By Ken Reed
Every few years, some reporter checks in on Todd Marinovich, the one-time superstar young quarterback (USC, Raiders) with the crazy dad who turned to drugs to cope with the insanity of his upbringing.
This year, that reporter was Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated. Rosenberg wrote an excellent, albeit quite disturbing, profile of not only Todd Marinovich but the entire dysfunctional Marinovich family for SI’s January 14 issue.
I thought I knew the sad Marinovich tale pretty well — overbearing dad turns son into a sports robot via an extreme scientific regimen — but it turns out I didn’t know the half of it.
Marinovich’s dad, Marv, has almost completely ignored Todd’s sister, Traci, throughout her life. (For one reason, she wasn’t devoted enough to athletics.) He verbally and physically abused Todd and Todd’s mother Trudi.
He was a “raging beast,” according to Todd, who grew up in fear. Todd knew only one thing to do in his youth: keep pleasing his dad in order to prevent the insanity in his home from escalating.
Marv messed with Todd’s mind so much that Todd completely lost his true self, his soul, and turned to drugs and alcohol to fill the gaping hole in his being.
“I missed Human Being 101,” says Todd. “I was anesthetizing, covering up the very vitals of me being human.”
Todd has gone through trauma therapy, group therapy and individual therapy in an effort to try to come to grips with his maniacal sports-obsessed father. He has been in and out of alcohol and drug rehab so many times now (he’s nearing his 50th birthday) that he and everyone around him have lost count.
Today, Marv is 79 and dealing with Alzheimer’s. He lives in an assisted living facility. Traci, despite being ignored by her father growing up, takes care of his financial affairs and will stop by to see him every couple weeks and show him old family photos.
She says she “can count on one hand things that he’s actually done for me.” Yet, she can’t abandon him.
Todd has, for the most part, detached himself from his father.
“The only time, perceived or real, that I felt loved, is when I was performing, which is super sick,” says Todd.
There are very few — hopefully, none — over-the-top youth sports parents of Marv Marinovich’s ilk in the country today. But, sadly, there are thousands — maybe millions — of performance-based youth sports parents in the United States. Their kids sense — whether true or not — that the only way mom, dad or both, will truly love them is if they perform well in sports.
These young athletes wake up with a knot in their stomach on Saturday mornings because they know they have to go out on the field, court, or ice and play — i.e., perform — for their parents’ approval that day.
It’s sad but it’s real.
As such, performance-based parenting is something we must vigilantly be aware of, and constantly fight against, in our youth sports world.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Ken Reed's Author Page on Amazon
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.