When Mom Is the Superstar in the Game...The Game Called Life!

Harold BellContributor IIIMay 26, 2010

Most athletes take great pride and are appreciative of the many sacrifices made by their mothers, especially, if they are products of single-parent homes.  The sacrifices made by mothers on behalf of their children are usually the determining factors and are responsible for the success of their children in “The Game Called Life.”


I was disturbed when I first heard that a General Manager of an NFL football team had asked a player during the pre-draft evaluation process was his mother a prostitute?  I thought it was a joke that was heard on late night television made by Dave Letterman, Jay Leno, or Richard Pryor had come back from the dead.


I read and heard the earlier newspaper accounts naming Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland as the culprit and the player being asked this question was Oklahoma State Cowboy WR Dez Bryant. 

I knew then it was not a joke or someone playing “The Dozens.”   The Dozens is a put down game often played in the black community.   You can put down everyone else in the family but mom is off limits.


My heroes growing up in a housing project in NE Washington, DC were my mother, grandmother, aunts and other black women who crossed my path during my journey in this game called life.  My story is not uncommon in my community where “Dead Beat Dads” were and are the norm.  It is a sad commentary but true.


My heroes could not hit a baseball 400 feet, throw a football 75 yards in the air, or hit a jump shot from deep in the corner, but they raised young men who could.  These moms are the Super Stars in the Game Called Life. 


How many times have you heard during an NFL televised game immediately after a player makes a great play his first words are a shout out to his mother “Hi Mom.”   The NFL has quietly censored those on cameo appearances.  I wonder why?


The more things change the more they remain the same.   Dolphin GM Ireland has apologized for asking the question, but the latest account clears him of any wrong doing. 


Background checks are common in Corporate America, especially when a corporation is preparing to hire a potential client and invest millions of dollars in him.  


Dolphin GM Ireland was just doing his job when he asked Dez Bryant “What did your father do for a living?”  Bryant’s response was, my daddy was a pimp and that led to the next question, what did your mother do?’   His response was, ‘She worked for my dad’ and that led to the question that was heard around the NFL, so your mother was a prostitute?


The story got worst for me while I was sulfuring with the remote control I came upon a panel discussion on ESPN as it related “My Mom was a prostitute?”


The host of the show had two former NFL players as his guests: Marcus Wiley of the Dallas Cowboys and Matt Millen of the Washington Redskins.  The question was, “is this type of questioning common in the NFL and is it ever warranted?"

Wiley, who is black, and Millen, who is white, said this type of questioning was okay because the NFL is not like any work place in America.  They were right: there is nowhere in White Corporate America is there a work force of 70% African-American, the exception being an “NFL Plantation.”  Welcome to pro football.


In a “Point After” commentary in the October issue of Sports Illustrated Magazine writer Selena Roberts makes a great case that the NFL is the last plantation in American sports.


She points to radio personality and the voice of the Republican Party Rush Limbaugh.  His name was being floated around NFL circles as a partner in a group seeking ownership in the Rams’ franchise.  Ms. Roberts says Black NFL players took on the roles of the Three Little Monkeys, see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil. 

She wondered where was the player outrage that burned in 2003, when dozens of players freely rebuked Limbaugh for saying the Eagles’ QB Donovan McNabb was praised by the media only because he was a black quarterback.


The real silence came after DeMaurice Smith, who replaced the late Gene Upshaw (accused of being in bed with the owners) as the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, issued a call to arms. 

In an e-mail on October 10, 2009 Smith said, “I have asked our players to embrace their roles not only in the game of football but also as players and partners in the business of the NFL.  Our men are strong and proud sons, fathers, spouses, and I am proud when they stand up, understand this is their profession and speak with candor and blunt honesty about how they feel.”   The silence was deafening.


Man. Did Smith dial a wrong number. According to Selena Roberts she counted only 7 players voiced their concerns once Limbaugh’s ownership bid was exposed!


Limbaugh was kicked to the curb by the NFL not because the NEW spokesman for black America the notorious Rev. Al Sharpton ( Tawanna Brawley 1988) threatened to boycott the NFL or dozens of black players threaten a walk-out!  It was the white power structure who kicked Limbaugh to the curb.


Ms. Roberts said, “even Rev. Sharpton was surprised that it was Commissioner Roger Goodell and other powerful white owners who ousted Limbaugh and not the black players.”


She noted, there was not one player in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization who had an opinion.  Rams’ running back Steven Jackson said, “I am paying attention but I am not even touching that one.”   Talking about a cop out; where is mommy when you need her?


DeMaurice Smith has to be concerned that a league whose make-up is 70% black is overseen and controlled by a white commissioner.  Goodell is the sole judge and jury as it relates to discipline for today’s players.   Ms. Roberts also said in her commentary, “This disciplinary era began justifiably enough after the Bengals turned the jailhouse into their team hotel in 2006.”


Since the NFL instituted its personal code of conduct in 2007, the Commissioner has wide latitude to act punitively on NFL image issues both on and off the field.  Roger Goodell has embraced the role of judge and jury, even after players have had their day in court.  I think this was once called double jeopardy!


It sounds like to me the players are being treated like “House Negroes.”   Where is mommy when you need her?


The commentary also said, “The players are scared to talk openly about health issues (concussions) for fear of being cut.  They won’t question a coach’s oppressive rules for the same reasons.


Albert Haynesworth of the Washington Redskins is the exception.  He is one the highest paid players in the league and he is openly challenging the NFL’s “Volunteer Camp Rule.”   New coach Mike Shanahan and Redskin owner Dan Snyder are not happy campers about Haynesworth’s independent attitude.  There is nothing in his contract that says volunteer means mandatory!


For clarification I looked both words up in Webster’s Dictionary


Volunteer: one who enters into and offers himself for a service on his own free will.


Mandatory: containing or constituting a command.


I am not sure if Haynesworth grew up in a single-parent home or if there were two parents, but he got it right that slavery is a thing of the past as it relates to him.

A single parent raising a child alone can be hard on the absentee parent who decided not to go down with the ship.  The things that are said about him or her to the child can be downright vicious and mean spirited. 

The verbal description of the missing parent is usually said in anger and frustration.  The picture painted by the parent of the parent missing in action is not always pretty or true.


My mother raised three hard headed boys by herself while my grandmother raised my oldest brother.  As the older child when my mother was down on her luck or feeling sorry for herself, I needed to be seen and not heard.  One misstep by me and the first words out of her mouth were “You are just like your no-good father.”  

Those words are not something a child wants to hear when he is looking for a father figure or hero.


The stress of raising three boys by her self my mother eventually had a nervous breakdown.  She was in and out of a mental hospital for three decades.  The night I graduated from Fairmont Heights High School my mom and two brothers were in the audience.  It was a night to remember.


This was my third high school, but despite my self-destructive attitude, I managed to graduate thanks to my mentor/father figure, former Spingarn High School Coach Dave Brown.


My mother and grandmother were still my heroes because of their warrior and never give up mentality. 


Looking back my mother and grandmother didn’t do a bad job of raising us, my oldest brother Bobby now deceased retired as a United States Marshall, my brother Earl served in the United States Army as a military policeman and was a table tennis champion and heavyweight boxing champion in Nuremberg, Germany. 

He served as Sgt. on the DC Metropolitan Police Department for 16 years until a head-on automobile accident while on duty ended his career in 1984.  My younger brother William now deceased served in the Marines and worked for boxing promoter Don King as a photographer and then there is me the “Black Sheep” of the family.


Jim Brown (NFL Legend) was in DC one summer and visited my mother at Howard University Hospital.  He left saying “Another strong black woman raising strong black men.”   He understood the important role mothers and grandmothers play in raising children without a father in the home.  He had been there and done that.


I played football and basketball for the late legendary Coach Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines at Winston-Salem State University in the 60s.  I was the only six-foot student/athlete he let play two sports during that era.


The two of us often clashed over one thing or another as it related to playing time on the field or court and my academics in the classroom. 


Jack DeFares played basketball for Bighouse and we became good friends.  He is rated among Winston-Salem alumni and NBA greats Cleo Hill, Earl Monroe, and Carlos Terry.  Jack had returned to school to finish work on his degree during my freshman year. 

For some odd reason Bighouse paired me and Jack up, I guess he felt I needed someone to watch over me and I probably did.  I was still trying to go to hell in a hurry as my middle school Principal William B. Stinson had predicted.


It was just before spring break when Bighouse and I had another disagreement, and he told Jack “He is just as crazy as his mother.” 


I saw red when Jack told me what he had said about my mother.  I started out for the gym to confront Bighouse.  Jack grabbed me from behind and settled me down.  I would later tell coach “My mother is off limits.”   He had no clue about the trials and tribulations of my mother in the Game Called Life trying to provide for three knuckleheaded boys.


He was not there to see the police kick down my front door raiding my home in the wee hours of the morning.  He never saw my mother being led from the house in handcuffs. 

My mother cut card games (Piddy Pat and Tong) on the weekend and sold fried chicken dinners and bootleg liquor to help make ends meet.  She lost her government job because of being the last hired meant being the first fired during lay-offs. 

Her entrepreneur spirit was not any different than Donald Trump’s; she wanted to do for self.


Long before the now Legal State Number Lotteries my mother had her own Lucky Number Book in our neighborhood out of necessity.  She had three hungry mouths to feed.  I would later found out she was paying the cops off but they would still have to raid our home to make it look like they were during their jobs. She never knew when they were coming but they were sure to come.


My mother never got the chance to see me run a down and out pass pattern and catch the winning touchdown, or score the winning basket as time expired, or run from under my hat and catch a fly ball in deep center field to stop the winning run from scoring.  While I was doing all those things, she was making them possible.


My heart went out to Gilbert when his mother finally shown up years and millions of dollars later to say hello.   Gilbert was caught between “a rock and a hard place.”  She approached him while he was boarding the team bus outside of an NBA arena.  He ignored her; that was a big mistake. 


It makes one wonder what stories had he heard from his dad about his mother, had he heard that she was a prostitute, drug abuser or she had run off with another man? 

It should not have made a difference she was still his mother.  She brought him into this world.  His troubled NBA life proved he was not matured enough to handle the situation with his mother.


When she died all alone earlier this year, Gilbert paid for her funeral but you cannot put a dollar bill ahead of the love of a mother.  One thing for sure, he was “Mommy’s baby and daddy’s maybe.”   Gilbert’s acts of bad NBA behavior prove that his father failed him somewhere along life’s highway.


In the month of May of each year, sons and daughters around America celebrate “Mother’s Day.”   Most men and women paused to remember their moms with a home cooked meal, take her out to her favorite restaurant, buy her flowers or a card or paid a visit to her gravesite, but mom was remembered.


The NBA play-offs showcased mothers and their NBA sons during timeouts and half time on Mother’s Day.  There were feel good stories about NBA players and their devotion to their moms.  Suspended NBA Gilbert Arenas had no choice but to remember his mom: the good, bad and the ugly.


There is little doubt who Boston Celtics Ray Allen’s hero is, his mom can be seen regularly in the stands rooting her famous son on, in victory or defeat.


During the play-offs Vince Carter’s mom was seen in a half time interview talking about her two sons, the Bad Seed and the Good Seed !  Vince’s younger brother is a recovering drug addict and drug dealer and Vince is a superstar in the NBA. 

These are the kind of dilemmas where moms are caught between a rock and hard place.  Super Woman was born in the black community: meet Ms. Carter.


She puts on her Super Woman cape for the drug dealing son and her mother’s apron on for the NBA Super star.  It was evident in the interview that Vince loved his baby brother and mom loved them both equally.


The end result: The Good Son and The Bad Son are teaming up to help drug addicts to beat their own addictions.  Vince has put up $1.5 million to build a state of the art rehabilitation facility and The Bad Son will be the first patient.  Thanks to a mother’s love.


Washington Redskin quarterback Donovan McNabb and his mother were the pride and joy of Campbell Soup commercials during his run in the city of Brotherly Love!  You wonder if that same commercial will have a successful run in the Nation’s Capitol...mother knows best.


NBA Hall of Fame player and play-off analyst Charles Barkley is seen in his latest commercial (T-Mobile) asking his mother to pick up the phone.  I hope his mother picks up the phone soon because his act is getting tired.  There are four analysts on the set for the half time show.  He is the only one who searches for a word of profanity to use during the telecast.  Ms. Barkley, please answer the telephone!


Every town in America has a speed limit to govern traffic in and out to secure safety and control traffic flow.  The same holds true in my community, you don’t talk about a man’s mother without consequences. 

You can call me the N word and get no response, but please don’t talk about my mother.  We will always be “Mommy’s baby and daddy’s maybe.”

  Mother’s Day is everyday and most of us will always love our mothers, and our mothers will always love us.