The Mom Squad NFL stars are young, huge, suddenly rich and famous -- and more vulnerable than ever. Who better to keep them out of harm's way than their mothers?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

What happens to a soccer mom when her little boy grows up to be a soccer player? Or baseball player or football player?

Does she hang up her carpool keys and spin the satellite dish, hoping to catch a glimpse of her baby as he flashes a smile and a "Hi, Mom!" at a sideline camera?

No way. The modern mother of the professional athlete doesn't sit at home waiting for her son to pay her tribute in a Sports Illustrated profile. The modern mother of the professional athlete gets organized.

"When Jonathan was drafted," says Cassandra Sneed Ogden, whose son was a first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens football team in 1996, "I didn't understand why there wasn't an organization out there to provide me with support as the parent of a young man making the transition into professional football."

So, after two years of sitting in the family waiting room at Memorial Stadium and sensing a kinship beneath the reserve of other mothers, she started just such an organization: the Professional Football Players Mothers Association.

The first step was a hurried meeting in that waiting room after last season's final home game. Now, as the 1998 National Football League season gets under way, the PFPMA, which Cassandra Ogden modeled after the NBA Mother's Association, has more than 20 members among mothers of Ravens and players on nine other NFL teams.

The group's ambitious plans include everything from financial advice to home cooking, from boilerplate prenuptial agreements to help with community relations. They will do whatever comes under the heading of "support" for their sons, many of whom are sudden millionaires at the age of 22, and all of whom will put the finishing touches on their growing up in the fishbowl of professional sports.

Mutual support

It is tough to tell, though if the PFPMA is more an organization of mothers dedicated to mothers, or an organization of mothers still dedicated to sons.

"It works both ways," explains Chong Vinson, mother of Ravens running back Tony Vinson, who was signed out of Towson University. "We need the support, but so do the players. We look out for each other."

Vinson was sitting in the shade of tented bleachers watching the Ravens practice at their Western Maryland College training camp. But her son wasn't on the field. He was in the training room getting treatment on his injured shoulder. She had traveled from her home in southern Maryland to check on him.

As a member of this new organization, she might just as easily be checking on an injured player whose mother is far away.

"We share our pain, our happiness, we comfort each other," she says. "When I am not here, a phone call from another mother can mean so much."

After the moms' first informal meeting in the Ravens' hospitality room in December, there was a teleconference call in March and recruiting trips to the NFL draft in New York and to the NFL rookie orientation in Denver.

"When we met for the first time, it felt like we'd known each other forever," says Rhonda Lewis, whose son, Jermaine Lewis, returns kicks, punts, carries the ball and catches it for the Ravens. Because he puts his body on the line more often than most, his mother says she needs all the support she can get.

"I try to enjoy the game, but I spend most of it on the edge of my seat," says Lewis, who is retired from her job as a management analyst for the federal government. She comes from her home in Lanham twice a week to watch her son at practice.

"Only the mother of another player is going to appreciate what that is like for me," said Lewis, who is the designated "team mother" for the Ravens.

"Membership is our short-range goal," says Sandy McCrary, mother of Ravens defensive end Michael. "And hospitality."

Home away from home

The mothers group wants to make sure players living away from home have a place to go for Thanksgiving dinner or any home-cooked meal. They want to help mothers of opponents get tickets to Ravens games and, perhaps, offer them a comfortable guest room in which to spend the night. These are things McCrary would have appreciated when her son began his career in Seattle, far from their home in Vienna, Va.

Already the group has pulled together for one task more difficult than any it had envisioned. When Leon Bender, a Washington State defensive tackle selected in the second round of this year's draft by the Oakland Raiders, died suddenly, the PFPMA went to his family immediately, offering comfort and financial assistance.

But '90s mothers are very often working mothers, and these women bring more to the table for their offspring and each other than meatloaf and mashed potatoes. McCrary and Ogden, for instance, are both lawyers, and McCrary also has a background in real estate.

"We believe we have other things to offer," says McCrary, whose son gave her an unself-conscious kiss and a sweaty hug before taking the field for practice last week.

"We hope to be able to put together advice on financial planning, retirement planning, how to start a new business, how to negotiate for insurance.

"Especially for the younger players, when you deal with this stuff for the first time, it is intimidating."

The sudden death of young Bender prompted the group to ask McCrary to draft a standard will for a player to sign at the same time he signs his contract.

"At 22," she says, "they aren't going to think of that on their own."

McCrary has been working overtime in her son's best interests from the beginning. When Michael was barred from a day-care center as a toddler, she and her husband carried a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court, where they won a landmark decision that helped end segregation in private schools in the South.

And she helps her son manage his company, All-Star Personnel in Silver Spring, which places employees and does human resources training.

But on this day, she had just come from his apartment, where she waited in his place for the carpet-cleaners to arrive.

L "We will do a little bit of everything," she says, laughing.

Well-organized

"I never put anything past my mother," says Michael McCrary. "She can do anything, organize anything. She goes after things and gets them done. The league is fortunate to have her involved."

Her son then adds something that is echoed by Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis, whose mother is also a member of the group: We, personally, don't need any help. But we can see where other players might.

"I came from a great family background," says McCrary. "But a lot of guys didn't. Younger players, rookies -- they don't realize what kind of a big financial mess they can get into. These women are not just housewives. They are career women. They can help."

But there is more to this group than hot casseroles and financial planning seminars. Professional athletes do not move anonymously from college to a job. Their pictures and the size of their paychecks -- an average of $800,000 in the NFL -- are printed in the newspaper and splashed on the television screen. Some of them are kid-millionaires, carrying all that baggage into each new acquaintanceship.

"They can no longer readily trust," says Sandy McCrary, general counsel for the moms group. "People present themselves as friends who are not, as advisers who don't have their best interests in mind, sycophants who tell them what they think they want to hear.

"We tell them what they need to hear."

The group's mission statement emphasizes those qualities any mother would want to encourage in her son: good character and a positive image through community service.

"It isn't easy for a 22-year-old to come into that much financial success and that much fame and then be exemplary all the time," says McCrary. "We don't expect that of men three times their age, but we expect it of them.

"Part of our job is to help them become productive citizens."

Says Cassandra Ogden, the group's president: Every mother knows she can cast the shadow of her title over any young man.

"They respect mothers," says Ogden, who is executive director of the Council on Legal Education Opportunities in Washington, which prepares minority students for law school.

"They behave differently when they know a mother is watching -- any mother."

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis admits as much. His mother, Sunseria Keith, is the group's chaplain. She lives near him in Randallstown in a house he bought for her.

"I think this is good," he says. "You wouldn't be able to put anything over on another mother."

Hands-off attitude

Not every player welcomes their involvement, though. Eight-year veteran defensive lineman Tony Siragusa, a parent in his own right, scoffs at the entire idea, dismissing it as another car hitching itself to the NFL gravy train. He says he plans to ridicule Ogden, McCrary and Lewis mercilessly.

"I understand there are kids who need direction in this line of work, but parents should direct their own kids. I appreciate the values my parents gave me, but it is time for me to put them into practice in my own life.

"I don't know what a mothers' association is going to do," he says, "except drive the players crazy."

Second-year offensive lineman Alex Bernstein says his mother does not approve of his career choice -- she wanted him to be a lawyer -- and he isn't anxious to have other mothers to whom he must answer.

"I don't need to feel like I'm letting anybody else down," he says.

Even Jonathan Ogden, who sat for a brief interview during precious training camp minutes reserved for lunch -- after he was told that his mother had said that he would do so -- is certain this new association is really for some other mother's son.

"My parents raised me so well, I don't need that kind of help," says the Ravens' massive Pro Bowl offensive lineman. "But they can do something for the youngsters, the ones who can't do a thing for themselves."

Cassandra Ogden sputters in amused disbelief when she hears of her son's remarkable self-sufficiency.

"They think they don't need us," she says, "because we have always been there for them."

The NFL's mother-son team

The current membership of the Professional Football Players Mothers Association and the sons who play the game:

Player............ Position..Mother............ Team

Eric Allen........ CB........Alyce Pipken-Allen Oakland Raiders

Antonio Anderson.. DT........Ollia Anderson.... Dallas Cowboys

Rob Burnett....... DE........Leslie Burnett.... Baltimore Ravens

Ki-Jana Carter.... RB........Katherine Carter.. Cincinnati Bengals

Byron Chamberlain. TE........Jo Carolyn Chamberlain Denver Broncos

Terrell Davis..... RB........Lawanda Davis..... Denver Broncos

Eddie George...... RB........Donna George...... Tennessee Oilers

Marvin Harrison... WR........Linda Harrison.... Indianapolis Colts

DeRon Jenkins..... CB........Earline Jenkins... Baltimore Ravens

Jermaine Lewis.... WR........Rhonda Lewis...... Baltimore Ravens

Ray Lewis......... LB........Sunseria Keith.... Baltimore Ravens

Lonnie Marts...... LB........Janet Marts....... Tennessee Oilers

Michael McCrary... DE........Sandy McCrary..... Baltimore Ravens

O.J. McDuffie..... WR........Gloria McDuffie... Miami Dolphins

Jonathan Ogden.... OT........Cassandra Sneed Ogden Baltimore Ravens

Robert Porcher.... DE........Marilyn Porcher... Detroit Lions

Darrell Russell... DT........Eleanor Russell... Oakland Raiders

Rashaan Salaam.... RB........Khaleda Salaam.... Chicago Bears

Neil Smith........ DE........Lutisha Smith..... Denver Broncos

Tony Vinson....... RB........Chong Vinson...... Baltimore Ravens

Bryant Westbrook.. CB........Georgia Westbrook. Detroit Lions

Pub Date: 8/12/98

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
46°