The recent story in The Times about Caleb Williams, the projected USC star quarterback, evoked words about history repeating itself. The most commonly used quote on this subject comes from Harvard-educated Spanish author and philosopher George Santayana, who wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Williams joined USC from Oklahoma after last season. In Oklahoma, Williams took over preseason Heisman nominee Spencer Rattler and did well. His Oklahoma coach, Lincoln Riley, jumped overboard to take over at USC, and Williams followed.
There is little unusual about that. It’s the age of transfer portals, glamor and greed in college football. What is Extraordinary is the extent to which Williams’ father Carl, as documented in the Times story, branded his 19-year-old. Not an athlete. Not a student. Not just a good person. A brand.
This branding is no longer illegal in the cesspool of what was formerly known as college football. Long gone are the days when Little Johnny starred on his high school football team, happily accepted a scholarship to go to school for free, and in return gave his heart to Big State U. There will be some who still do, but unless they are able to “build their own brand” we won’t hear much about them. Your consolation prize will indeed be the cliché that college coaches have foisted on us for decades. They will have gone to school and “built their character.” What a concept.
This situation came about when it was discovered that the NCAA, for years the ultimate greed conglomerate, was illegally preventing its athletes from being paid to use their names. It’s called NIL: Name, Image and Likeness. If Little Johnny is a big enough celebrity, he can be photographed wearing shoes, shirts, headphones, sports drinks – almost anything that can be bought. He will support them and the companies that make these products will pay him.
It appears that the NCAA’s image of greed may have been addressed by shifting greed to 18- and 19-year-olds.
That brings us to Carl and Caleb Williams and, in a sort of retrospective cautionary tale, to Marv and Todd Marinovich.
Marv Marinovich was the 1962 USC national championship captain and 1963 Rose Bowl team winner. He was a down-in-the-dirt, rock ’em sock ’em lineman. He married Trojans star quarterback Craig Fertig’s sister, and Marv and Trudi had a son named Todd. But for Marv, Todd wasn’t just a son, it was a science project. Before Todd was a month old, Marv started stretching his hamstrings in his crib. Before he could walk, Marv had Todd lift medicine balls. He was only allowed to eat healthy food, fruits and vegetables.
Later, after everything fell apart after playing as a prep quarterback for two Orange County high schools, Todd had gone to USC and starred there for a year before finding drugs, rebelling, and leaving college for the pros Sports Illustrated wrote that he was “the very first athlete in a test tube,” that he was “bred to be a superstar,” and that “all Marv wanted to do was sculpt athletes, and Todd’s favorite thing was clay.” “
Todd’s troubled college career morphed into a troubled pro career with the Raiders. Soon there was no career at all, just trips to court and jail for various drug arrests. At one point, the guys who ran the Irvine prison and were so familiar with Todd’s comings and goings greeted his final performance by playing the theme from the hit 1970s TV show Welcome Back, Kotter.
Todd is now 53. He is an artist and has considerable talent. Marv died in 2020 at the age of 81. He had Alzheimer’s. His daughter Traci, who has been cited over the years as largely an afterthought for Todd, cared for Marv in his later years, although he usually had no idea who she was. “Todd couldn’t have known what to do [for his father]she said in the Sports Illustrated article. “He wouldn’t know how to handle things like Social Security. He never had to do anything like that.”
That brings us back to Carl and Caleb Williams, although the situations aren’t parallel. Marv Marinovich wasn’t exactly looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, although he certainly had the letters “NFL” to think of. Carl Williams isn’t trying to create the next quarterback Adonis. More like Warren Buffett’s next signal call. Comparable, however, is the possibility of paternal excess and the damage it can do.
The most recent article in the Times focused on Carl’s establishment of consultants, agents, marketing and investment firms for Caleb. His NIL stature could be seven figures. Maybe that’s it. He supports things like headphones and nail art for men. But he is also looking, through his father, for partnerships, investments, company size. This can go two ways: a good college career that translates into a good pro career and lifelong financial security; or a disintegration of everything caused by too much pressure.
LaVar Ball turned two of his three sons from Chino Hills into current fine NBA pros with great financial futures, taking some of the distracted fame with him to start and promote his businesses. Loud and obnoxious as he was, LaVar’s pushy father-knows-best approach got the job done, at least for the moment and at least financially.
Perhaps Carl Williams can do the same with his son, but with a little less noise and a little more sophistication. Also, no harm to a football career, a Trojan football team, and/or a USC education that can eventually pay out even bigger dividends than monthly checks from the nail polish company.
Parental pressure in high school and college sports is often abused and occasionally tragic.
One of the best quotes ever uttered on the subject comes from tennis, a sport historically rich in pushy parents. It was 1991 and Pam Shriver was being interviewed at Wimbledon about rising star Lindsay Davenport. “I never met her parents,” Shriver said, “and I love her for it.”
History has lessons for Carl Williams. Don’t make your son your favorite piece of clay.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-07-21/caleb-williams-carl-nil-deals-usc-marinovich Commentary: Caleb Williams’ father would be wise not to turn USC QB into a modern Marinovich tale