Daddy Dearest

Lonzo and LaVar Bell, from USA Today

Lonzo and LaVar Bell, from USA Today

“Dad, can I go inside and finish up my math homework?”
“No, son. I need another hour of flipping and pitching drills from you. You’re not living up to your potential.”

Right now, the most prominent, famous or infamous father in the sports world – depending on how you want to look at it – is LaVar Ball, father of UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, a likely top three pick in the upcoming NBA draft, as well as of two high school age sons who seem likely to follow in their older brother’s path to the league.

Mr. Ball is fond of making fairly ridiculous claims about not only his sons’ skills, but his own as well. He has said that in his prime he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one. [Note: he was a practice squad player in the NFL and averaged 2.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and a lonely assist during a single season on the Washington State Cougars’ college basketball team.]. He claimed that Lonzo is better than Steph Curry. He has picked verbal fights with Charles Barkley. He is currently marketing a shoe under the “Big Baller Brand” that starts at the bargain price of $495 (hey, you get two of them!) and says that his boys should expect a billion dollars for an endorsement deal in the near future.

Sports fathers are not new. Sometimes, as in the case of former USC/Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich and his dad Marv, the pressure seems to have a harmful effect. In other cases, such as Tiger Woods and his dad Earl, or Venus and Serena Williams and their father Richard, the prodding from an early age seems to have paid big dividends, at least on the field of play. 

Surely in the fishing world there have been fathers who burned their sons out young by forcing them to go out and stay out when they had other things they’d rather be doing. There are certainly cases of the dad who puts a backlashing baitcaster in his 5 year old’s hand and forces him to flip for a lone bass bite all day, when a few hours of whacking bluegills would’ve been a better entrance to the sport. I’d like to think that those guys are the exception rather than the rule. I seriously hope that none of the overbearing Little League dads that make all of us cringe ever enter the world of fishing, but I fear that it’s coming.

From what I can see, the rise of high school and college fishing programs, while not perfect (what is?) has been an overwhelming success. Not only does it instill discipline and camaraderie amongst the kids, and prevent them from getting into much of the trouble that the rest of us chased, but it has also served as a feeder for the pro leagues. We’ve seen anglers such as Brandon Card, Dustin Connell, and of course Jordan Lee rise to the top of their class and then rise to the top of the mountain. With the path clearly outlined for those going forward, with six figure checks and TV coverage available, are we going to increasingly see fathers trying to unreasonably live vicariously through their sons (and daughters), to their childrens’ detriment? Are we likely to see the day when some kid, already devastated because he came in second instead of winning, is confronted by a dad who goes full Great Santini just because the young angler farmed a 5-pounder on the final day? 

I hope that doesn’t come to pass. So far our sport has been lucky to have seemingly balanced father-son teams like the Hibdons, the Brauers, and most recently Alton Jones Jr. and Sr., pairs who have operated as a team and as friends rather as taskmaster and pupil. I’d like to think that our sport is different from the rest. Yes, there are scholarships. Yes there are youth clubs and youth tournaments. But there’s no AAU circuit, no corrupting iron hand of the shoe companies trying to influence what 8 year olds will be wearing and where they’ll be playing 10 years hence. As of yet, LaVar ball hasn’t entered our world yet, either.