that children who grow up with both biological parents have higher levels of academic, social and emotional well-being.

Isn’t that at least close to what the Chiefs say they’re looking for?

“This is politically charged, because if it’s seen as a defining variable, people would find that as a form of unfair selecting,” says Sharon Chirban, a sports psychologist from Boston who works with high-level athletes. “But I do think intact households are more likely to support team behavior, like working well on a team.

“The variable that hasn’t changed is that there’s a certain stability. And I bet that stability does breed certain behavioral makeup.”

Not that good behavior can’t come from single-parent upbringings. Many in sports — not just football, but all sports — will contend that growing up tough can be a good thing. These athletes aren’t spoiled and sometimes appreciate coaches and teammates even more than others who already have support.

Maybe rough times drive them to work harder, to achieve success and provide a better life for their family. Besides, many of them get just as much love from uncles or step-mothers or cousins to make up for a missing parent.

Really, there’s no way to know for certain. Just guesses, each made in the context of our own biases.

The Chiefs are just giving us a little different way to look at it.

• • •

You might know some of Berry’s story by now. Honor student, worked an internship for a local dentist, an All-American at Tennessee who spent part of each game week shining helmets with the equipment guys so he could “appreciate what they do for me.”

James Berry is on the phone, and he’s just as proud of his son as you’d expect. He beams about a million things, you know, like how Eric’s always there for his younger brothers or that he used part of his first NFL check to buy a new field where he played football as a kid in Georgia.

As our conversation winds down, I tell James about a friend of mine. She did business with Eric over the summer. He certainly wasn’t the first local athlete she’s seen, but is the only one she’s talked about.

“So down to earth,” she said. “And really smart. Couldn’t believe he was only 21. Most of the people I deal with are older, but he’s more thoughtful than most of them.”

James Berry chuckles as he hears this.

“We wouldn’t expect him to be any other way,” he says. “If he was, me and his mother would have to come see him.”
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Old 12-05-2010, 01:48 AM   #2
Count Zarth Count Zarth is online now
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Who cares?

Only Sam Mellinger could write an article on such a boring topic.
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Old 12-05-2010, 01:52 AM   #3
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Did this REALLY have to be written? Really? How bored were they in order to come up with this topic?
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Old 12-05-2010, 06:14 AM   #4
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nice article.
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Old 12-05-2010, 06:59 AM   #5
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That was actually pretty interesting. I'd never really thought before about upbringing with regards to NFL players.
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Old 12-05-2010, 07:11 AM   #6
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Old 12-05-2010, 08:06 AM   #7
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It's an interesting topic. There are stats out there about anything you can name, from prisons to finishing college to whatever else, generally the stable homes produce successful individuals at a much higher rate
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Old 12-05-2010, 08:09 AM   #8
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He's spot on. I won't hire anyone to jack off my boars if they're from a single parent household. It just doesn't work out.
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Old 12-05-2010, 08:58 AM   #9
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He's spot on. I won't hire anyone to jack off my boars if they're from a single parent household. It just doesn't work out.
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Old 12-05-2010, 09:00 AM   #10
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Old 12-05-2010, 09:53 AM   #11
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I think Roy Williams recruits mostly kids from two-parent families. If memory serves, he openly admits it.
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Old 12-05-2010, 10:46 AM   #12
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I wonder of all the posters who negatively responded to this article at this point come from a divorced home or 1 parent home(where one spouse abandoned the family)?

The article was right on Pioli is smart enough to know that character counts just as much as talent does to get you over the top when the "heat is on to win" those games you should win and win those games you probably should of lost and more importantly when it really counts when you make it in the playoffs

A properly "shepherded" heart is a "good heart" which leads to good character which helps improve even more the already God gifted physical ability is the KEY.

Alot of NFL players have God gifted ability with passion that is more often than not immature and has not been harnessed(unchecked) that prevents a focused mental and emotional discipline to fully develop in order to prepare to win at every angle and turn of the game that is being played in front of them because they did not get proper mentoring in their developmental yrs.(ala Ryan Leaf, Jeff George, JaFatass,Lawrence Phillips etc...list goes on!)

Bottom line: That focused mental and emotional discipline that comes from a passionate heart that has been molded from the high integrity home of a 2 parent home has a much better chance of giving you the "Right 53" to win. Are there exceptions? Hell yes! I've experienced and seen it much like many of you. But odds are far more in favor for those that have an intact 2 parent home and Pioli is smart to apply what Parcells has taught him.

Why make your job as a GM and your coaching staff a helluva alot harder by trying to be their parent as well when you already have to teach them the NFL game that has soooooooooooooooooo many facets to it and not just playing it but more importantly learning how to prepare for it as well.
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Old 12-05-2010, 11:10 AM   #13
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Old 12-05-2010, 11:19 AM   #14
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Reading this article I coulda sworn it was written by Liz Merrill.

What a waste of my ****ing time.
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Old 12-05-2010, 11:46 AM   #15
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Reading this article I coulda sworn it was written by Liz Merrill.

What a waste of my ****ing time.
Read some stuff by Merrill on ESPN. She's actually a phenomenal writer.

But on this... character matters. And it's working for the Chiefs. That's what makes this topic relevant and interesting.
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