October 17, 2005
Anthony Edwards looks down at the cover of the 1998 Sports Illustrated in his hands. The face of 2-year-old Khalid Minor stares at him. The headline above Khalid reads Where’s Daddy?
According to SI, Khalid’s father, Boston Celtics swingman Greg Minor refused to make child-support payments, leading to his ex-wife and three kids being evicted from their home. Edwards opens up the magazine. The article chronicles the appalling number of pro athletes–particularly NBA players–who have illegitimate children yet want no part of fatherhood.
SI reporters Wahl and Wetheim lay out the details. New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson has five children from four women. Cleveland’s Shawn-Kemp has seven kids, again with multiple partners. Indiana coach Larry Bird refuses to have a relationship with his teenage daughter.
“It’s like they don’t even care,” says Edwards, talking with Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune. An Arizona Cardinals’ nine-year veteran in 1998, he adds, “What makes it worse is that they have so much money it means nothing.”
Edwards could have been one of them. He was 21, a promising wide receiver at New Mexico Highlands University. A pro football career beckoned. He didn’t want a child. It was an accident. Like modern sports heroes, he could have let the girlfriend take care of the baby.
That was not the path Edwards chose, though. He quit school, returning to Casa Grande in Arizona to support his new family. He and his girlfriend Mary Ann slept in separate bedrooms of his parents’ home. He took a job at Ross Abbott Laboratories, earning $6.50 an hour as a machine operator. Ross Abbott made baby formula.
“I was 21 years old and boom, everything changed,” Edwards tells Bordow. “It would have been easy to just pay her off. But even if we weren’t going to be together, I had to take care of my child. He’s my flesh and blood.”
Edwards did make it to the NFL in 1989, signing as a free agent with Philadelphia. He and Mary Ann married in 1990. Their commitment to each other in marriage is the hopeful solution to a nagging social problem threatening the welfare of American children.
From 1960 to 1995, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes tripled from 9 percent to 27 percent, and the proportion of children living with married parents declined. Today, 24 million children (34 percent) live absent their biological father. And in 2000, 1.35 million births, one-third of all births, occurred out of wedlock.
Fathers are the missing ingredient for many children. The results of father absence are staggering. An analysis reported in 2001 of nearly 100 studies on parent-child relationships found that, in some studies, father love was actually a better predictor than mother love for certain outcomes, including delinquency, substance abuse and overall mental health and well-being.
In other studies analyzed in the 2001 report, after controlling for mother love, researchers found father love was the sole significant predictor for certain outcomes such as psychological adjustment problems, conduct problems and substance abuse. The importance of Edwards’s commitment to his wife and his children is born out by research. Fathers do matter. They matter a lot.
Edwards knows that eventually he’ll have to tell Tony why he was born before his parents were married. He’ll be honest. “It’s just part of being a father,” he said. “You take on the responsibility.”
Taking his commitment to fatherhood one step further, Edwards has also worked with teenagers, counseling them to remain celibate until marriage. His personal story and his role model as a committed father himself are a strong witness to his message, the power of one father to make a difference.
From one parent to the next, whether we are there or not, we pass the seeds of success or failure on to our children. Anthony Edwards is planting seeds of success that were given to him. Is the source of his commitment any surprise? “My father was there for me.”
Scott Bordow, “Fatherhood means more than a check to Edwards,” East Valley Tribune, May 7, 1998.
Grant Wahl and L. Jon Wertheim, “Paternity Ward,” Sports Illustrated, May 4, 1998.
June 18, 2004 – Me Jane, You Tarzan
See Archives for more past editorials.