Big night on, off field for Ravens' Dickson

Rookie tight end chose to play while fiance gave birth to son

September 15, 2010|Peter Schmuck

It was the feel-good story of the Ravens' victory over the New York Jets — other than the victory itself, of course.

Rookie tight end Ed Dickson found out just hours before the game that he was about to become a father a little earlier than expected, which left him with quite a decision to make about his NFL debut on "Monday Night Football."

Should I stay or should I go?

The correct answer might seem obvious to some — family first, football second — but the question was not that simple, especially for a young player who had yet to play a down at the professional level.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh left it up to Dickson, who decided to stay and play. The Ravens scored a hard-fought victory and — though Dickson was not a major factor in the outcome — Harbaugh awarded him one of the two game balls afterward.

Mother and child came through with flying colors, too, and Dickson was back in a matter of hours to be with fiancé Ashley Swartz, and his new son, Trey Michael James Dickson, who will have a pretty cool item for show-and-tell in a few years.

"I told him [Harbaugh] the team was counting on me to play this game,'' Dickson said. "I was heavily involved in the game plan. I chose to stay."

Not everybody would have made that choice. It has become increasingly common for professional athletes to take leave during their seasons to be present for important family events, but it hasn't always been that way. Dickson probably didn't realize it, but what he decided was decidedly old school.

There was a time a generation or so ago when going home wouldn't have been a serious consideration.

I know this because I remember a situation covering the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1980s when a baseball player departed another team for the birth of a child. It was quite a hot topic of discussion in the Dodgers clubhouse and someone asked Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda if he would let one of his players go home under the same circumstances.

"Sure,'' Lasorda said, "if he was an obstetrician. If he was a doctor and he needed to deliver the baby, that's one thing, but if he's just going there to watch, we need him more here."

For the purposes of accuracy in media, that quote was pulled totally from the deep recesses of my memory, so don't hold me or Tommy to the precise wording, but I think it's a pretty good illustration of the mentality of the time.

Dickson wanted to be there for the birth, but he found himself at an unusual intersection of family and professional responsibility. He's a brand-new player getting ready to make his pro debut on a team that is being touted as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Ravens were a couple hours from opening the season against the self-proclaimed Super Bowl favorite in front of a national television audience. And his son was getting ready to make a pretty important debut of his own.

It wasn't an easy call, but it's pretty clear that Dickson and the Ravens feel it was the right one.

"Family always comes first as a general rule,'' Harbaugh said Wednesday, "but also you balance your family with your career and your profession and the opportunity to do things for your family. This was his first opportunity to play in the NFL and it was Monday night and he had prepared for it and his teammates and coaches and really everybody, the fans, everybody were counting on him to play in the game, but only the person can make that decision. We can't tell him what to do.

"We all shared our advice, the ones of us who have kids, but in the end he had to make his own choice, but it became kind of irrelevant because the baby came so fast, and the baby was born a couple of hours before the game so he couldn't get back there fast enough anyway. What would he have done if it had been more delayed? I think he would have played. I think he decided to go ahead and play, but it was tough for him."

Dickson certainly isn't the first guy to try and strike a delicate balance between family and football … or any other professional sport for that matter. Orioles star Nick Markakis made a different call a couple seasons ago, opting to pass up the World Baseball Classic to make sure he was home for the birth of his son.

Orioles veteran Kevin Millwood sympathized with Dickson's decision because he found himself with a similar one at the start of one of his early seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

"My first son was born the day before the season started,'' Millwood said, "and we induced labor to make sure we got it done before the season started. I don't think that kind of thing sneaks up on you."

It apparently did in Dickson's case, but all's well that ends well.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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