I have always been interested in athletics. Whether on the high school, college or professional level, being part of a team is a great experience and demands character, discipline and stamina. Of course, many people classify athletes as dumb and unfeeling, but since I have participated in sports, I know that some of the most sensitive and feeling people I've ever met have played sports and in most cases were fierce competitors. So when I hear individuals deride athletes and their mental prowess, I usually say something in their defense.
Years ago, I got to know a former professional hockey player named Eric Nesterenko who played for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I met him at a bank where he was refinancing his home mortgage and while he was between jobs. At that time, my son's high school was looking for a hockey coach. I suggested Nesterenko apply for the job; he did and eventually landed it. That year he led my son's high school team to a state championship. It was a wonderful time not only for my son's team but also for the parents as well. In the course of all this, I got to know Eric very well and we used to get together just to talk about life, literature and the meaning of simply living. Nesterenko was one of the most sensitive and intelligent people I have ever met, which might seem out of character for someone who knew him only as a hockey player. Eric later moved to Aspen, Colo., where I hear he is doing a great job as a ski coach. Knowing him was a terrific experience.
Recently a friend sent me a couple of pages from a book called Season of Life, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Marx. The book chronicles the life story of a former Baltimore Colts football player by the name of Joe Ehrmann. The two pages I received were absolutely riveting, and after reading them I went out and bought the book. It is both inspiring and motivating and shows the passion and depth of a man who cares about others.
You might feel the same way I do if you read this gem of a book. It will stir your emotions and make you feel exhilarated as well as sad. Allow me to provide you with some excerpts from remarks Ehrmann made regarding his feelings about entering professional sports. "I had expectations that professional football would help me find some kind of purpose and meaning in my life. But really all I found in the NFL was more confusion. I kept having the belief that if it wasn't going to be this contract, I would certainly find some kind of serenity or peace in my life with the next contract, the next girl, the next house, the next car, the next award, when I got to the Pro Bowl, when we got to the Super Bowl. And, what happened to me, I think it happens to an awful lot of professional athletes: You start losing perspective. You've kind of climbed the ladder of success, and when you get there, you realize somehow the ladder was leaning on the wrong building."
Ehrmann is now a minister and has developed a mentor program he calls "Building Men for Others." When he speaks of young men and the challenges facing them, his words reveal his deep commitment to doing the right thing. "I think that the boys you are coaching-all boys-are given in our culture a threefold criteria for what it means to be a man. I think those are a lie, and I think they lead to tremendous dysfunction both in marriages and relationships, and in the social problems of America." Joe goes on to discuss the three components of what he terms false masculinity: athletic ability, sexual conquest and economic success. He also describes his feelings about masculinity. "Masculinity, first and foremast, ought to be defined in terms of relationships. It ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved. If you look over your life at the end of it ... life wouldn't be measured in terms of success based on what you've acquired or achieved or what you own. The only thing that's really going to matter is the relationships that you had. It's gonna come down to this: What kind of father were you? What kind of coach or teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you? Success comes in terms of relationships."
Joe discusses what he terms the "leukemia of masculinity," which he believes keeps men and boys from reaching their true potential. He says, "In my experience, I would say that the No. 1 common denominator of professional football players-and I think this is true throughout most sports, I think it's true in the boardrooms of America-that the No. 1 common denominator is this father and son dysfunction. I think we have an awful lot of sons that are trying to validate and earn love and respect from their fathers through some kind of performance, be it athletic or otherwise." There's so much more to the book and I found it to be thought-provoking.
So in the end, no matter what someone's chosen profession is, there are always sensitive, inquisitive human beings who take stock of life and share their feelings with others. Sometimes their observations and revelations are beneficial to all of us because they come in very simple terms filled with the wisdom of living. They are spoken from the heart with passion and devotion, but too often we don't really listen and we miss what is meaningful.
Joe Ehrmann makes sense,
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, go to chucklauer.com