Since my blog on my interview with April Justin last week I have received many emails, tweets, Facebook comments and phone calls with suggestions, comments, questions and advice on all sorts of things, especially on what my blog should be focused on in the future.
The majority of the mail has been positive, congratulating me on taking the time to answer the question many had after watching the Landon Collins video - what was his mother really thinking. Some, of course, has been critical, both for reporting what April Justin told me were her reasons at all, or for the way in which I reported it, or both.
My intention in writing the blog was to get people thinking about the bigger story, by seeing April's side of the story. Whether someone agrees that she was right to feel the way she does or not is, of course, up to them, but in getting people talking, it appears I succeeded in that objective!
To the extent I approached the story from the perspective of a mother, I plead guilty as charged. Yes, I do view sports primarily through the lens, as I said in my blog, of a mom, but, frankly, I don't see anything wrong with bringing a mother's perspective to sports. It is what prompted me to become a soccer coach and to start a soccer club back in the 1990's, it is what prompted me to launch MomsTeam.com in 2000, it was the central theme of my 2006 book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports, and it continues to be my passion today.
As anyone who knows me, I will not shrink from taking a position with which others may disagree, or thinking outside the box. I relish the role of being a thought leader in youth sports instead of a follower, whether it was being out front on educating parents about the devastating effects of concussions, heat illness or sexual abuse by youth coaches. All I ask from my readers in return is to keep an open mind.
No pro-LSU or anti-Alabama bias
Some who have taken the time to send e-mails, Tweet or post on MomsTeam's Facebook page seem to think my blog reflected a pro-LSU and/or anti-Alabama bias. Nope. I'm a New Englander, born and bred (a fact that might not, for that very reason, endear me to some!), and am proud to say I can trace my family twelve generations back to the founding of Rhode Island in the early 1600's. I attended an all-women's college in New England, and, to the extent I am a college football fan, I lean towards Dartmouth and Harvard, with the Crimson edging out the Big Green because of a long line of family members who graduated from Harvard, and because I was married to a Harvard grad, who always enjoyed taking our sons to home games. I live in Massachusetts, so I follow New England teams.
As readers of my blog know, I am more a fan of winter sports (skiing, ice hockey, snowboarding), especially the Olympic Winter Games, than I am of the big three of baseball, basketball, and football. So, no, I'm not an LSU fan, but I have nothing against the University of Alabama.
While I can't say I know a lot of people from either Louisiana or Alabama, those I do know seem to be warm and very friendly. One of my sons' closest friends is from Birmingham and his parents have been long time ‘Bama football season ticket holders, and were at the Superdome when Alabama beat LSU a couple of weeks ago for the national championship. They are some of the nicest people I have ever known. Given that connection, chances are that I am more than likely see an Alabama game at Bryant- Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa than I am to get to an LSU Tigers home game.
So where is my bias? If it is anything it is in keeping families close. To me, sports have always been about the home team, and having the home team advantage. Girlfriends may come and go, but siblings and parents will always be there for an athlete. I know many elite athletes who will be the first to tell you they had an edge because their family was close by when they needed a break, a healing bowl of chicken soup or a pep talk that can only come from someone who has been there since their birth: a parent.
My interest in the Landon Collins story was much more from the personal standpoint than of as a pure football story. Until I watched the ESPN video I knew little of Landon Collins and could not have told you what position he played. Nor could I name any of the current LSU or Alabama players. (Again, for that reason alone, some people told me I had no business writing about this subject at all). From the start, MomsTeam's focus has always been providing advice to parents of youth and high school athletes, including elite athletes like Landon (although it is possible I saw him play this summer when I gave a presentation to parents of top college football prospects at a summer all-star camp in Williamsburg, Virginia)(see pic). As I said in my blog, the reason I called Landon's mom in the first place was simply because I was curious about was going through her head that we didn't know about, despite the flurry of media coverage in the wake of the video going viral on the Internet.
When I initially watched the video I was looking at all of the people surrounding Landon and was struck that the only person openly smiling was the young lady standing directly behind Landon, who turned out was his girlfriend, Victoria. This seemed very odd to me. My immediate impression was that this was a very deep and complex situation. When the media continued to put the focus on the mother being unhappy about her son's decision, I wanted to know more. I knew there was more to the story. I wanted to know why his sister and brother and all the other family in the video were not smiling and why Landon himself lacked the usual enthusiasm high school athletes show when making their school choices known.
For those who wonder why, if April Justin was so concerned about her sons playing football together as part of the "family's goals," did she allow Landon to go live with his father and play football at another school, the answer seems pretty simple: Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effect it had on their family, like so many thousands of others, in the New Orleans area. Besides his dad was a football coach. It was a very difficult thing for April to do to send Landon to live with his dad and step-mom, but she knew it was in his best interest.
Another criticism of my blog is that I didn't interview Landon or his father to find out what the family's goals were. My answer to that is straightforward as well: the intent of my blog was report the mother's side of the story. I know that there are always two sides to a story, but, as I pointed out in the blog, Landon's side had already been told in the article in the ESPN The Magazine article, for which I provided readers a link. I don't think it was wrong to focus on her side of the story, but in doing so I didn't in any way, shape or form say hers was the only side, much less that she was right and everyone else was wrong. If Landon, or his girlfriend, or Landon's dad wants to talk, I am happy to listen.
But the fact that my only source was April doesn't mean my story was poorly researched and biased. Watch cable news for even five minutes these days and you will likely see people telling their side of the story, with no one there to tell the story from another vantage point. Again, the criticism misses the point: what better way to get April's side of the story than talk to April? (As my original blog noted, I did contact the University of Alabama. Before I published my original blog, I also tried to get a statement from Lorrie Clements, Human Resources Coordinator, at the University of Alabama, as to whether Landon's girlfriend had been offered employment beginning next fall, but I did not receive a call back).*
I am not an expert on college football, or the NCAA rules that govern recruiting. But I didn't hold myself out as one. Likewise, the effort to dismiss what I had to say as simply the views of a "soccer mom" reflects exactly the sort of entrenched sexist and misogynistic attitude among the "good ol' boy" culture of youth sports that I have been working to eradicate for a long, long, time (I'm sure I will get some more criticism for saying so, but so be it).
Some have asked why April Justin rained on Landon's parade, ruining the biggest moment of his life. Again, I am not judging April, one way or the other. I don't have to live with the consequences of what she did; only she does (asked if she had it to do all over again, would she had done anything differently, she told me, flatly, "No.").
April isn't the first person to have a hard time putting on a smiley face in front of a camera and hiding their true emotions, and she won't be the last.
Was it sad to see? Absolutely.
Is April entitled to think that her son's decision to go to Alabama isn't in his best interests? Absolutely.
Was the decision ultimately Landon's alone to make?
For my original blog on the Landon Collins story, click here.
Comments/Questions? Join the conversation on MomsTeam's Facebook page.
NOTE: For more of my blogs, click here.
Brooke de Lench is the author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins) and Founder and Publisher of MomsTeam.com, Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute, and producer/director of the PBS documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer."
Follow Brooke on Twitter @brookedelench, MomsTEAM @MomsTeam, and The Smartest Team @thesmartestteam