Oct 2, 2011

I had the privilege of coaching in the NFL for 28 years. At the end of my career, one of the most frequent questions I would get asked was, "How have the players changed over the years?" My answer was that so many more of them were coming to us without the benefit of growing up with their dads.

The statistics for NFL players mirror those for young men in general in America, and that is a growing concern. Because, present or absent, dads shape lives. We have a number of difficulties facing our nation, but I believe fatherlessness is right at the top of the list.

That's one reason I began working with Family First's All Pro Dad program in 1997. This non-profit supports the ideals of fatherhood by using sports as the vehicle to carry that message. Some of their research is eye opening:

Did you know that nearly one in three children live apart from their biological dads? Those kids are two to three times more likely to grow up in poverty, to suffer in school, and to have health and behavioral problems. These kids also tend to be at a higher risk for child abuse.

Kids today need dads. They don't need a perfect dad, but they need an involved dad. When a father can't be involved, a mentor can be a wonderful surrogate. This is where so many athletes have benefited from that relationship with their coach.

But there's no substitute for a full-time dad. Dads who are fully engaged with their kids overwhelmingly tend to produce children who believe in themselves and live full lives. And when dads are involved, we see direct correlations to decreases in gang activity, substance abuse and incarcerations.

Today, America's men must step up and realize the difference they can make in their children's lives. We have to raise the bar of responsible fatherhood, and then we need to help men surpass this bar. Our children are worth fighting for.

Given my involvement in this issue, I was recently asked to view the new movieCourageous, which was produced by a Georgia church — Sherwood Baptist — and comes out Friday with a strong message about fatherhood. It tells the story of five regular guys deciding to become better dads — going the extra mile for their children. As men, we could all take a lesson from them and ask ourselves, "What can I do today to be a more involved dad?"
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