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Adversity is nothing to run from

1/6/2012

Remember Drew Henson, the former minor leaguer and Michigan quarterback? Sports Illustrated penned a strong story about him and Tom Brady during their time at Michigan. The crux of the story was actually about Brady, who he was and how he became who he is. To make a long story short, Brady became Super Bowl champion and future Hall of Famer because he fought adversity.

Heading into his junior season, when the Wolverines courted Henson, then the big name quarterback protégé from Michigan, Brady’s father saw the writing on the wall. However, Tom Brady saw it another way. He put it on himself to beat out Henson and earn what was coming to him. Brady didn’t fold, he fought. He fought for his job and his career. He didn’t listen to his parents who would have endorsed a transfer.

The story got me thinking about today’s athletes, in particular basketball players. We’ve seen a rash of midseason transfers. We never really know the full story – or at least both sides – when a kid packs his bags and leaves. All we know is that players are doing it more frequently than ever. More kids elect to flee than fight through adversity. Who can blame them? There’s always the next coach with the next chance or the parent or advisor in the kid’s ear selling him on a better situation.

Is there really a better situation? Brady made his situation work. He rolled up his sleeves, earned his playing time and earned the respect of his teammates in the process.

On the other side of the coin was Henson.

Henson’s father attended practices and insured that Michigan didn’t recruit a quarterback in the class ahead of his son. He micromanaged his son’s decision and tried to do the same with his career. This week, a similar story was relayed to me about a current high school basketball underclassman and the parallels are similar.

Apparently, this underclassman’s father is shopping his son to other programs. Part of the deal to get his son is a guaranteed starting spot, rules in how to use his son and even certain plays to run for the kid. Seriously, I’m not making this up. The dad wants the new coach to sign a contract. Forgive my bluntness, but what fool would sign this piece of paper? Inevitably, someone will because there’s always someone providing another chance.

Can the son of this fanatical and overbearing parent really make it when times get tough? I remember back in the day when my games were over. The car ride home with dad was an enlightening experience. We talked about my shots or my at bats with great candor. He asked my opinion and then gave his. Even if his views differed with those of my coach, he supported the man making the rules and calling the plays. “Son, he’s the coach and that’s how he’s going to do it so you have to adapt.” I can hear it clear as day. Never once did my dad undermine my coach.

Don’t get me wrong, if I had played for a coach who wasn’t good or didn’t stand for the right things, he would have yanked me out of there. However, there’s absolutely no way he would have drawn up a contract for the next coach to sign.

Brady clashed with his college coach, Lloyd Carr. It took them a long time to get on the same page and for the coach to figure his player out. Through the battles with the other team and his coach, Brady held the man in high regard and respected him.

Henson on the other hand, well, his struggles continued on the football field and baseball diamond. The heralded multi-sport athlete never amounted to much in either. The Sports Illustrated article included one of the most telling quotes I’ve read on parenting.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be a parent someday, I won’t try to control every situation that my child may be put into as an athlete – not try to dictate every time line or micromanage every aspect of the child’s development.”

Those are the words of Drew Henson. As an adult, Henson knows he was never put in the same position Brady was. There was always a safety net to catch him. Heck, his father greased his path so much he didn’t require a safety net. He was never going to fall. When he did fail, he didn’t have the tools to cope.

Not every coach is great. Every situation isn’t perfect. Each decision doesn’t always turn out to be the correct one. In order to figure these things out, one must go through adversity. This generation of athletes isn’t being taught the value of failure. Not enough kids know how to pick themselves up off the ground, refocus and try again. Their idea of trying again is finding a new school or a new coach who is willing to tilt the tables in their direction.

Call me crazy, but Tom Brady’s pretty good. Maybe he’s the best ever. I know Michael Jordan is the best to ever play basketball and he was cut from the team at Laney High School. Funny thing about Brady and Jordan is where they started and where they finished; Tom graduated from Michigan and Michael made it through four years at Laney. They made it work. Boy, did they ever make it work.