Recent years have not been kind to sports dads, with them doing everything from beating fellow hockey dads to death in the amateur ranks to head-butting a child’s hitting partner at a tennis tournament on the pro level.
There’s a better path.
With Father’s Day approaching, here are seven patriarchs reminding us that athletic excellence and basic human decency aren’t mutually exclusive.
A sharpshooter who had a solid pro career—he’s the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time leading scorer—Dell fathered a flat-out basketball superstar in Steph, the MVP who’s now an NBA champion too. (And, as the circle of life goes, Steph is now father to a child with a knack for overshadowing him.) Dell did it all while remaining surprisingly compassionate to everyone, noting he once left a game because he couldn’t bear watching his son inflict 63 points on an opponent. The old man can still stroke it, too, as you’ll see in this game of PIG with the kid.
The world watches track and field fanatically at the Olympics then forgets it exists until the next Olympics, so a disappointment means at least four years before redemption. Forced by tendonitis to withdraw from Seoul in 1988, top British runner Derek Redmond experienced his worst nightmare in 1992 when he collapsed with a torn hamstring during the 400 semifinals. Determined to finish, he rose to his feet and limped forward… only to be joined by his father, who supported him to the finish line while telling him over and over “You’re a champion, you’ve got nothing to prove.” Hearing Morgan Freeman narrate it just maximizes the tear-inducement.
Any jackass can raise a #1 NFL draft pick Pro Bowl quarterback Super Bowl MVP, but doing it twice suggests you’re on to something. A Pro Bowl QB in his own right, perhaps Archie’s greatest accomplishment is that there hasn’t been a whiff of scandal around the Mannings despite their decades as the Kennedys of football. (Ole Miss used to have a speed limit of 18 mph in honor of star alum Archie’s uniform number… only to change it to 10 mph in honor of Eli’s.) Behold Mr. Manning matching wits with Mr. Baldwin.
Gretzky was the Great One… but he ain’t Mr. Hockey. Basically Paul Bunyan on skates, Gordie topped Archie by raising two All-Star sons and actually playing with them, twice winning regular season and postseason titles with Mark and Marty in the WHA. Mark later joined his dad in the Hockey Hall of Fame, while the entire family (including mom Colleen) was inducted into the World Hockey Association Hall. They’re honored in the video above for “Howe Hockey Night”, which is worth watching just for hearing the narrator introduce “Mrs. Hockey” at 38 seconds.
Nancy Lopez led the LPGA in money won, posted the lowest score average for a season, once won five straight tournaments, won a major and collected a slew of awards (including AP Female Athlete of the Year). And that’s just her rookie year in 1978, all the while blazing a trail for Mexican-Americans in pro golf. She credits her father’s tireless support for her success, noting he taught her not to cry, never to throw clubs, and for good measure came up with a reward for victory bound to stir the hearts of Mattel execs everywhere.
Ken Griffey Sr.
He gave his son his name… and Junior made sure it was known by baseball fans everywhere, playing the game as naturally and joyously as any player ever has. (Also, as well as any player ever has, as his MVP and 10 Gold Gloves attest.) Senior was damned good in his own right—the three-time All-Star won two World Series with the Big Red Machine in the ’70s—with the longevity not only to play with his son, but to rake with him, as they hit back-to-back homers for the Mariners and remain impressively mellow about the whole thing.
The George State coach’s teams have a knack for winning close and he has a knack for injuring himself during those triumphs. So when Georgia State (led by his son R.J.) won by 2 to make the NCAA tournament in 2015, he tore his Achilles’ tendon rejoicing, only to shrug off the damage: “I wanted to go celebrate with my team. More importantly I wanted to go celebrate with my son. You don’t get many opportunities like that.” He soon got another one, as R.J. hit an instantly legendary shot to upset Baylor during the tournament, leading Ron to do, er, this. Ron loses even more movingly than he wins, as during this press conference he starts talking about his boy and… well, just watch. Happy Father’s Day!