Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Associated Press photo
It seems like we’ve been hearing these classic, “Hi, Mom,” shot-outs from college and professional athletes forever. They look straight into the television cameras on the sidelines after a big play and let it fly. But as a proud father of two teenaged sons who have participated in multiple sports, I would feel some kind of way if I didn’t get an acknowledgment on camera along with my wife. However, a large number of black athletes have never had a father around to acknowledge.
According to recent American statistics, 68 percent of African-American children are born to single mother households. That number is down from 71 percent a decade ago, but it remains much higher than the 43 percent of Latina, 26 percent of white and 11 percent of Asian-American families.
That’s more than two-thirds of African-American athletes born with no fathers around before they ever join a football, basketball or baseball team. Statistics also show that more than half of these families will live in poverty with deficient educations. So in year 2014 the new sports family has become a blessing and savior for many of these fatherless kids, with more coaches accepting positions as surrogate fathers and role models.
Hundreds of kids have even begun to move in with coaches and surrogate families ala “The Blind Side,” including Jeremy Maclin, the Philadelphia Eagles star wide receiver out of Missouri, who inspired me to write this article. While being raised as the youngest of three sons in a bleak area of St. Louis, Maclin’s mother Cleo made the tough and faithful decision to allow her youngest boy to move in with his Pee Wee football coach Jeff Parres and his family for high school.
Years later, Maclin has now started a Mother’s Day Miracles foundation, where he pledges to award young single-mother athletes with an opportunity to give their mothers something special for the hard work that they’ve done to raise them without fathers.
Maclin chose the first five Philadelphia-area boys aged 12 or older in May—who excelled academically in school—with loaded gift packages that included the surprise of flower bouquets, a free spa visit, dinner certificates, self-designed collages and of course family tickets to the Eagles games.
Maclin said that he had always wanted to thank his own mother for the hard but necessary sacrifice she was forced to make to allow him the opportunity to succeed.
Out of thousands of black athletes who are now able to tell similar single-mother household stories of success and survival, Maclin’s proactive generosity reminds me of one of my favorite all-time running backs, Warrick Dunne and his story.
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., as the oldest of five, when Dunne’s mother Betty Smothers—a former police officer and security guard—was killed by two armed robbers just two days after his 18th birthday, the determined young athlete and Florida State recruit pledged not only to raise his four younger siblings, but to help as many single mothers as possible to afford a home for their families, while kick-starting Homes For The Holidays.
In partnership with Habitat for Humanity, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers community initiatives, the NFL charities and Aaron’s Inc. to assist economically disadvantaged single parent families, Dunne has now helped to provide down payments for homes to hard-working single mothers in more than a hundred families for 14 years in the states of Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas and recently New Jersey.
He has also started Betty’s Hope foundation in the name of his late mother to help empower youth to manage the grief of losing or living without family members, while using education, tools and resources to improve and enhance their lives for the future.
Through hard work of raising his own younger siblings, Dunne has not yet settled down with a wife and kids of his own, nor has Jeremy Maclin. However, when or if they ever do to decide to start new families of their own, I can imagine—like the lessons learned from many other professional athletes who have seen the light and have broken the chain of fatherless families—that their kids would be inspired to give a classic shot-out to their dads as well, for hard work and guidance that real father’s and community men are blessed to provide to the everyday lives of their own children and the children of others who we are generous enough to take under our wings.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction and a professional journalist @ www.OmarTyree.com