|Me and a blurry but happy Ronnie Lott
Last week was the annual Dad 2.0 Summit, a conference for dad bloggers to network with each other, and to interact with brands. It was also my chance to meet and chat with Super Bowl winning NFL players past and present. The opening key note featured former San Francisco 49ers great and Hall-of-Famer, Ronnie Lott and his son Ryan Nece talking about fatherhood. They both emphasized the importance of vulnerability, and being able to show that you are vulnerable, as key components of not only being a father, but also being a teammate, and a man. Lott explained that he wanted Nece to take his mother's maiden name so that Nece wouldn't grow up carrying the name of an all-time great player. It gave Nece a chance to be himself, and even to turn away from football if he'd wanted, without pressure from others.
Beyond fatherhood, the two gave insight into an NFL locker room. Nece indicated that a lot of "locker room talk" really centers around parenting and personal finance. The numbers behind athletes going broke after retirement are well known, and modern players are trying to avoid doing that. Nece also said that many players talk to each other about where to send kids to school. Lott added that with men for whom the locker room is a workplace, there's little time or space for bawdy conversations. Said Lott, "The thing is, it’s your job. There’s not many jobs where you go talk about of off color things. You’re trying to figure out life."
There was a touching moment when Nece told a story about asking his dad how to cope with failure. "I asked him, 'what did you do when you had a bad game, made the wrong play?' He told me, 'Son, I never made a bad play.'" The larger point was that you learn from failure and you move on. You understand that everyone fails at some point. It's what you learn from it, how you move on to the next play that matters. It's something I've tried to impress on my students in the years that I've been teaching. Nothing succeeds like success, but nothing can teach you to succeed better than trying and failing.
Lott also addressed the issue of kneeling during the National Anthem.
For me there's always some trepidation in meeting people you looked up to as a child. I loved Ronnie Lott when he was with the 49ers. I was five-years-old when Lott and the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. This was back before 24-hour sports networks (we didn't have cable) were pervasive. It was before social media. All you really knew about athletes was what they said in post-game interviews. So there's always a fear that they'll end up being something other than what you hope for. Brent Jones and Gary Plummer are staunch republicans. Even Jerry Rice threw out a #MAGA tweet during the election. So I was worried about what Lott would say. He was everything I'd hoped for. He made little five-year-old Tito beam with joy."I salute the flag for a host of reasons. The great thing about #TakeAKnee, though, is the courage to do something to hopefully make the world better." @RonnieLottHOF #RealStrength #Dad2Summit— Dad 2.0 Summit (@dad2summit) February 2, 2018
At previous Dad 2.0 conferences NFL stars Peanut Tillman and Michael Strahan were whisked away fairly quickly. Lott and Nece walked out through the ball room, stopping to chat with people. I didn't want to take up too much of Lott's time, but I had to say hello. I expected a quick handshake and greeting. He surprised me by stopping and seeming genuinely interested in my question, what was it like coming in as a class with Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright? "It was great, because we all genuinely liked each other. We had a special bond." I asked him about a story I'd read about him and Williamson passing off receivers and switching coverages without discussing it with the coaching staff. He didn't seem to recall it, but said it probably happened. I wanted to ask him about the psychology of switching positions, something many great athletes hesitate to do, but his handlers wanted him to get moving.
(More after this enormous embedded photo)
This year I was also lucky enough to be included in a chance to meet Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, thanks to Best Buy. It was clear from the ticket that we wouldn't have much time with him and I had no idea what the format would be. I wracked my brain for something I could ask that might be even slightly original. He'd already answered every conceivable sports question. I wasn't a big enough Broncos fan to know any cool trivia. ESPN had already scooped me on the chicken farming angle. Then I remembered his ads. He always comes across as a kind of a nerd, from his dancing to his glasses. I decided to ask him how much input he gets when doing a commercial. How much does he get to guide the look and feel of how he's presented?
His answer was predictable. It was the kind of answer you get form a savvy, polished media personality. "I choose my endorsements carefully and work with brands that already understand who I am and what I'm about. So I don't need to control the process that much. I trust the people I have around me." It was a solid answer, even if it wasn't eye opening. We also took a moment to reminisce about his two strip-sacks of Cam Newton in the Super Bowl. As I was finishing my time I had to ask him his thoughts on free agent quarterback Kurt Cousins. "Oh he's coming! He is coming!" Miller exclaimed.
So there you have it. My NFL reporting from Dad 2.0 uncovered that Von Miller is all in on Kurt Cousins, geek is chic, and vulnerability is masculinity. Take care, y'all.