The Mom Squad NFL stars are young, huge, suddenly rich and famous -- and more vulnerable than ever. Who better to keep them out of harm's way than their mothers?

August 12, 1998|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,SUN STAFF

What happens to a soccer mom when her little boy grows up to be a soccer player? Or baseball player or football player?

Does she hang up her carpool keys and spin the satellite dish, hoping to catch a glimpse of her baby as he flashes a smile and a "Hi, Mom!" at a sideline camera?

No way. The modern mother of the professional athlete doesn't sit at home waiting for her son to pay her tribute in a Sports Illustrated profile. The modern mother of the professional athlete gets organized.

"When Jonathan was drafted," says Cassandra Sneed Ogden, whose son was a first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens football team in 1996, "I didn't understand why there wasn't an organization out there to provide me with support as the parent of a young man making the transition into professional football."

So, after two years of sitting in the family waiting room at Memorial Stadium and sensing a kinship beneath the reserve of other mothers, she started just such an organization: the Professional Football Players Mothers Association.

The first step was a hurried meeting in that waiting room after last season's final home game. Now, as the 1998 National Football League season gets under way, the PFPMA, which Cassandra Ogden modeled after the NBA Mother's Association, has more than 20 members among mothers of Ravens and players on nine other NFL teams.

The group's ambitious plans include everything from financial advice to home cooking, from boilerplate prenuptial agreements to help with community relations. They will do whatever comes under the heading of "support" for their sons, many of whom are sudden millionaires at the age of 22, and all of whom will put the finishing touches on their growing up in the fishbowl of professional sports.

Mutual support

It is tough to tell, though if the PFPMA is more an organization of mothers dedicated to mothers, or an organization of mothers still dedicated to sons.

"It works both ways," explains Chong Vinson, mother of Ravens running back Tony Vinson, who was signed out of Towson University. "We need the support, but so do the players. We look out for each other."

Vinson was sitting in the shade of tented bleachers watching the Ravens practice at their Western Maryland College training camp. But her son wasn't on the field. He was in the training room getting treatment on his injured shoulder. She had traveled from her home in southern Maryland to check on him.

As a member of this new organization, she might just as easily be checking on an injured player whose mother is far away.

"We share our pain, our happiness, we comfort each other," she says. "When I am not here, a phone call from another mother can mean so much."

After the moms' first informal meeting in the Ravens' hospitality room in December, there was a teleconference call in March and recruiting trips to the NFL draft in New York and to the NFL rookie orientation in Denver.

"When we met for the first time, it felt like we'd known each other forever," says Rhonda Lewis, whose son, Jermaine Lewis, returns kicks, punts, carries the ball and catches it for the Ravens. Because he puts his body on the line more often than most, his mother says she needs all the support she can get.

"I try to enjoy the game, but I spend most of it on the edge of my seat," says Lewis, who is retired from her job as a management analyst for the federal government. She comes from her home in Lanham twice a week to watch her son at practice.

"Only the mother of another player is going to appreciate what that is like for me," said Lewis, who is the designated "team mother" for the Ravens.

"Membership is our short-range goal," says Sandy McCrary, mother of Ravens defensive end Michael. "And hospitality."

Home away from home

The mothers group wants to make sure players living away from home have a place to go for Thanksgiving dinner or any home-cooked meal. They want to help mothers of opponents get tickets to Ravens games and, perhaps, offer them a comfortable guest room in which to spend the night. These are things McCrary would have appreciated when her son began his career in Seattle, far from their home in Vienna, Va.

Already the group has pulled together for one task more difficult than any it had envisioned. When Leon Bender, a Washington State defensive tackle selected in the second round of this year's draft by the Oakland Raiders, died suddenly, the PFPMA went to his family immediately, offering comfort and financial assistance.

But '90s mothers are very often working mothers, and these women bring more to the table for their offspring and each other than meatloaf and mashed potatoes. McCrary and Ogden, for instance, are both lawyers, and McCrary also has a background in real estate.

"We believe we have other things to offer," says McCrary, whose son gave her an unself-conscious kiss and a sweaty hug before taking the field for practice last week.

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