The Man Who Never Was

Monday, January 03, 2011

I'll ease back into blogging with something I ran into before my Christmas break...

Some time ago, as I perused a sports site, the subject of NFL quarterback busts piqued my interest, so I looked up a couple I recalled from way back. One of those was Todd Marinovich, who was a hot prospect for the Raiders at one time. (As a long-suffering Saints fan, I often found myself following the Raiders since at least they were good, at least back then.) In any event, the Wikipedia entry on Marinovich led me to an Esquire article that is practically a case study in how not to raise a child for excellence -- as well as being a cautionary tale about fundamental errors in thinking.

The opening picture of sixteen-month-old Marvin -- his mother changed his name to "Todd" later -- holding up a full-sized football and wearing an over-sized helmet would be adorable were it not for the context of the stage mother-like upbringing as a quarterback (rather than as a human being) he would be subjected to at the hands of his father, Marv, who had already ruined his own professional football career by "overtraining:"

Drafted by the L. A. Rams of the NFL and by the Oakland Raiders of the AFL, Marv "ran, lifted, pushed the envelope to the nth degree" in order to prepare for the pros. One exercise, he says: eleven-hundred-pound squats, with the bar full of forty-five-pound plates, with hundred-pound dumbbells chained and hanging on the ends because he couldn't get any more plates to fit. "And then I would rep out," he recalls. "I hadn't yet figured out that speed and flexibility were more important than weight and bulk. I overtrained so intensely that I never recovered."
I have never played football, but I feel quite comfortable expressing my utter amazement that a player could make such an error. Strength and bulk are just two things a football player needs, as are speed and flexibility, not to mention a few other things the elder Marinovich still hadn't "figured out" when he "turned to sports training" (!) after scuttling his own career. Tragically, Todd would bear the brunt of these other omissions.

At this point, I'll quickly note the cautionary value of this tale, insofar as Marv Marinovich's thinking errors go. It is always easier to see someone else's mistakes, and the trick to profiting from such a lesson can be in discerning whether something about such errors applies to one's own life and, if so, how. The kind of error Marv Marinovich kept making strikes me as a textbook example of something I'm still struggling to conceptualize, but which I've seen loosely called "over-thinking" in other contexts. He seems to zero in on some goal -- strength training, or producing a "perfect quarterback" -- to the near-exclusion of other considerations -- speed and flexibility, or the fact that human beings have many more needs than a mere game can fulfill -- even when those other considerations are actually relevant to the goal that holds his myopic focus.

Certainly, whatever else this sad tale can teach us will require lots of thought, but regardless of whether one might make some version of Marv Marinovich's particular error, one general lesson stands out to me: If one has made several major mistakes in the past, it might be helpful to consider whether they have anything in common.

But back to Todd Marinovich. The article is very long, but is quite fascinating on some levels. Think of it as a sort of sports-page equivalent to Ayn Rand's essay on education, "The Comprachicos," and bear in mind the following excerpt.
The first five or six years of a child's life are crucial to his cognitive development. They determine, not the content of his mind, but its method of functioning, its psycho-epistemology.
Todd Marinovich was raised in a highly regimented manner -- I doubt he really had the chance to decide for himself whether he actually wanted to play football -- and found himself on unfamiliar ground outside that milieu. This started in high school, where a life-long spiral of drug addiction began. That's no small wonder, given the hierarchical nature of values, the role of volition in choosing and pursuing values, and the need to prioritize in order to achieve really important goals. If the younger Marinovich's body and part of his mind were molded to make him into a superior quarterback, the rest of his mind was left without any guidance, or any opportunity to gain experience living as a human being.

Marv Marinovich appeared to succeed for a time: Until his son ultimately proved unable to handle personal freedom, he was lionized by sports media. One headline read, "ROBO QB: THE MAKING OF A PERFECT ATHLETE." But after the publicity (and Todd Marinovich's career) had long died down, the elder Marinovich's former wife would say that, "He didn't do reality too well," and his son would be left in the same boat, and unable to answer (or face?) the following question, "How much effect do you think that Marv and sports and all contributed to you turning to drugs?"

As we saw with another football story featuring a player whose early development was stunted, it is not too late for Todd Marinovich to turn things around (as a man), but he faces quite a struggle.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,
Marv lost the context of why he was physically training. He forgot, or maybe never realized, that intense physical training is one of many means to become a great quarterback. Instead, he physically trained as if it were his goal to become a body builder. He should have kept in mind that there are many facets of QBing that he must hone, such as passing, running, and calling plays. Physical training, of course, will do nothing for the latter skill.

Marv could have taken advantage of his regimented tendencies to develop and stick to a training program that included all of the above facets of quaterbacking.


Gus Van Horn said...


His problem was definitely one of maintaining a proper context, but that's not quite the whole of it: It's as if, at some point, he started equating "body building" with "training for football" (I'm pretty sure Marv himself played a different position.)

I'm glad you raised this point, because the above connection I hadn't made explicitly.

(The kind of error reminds me of a common Objectivist newbie mistake of equating "Objectivism" with the idea of "correct philosophy" (as opposed to merely holding that it is correct).)