The Son Of An NFL Hall-Of-Famer On His Struggles With Football Fandom
Author Michael McCormack discusses how the League got lost — and how to fix it.
Author Michael McCormack. Photo by Boomer Photography, courtesy of Michael McCormack.
For author Michael McCormack, football has always gone far beyond the excitement of a Sunday game.
As the son of the NFL Hall-of-Famer Mike McCormack, the writer was “born into the belly of the NFL beast.” The outcome of the games his father would play in, manage, or coach for teams like the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Carolina Panthers over a 40-year career affected the family deeply — especially the younger McCormack.
Seattle-based McCormack is a lawyer, writer, and speaker who was forced to confront his complicated relationship with his favorite sport when his father died in 2013. Having grown up surrounded by pro football, he realized the NFL had shaped his entire perspective on family and American culture. He also realized that he only knew the most imposing and complicated man in his life as an NFL coach and player — not as a father.
“Born Fanatic” is out April 24.
Four years after putting pen to paper, McCormack is determined to share both his unfailing passion for football and his skepticism of like-minded fans in order to restore one of America’s most beloved pastimes to its former glory.
GOOD spoke with the author about how we can urge the NFL to set a positive example for the rest of American society:
How do you untangle your complicated relationship with pro football and your late father?
One of the paths that I took, not so much consciously in writing the book, was in getting to the truth — my truth — about my relationship with my father and expressing it. The violence in my childhood was never discussed. It was something that was swept under the rug. It’s part of what has left my family fractured.
I was able to arrive at a place that was constructive for me through forgiveness. The more culturally appropriate word would be “reconciliation,” and I mention that because one of the things I touch on is that resolution of a lot of the issues [affecting pro football] — most especially, perhaps, the concussion and safety issue — is truth followed by reconciliation. And you don’t get to real reconciliation until you get to the truth first.
What do you think is the best way to address those issues?
In my opinion, as counter-intuitive as I’m sure it seems, [it’s] for League management to be truthful about it. I think it's got to start there. I think they’ve got to be honest: Yes, we’ve got a problem. Yes, there have been times when the League was not as transparent as we could have and should have been to former players. And we should mourn that collectively first as fans and as the League.
Now let’s wrap our arms together around what the solution is, beginning with how the game might have to change fundamentally within the lines to make it safer, and then — most importantly — build solid, credible youth programs and train coaches.
And train them not only on the safety of the game physically, but on the cultural aspects of what it means to have teamwork, so that they’re accountable, because I happen to also believe this wishy-washy policy about the conduct and character of the players [in terms of domestic violence] is also leading to the League’s demise.
The McCormack family. Photo courtesy of Michael McCormack.
What’s the NFL missing out on today, in terms of setting an example of teamwork?
Pro football is the greatest team sport ever invented, but I think it is reflective of America in many ways today. It has become like partisan politics. Now, that’s not surprising, but it reflects something.
What would be my prescription for football? There are many different topics to address, whether it’s the concussion and safety issue, whether it’s the youth sports issue, whether it’s the social justice issue.
Pro football is coming to a tipping point. It’s certainly been mentioned in the media that the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2020. And that’s not far off [from] the way these things move.
I would tell NFL management and the owners on the one hand and the Players Association on the other: You want to be examples of teamwork. You want to be examples for social justice. Get on the same team and start leading by example.
What’s the role fans have to play in moving forward to a better place?
As fans, we probably have the most important role to play. And if we are truly fans, walking away is not the answer. I get that some people may just want to turn off. But again, I’m a born fanatic. I tried walking away.
If you’re a real fan, walking away and not advocating for the League and the Players Association to get their s*** together is tantamount to not voting.