By Ken Reed
The following is an excerpt from League of Fans’ sports policy director Ken Reed’s book Ego vs. Soul in Sports Joe Ehrmann is a former NFL All-Pro football player and founder of the InsideOut Initiative, a national movement to promote purpose-based athletics by connecting student-athletes to transformational coaches, in a nurturing community, for their human growth and development. He is the author of InsideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives.
As a kid, I picked my sports idols based on how far and how dramatically they hit home runs (Reggie Jackson), how cool-sounding their names were (Roman Gabriel, Bob McAdoo), how sweet their uniforms looked (Roger Staubach), and how many championships they won (Bill Russell).
But I now have a new sports idol, one that transcends that illustrious group. In fact, calling him a sports idol is demeaning. This guy is a champion human being. As good as it gets. His name is Joe Ehrmann and he’s a former All-Pro lineman with the Baltimore Colts — but that’s the least of his accomplishments in life.
Ehrmann once was the stereotypical pro jock. He partied hard and defined himself by his athletic accomplishments, sexual conquests and the amount of money in his bank account. His turning point was the premature death of his younger brother. Ehrmann began a quest for the true meaning of life. He gradually transitioned from self-centered hedonist to other-centered humanitarian. Eventually, he would start a foundation called Building Men for Others and become the defensive coordinator for Gilman School in Baltimore.
I discovered his remarkable story by picking up a book called Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. I’m thankful I did. It’s simply one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. I was only up to p.33 when I realized this wasn’t going to be your typical book about a macho football coach. Ehrmann began his speech to 200 high school coaches by stating that the most critical issue facing our society is the distorted concept of what it means to be a man. He then began to rip what he calls the “false masculinity” pervading our culture; the three components of which he described as athletic ability, sexual conquest and economic success.
After discounting that model, he outlined his paradigm for being a man. First and foremost, according to Ehrmann, true masculinity is about developing and maintaining relationships. Greatness is measured by the impact you make on other people’s lives. His contention is that the problem with males is that we compare and compete but we don’t really connect.
Here’s Coach Ehrmann in a nutshell:
“[Masculinity] ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved. It’s gonna come down to this: What kind of father were you? What kind of husband were you? What kind of coach or teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you? Success comes in terms of relationships. Life’s about relationships and having a cause bigger than yourself. Simple as that.”
How does that philosophy translate into a coaching style? Listen to Ehrmann send his players on the field before a game:
“What is our job as coaches?” he asked.
“To love us,” the boys yelled back in unison.
“What is your job?” Ehrmann fired back.
“To love each other,” replied the team.
What would Vince Lombardi think of that exchange? Didn’t Lombardi always believe you had to treat players like dogs to reach the pinnacle of success?
“God gives each person X amount of talents,” explained Ehrmann.
“The question isn’t really how many talents you’ve been given. That’s the sovereignty of God. The real question is what you do with the ones you have. Some of us get paralyzed when we feel we don’t have ‘as much as’ or [aren’t] ‘as good as’ someone else. But the person we really want to honor is the one who maximizes whatever it is he has.”
Toward the end of one practice, Ehrman told the boys, “You’re practicing like you really love each other. You’re pushing each other, helping each other get better … finally practicing like you really love each other. It makes all the difference in the world. And it makes me really proud of you.”
Imagine. A coaching philosophy based on love. Powerful stuff. The world of sports – and the world at large – certainly needs more of this.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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