We all know about sports dads. Most of the time they're reasonable people with reasonable expectations about their progeny -- which is to say, they don't think he's the next Kobe or LeBron because he schlepped around and scored a bunch of points when he was knee-high to a bunch of other knee-high kids.
And then there's Sean "P Diddy" Combs, the ultimate sports dad from hell.
Who took offense to a UCLA strength coach disciplining his son, Justin, and attacked him with a weight-room kettle bell when a heated exchange of words got out of hand.
Diddy got himself arrested for that, and suddenly he's gone from mere celebrity to Celebrity Wacko Sports Dad. His fame makes him unique in that regard, but only in that regard. Because the sad truth is, what happened at UCLA this week gets played out on a smaller stage far too many times.
I tend to blame the culture of youth sports for that, which dictates that if your child is going to make something of him or herself in an athletic endeavor, his or her career path must begin about the time they shed their Garanimals. If not before.
And so soccer-for-tots becomes travel soccer becomes thousands upon thousands of dollars bet on the usually delusional notion that Lionel Messi grows somewhere in that kid holding a melting Popsicle in the backseat. Or that the next Mike Trout is back there. Or that Duke and then the NBA surely await if only Popsicle Boy plays enough AAU games -- which is to say, plays basketball year-round without a break.
That leaves no time for Little League baseball or Pop Warner football or youth soccer. But, hey, who cares about being well-rounded when Coach K comes calling, amiright?
The problems with this are many, not the least of which is that it proceeds from a flawed premise to begin with. I could sit here all day and list athletes who made it big who grew up playing not just their sport of choice but EVERY sport. I could sit here all day today and tomorrow, too, in fact.
For instance: Once upon a time I covered an Indiana Mr. Basketball named Troy Lewis, out of Anderson High School. He went on to become one of Purdue University's all-time leading scorers. And he had a secret: In addition to being a premier hoops guy, he was also a lights-out baseball player. And that's what he played every spring for the Indians.
Specialization as the golden path, in other words, is a myth. It always has been. Yet the specialization myth is a powerful one, if for no other reason than those aforementioned thousands upon thousands of dollars. After awhile, you come to think of your child not merely as your child but as a marketable asset. You come to think of him or her as an investment -- the investment usually being an all-expenses-paid college education down the road somewhere.
That's not a bad thing to want for your kid. But it too often creates a sense of entitlement that inevitably leads to clashes with coaches who don't see what you see -- and, minus your vested interest, are usually much more clear-eyed about it.
Throw in the celebrity factor, and that sense of entitlement grows exponentially. Here's the thing about Justin Combs: He's by all accounts a good kid and an OK defensive back. But he's also at UCLA at least partly because of who his dad is, The coach who recruited him, Rick Neuheisel, admits as much.
All you have to do to verify that is look at the photo of Justin that accompanies this story. To put it bluntly, he's tiny. How many kids his size land full schollys to major Division I football schools like UCLA?
Answer: Not many who aren't P Diddy's offspring.
Yet here P Diddy is, attacking a coach for doing what coaches do, instead of thanking the good Lord every day that his kid is even a scholarship player. Just another Wacko Sports Dad, indulging in the same Wacko Sports Dad delusions.
Bigger stage or not.