UNDER PRESSURE

From the Associated Press

Meagan Cowher finally found a place where she's known by her first name.

On a campus where famous kids are no big deal, she's able to blend in among classmates and basketball teammates. To her friends, she's Meg -- not the daughter of Pittsburgh Steeler Coach Bill Cowher.

"No one knew because the last name never popped up," said Cowher, a sophomore forward for Princeton. "I wasn't just known for strictly being the coach's daughter. You value being anonymous. It was nice blending in and not sticking out."

Being the child of a famous coach or athlete often isn't easy.

Coaches and players spend long periods of time away from their families, juggling parenthood and the pressure to win. Children feel pressure, too, being separated from a parent while trying to live up to a famous name.

Such pressures were highlighted last month following the apparent suicide of James Dungy, the 18-year-old son of Indianapolis Colt Coach Tony Dungy.

Some of those famous parents understand the burden on their children.

New Kansas City Chief Coach Herman Edwards played in the NFL for 10 seasons. His son, Marcus, just finished a career as a receiver at San Diego State and is looking for a job, preferably away from football.

"Sometimes that's hard for a kid," the elder Edwards said. "If you're in celebrity status and you become that child, people look at you differently. You can say they don't, but they do. They're only kids, but because they have your last name, there's more pressure on them."

"It's hard," Marcus Edwards said. "I want to be successful in life. I don't want to be a failure or feel like I'm going to let my family down."

*

Herman Edwards watched silently as his close friend, Tony Dungy, fought back tears at his son's funeral.

Questions flooded Edwards' mind: Have I been a good father? Have I done enough for Marcus? Could this happen to me? Or any other coach?

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Males are four times more likely to commit suicide than females.

Kids kill themselves for a variety of reasons, and suicide affects families across the country -- no matter their name. There are many risk factors, including a history of mental health problems, loss, isolation and feelings of hopelessness.

Rick Aberman, a sports psychotherapist with the Lennick Aberman group in Minneapolis, said there sometimes is a disconnect between famous parents and their children -- regardless of the time spent together. And a high-profile suicide tests those bonds.

"That shakes your world a lot," Aberman said. "Someone who has been so successful, so achievement oriented, something happens and they think, 'Where am I going in my life? Who am I? Is this really how I want to be? Do I know my kids?'

"It's like the workaholic who gets to 50 and has a heart attack and realizes: 'I don't know my kids. I don't know me. I've got all the things, I have all this success, but what is really important has been missing.' "

Last April, Tennessee Titan Coach Jeff Fisher became the first NFL coach to serve as an ambassador for the Jason Foundation, a Hendersonville, Tenn., organization whose mission is raising awareness and prevention of youth suicide.

"I wanted to get involved just to raise awareness," Fisher said. "Teen suicide is far-reaching. It involves all types of teenagers." He added that what happened to James Dungy "hit home for all of us because of who Tony is."

"It makes us all think, it makes us all appreciate what we have," Fisher said. "I think it makes us realize how important it is to take time to spend with our kids."

*

Some children embrace their famous name. Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, acknowledges her last name has helped her boxing career.

"I have a very important, famous last name behind me. That has got me to the level that I'm at now," she said in an interview last year. "Of course, it's my skills and me backing it up, but without that name it doesn't matter how good of a fighter I was."

Warrior forward Mike Dunleavy believes growing up with a father as a coach helped.

"The time I got to spend with him when he was coaching, that was great," Dunleavy said. "That was a tremendous advantage for me. I was having a good time with it, but I didn't realize I was learning so much at the same time."

Others simply learn to deal with the burden.

When Tommy Bowden played for his dad, Bobby, at West Virginia, he remembers his father being hung in effigy.

His own kids now must deal with the tough times at Clemson, which is in such a small town that everyone "knows their blood type, their shoe size, their favorite color," said Tommy Bowden, whose son is breaking the family tradition and becoming a lawyer.

"It's like holding your kid's hand when they cross the street," said former Georgetown coach John Thompson, whose son John III now coaches the Hoyas. "One day you have to let them go and walk because if you don't let them deal with what they have to deal with, they're going to be hit by a car.

"Being my child, somebody else experienced a different set of circumstances based on who their mom or dad was. There are people who didn't have a famous father who suffered a lot more than my kids did."

*

Being a teenager is hard enough. Add to that the pressure of forging your own identity while escaping the shadow of a parent. Combine that with having to be picky about selecting friends, and rarely seeing one of your parents.

King guard Mike Bibby still resents his father, Henry, for a bitter divorce that left them estranged. While Henry Bibby was still coaching USC in 2002, he was taunted during a game at Oregon. Fans chanted: "Your son hates you!" and "Deadbeat dad!"

Houston Rocket guard Jon Barry started resenting his Hall of Fame father, Rick, during his teenage years after a divorce. Former Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson had a strained relationship with his kids while he was coaching. Former linebacker Ken Norton Jr. didn't speak to his father, the former heavyweight boxing champion, for three years.

During their Hall of Fame inductions in 2004, Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor highlighted family issues and personal demons

Both have been divorced and acknowledged a strained relationship with a child.

In extreme cases, children hurt themselves or others.

The son of soccer great Pele, Edson Cholbi do Nascimento, recently entered a drug rehabilitation program while awaiting trial on drug-related charges. Pele has blamed his frequent absences for his son's problems -- which include a vehicular homicide conviction for a car race on a city street that killed a motorcyclist.

Pete Rose Jr. faces up to two years in prison and a $1 million fine after pleading guilty to distributing the steroid alternative GBL to some of his teammates at Double-A Chattanooga.

*

Plenty of famous sons have followed their dads with just as much success: Bobby and Barry Bonds, Bobby and Brett Hull, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., Felipe and Moises Alou, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr., Lee and Richard Petty, Archie Manning and Peyton and Eli.

When Tommy Bowden was 6, he wrote a paper declaring he wanted to be a coach -- even though his dad was around for only a few meals and Sunday Bible study.

"When there was family time, it was quality family time. There just wasn't a bunch of it," Tommy Bowden said. "I just figured everybody's fathers were away as much as mine was."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
71°