Football’s Problem is Football

Football has problems.


Roger Goodell is one of them. He should be humiliated over deflate-gate (which was nothing more than a petulant attempt to exact some authority over his old pal Robert Kraft), and he should be appalled by his league’s lack of a real response to violent aggression toward women from its players. Greg Hardy’s presence in the league screams how the NFL feels about this issue. Concussions? Player safety? Benefits for retired players? In the NFL, what’s old, injured, or concussed is forgotten.

Goodell should resign. But when you make over $40 million per year voluntarily walking away isn’t happening. Owners should remove him. But when revenues are at all-time highs and 10-year forecasts would make you wealthier than many small nations, well, nobody is taking your seat at the table. So we’re stuck.

Still, Roger Goodell is not football’s biggest problem, at least not with respect to head trauma and the future of the sport.

Concussions, CTE, and the bone-rattling, crash-course collisions promoted in NFL highlight videos and watched every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday are also not the problem. The head games crisis threatens to destroy football by cutting the pipeline of willing participants. Parents understand better football’s dangers, participation at youth levels has declined for several years, and soon lawsuits may make the sport uninsurable. Fast-forward a decade and letting your son play football could be taboo, not merely dangerous.

Head trauma, though, is merely a symptom of football’s disease.

No, football’s problem is football. It was when public outrage over the 1905 death of Harold Moore forced Teddy Roosevelt to demand the game change or risk abolishment. And football’s problem was football when Chucky Mullins from Ole Miss smashed into Vanderbilt’s Brad Gaines on October 28, 1989, broke four vertebrae in his neck, shattered his spine, and never walked again. I was seven and had already seen my share of highlights celebrating the blindside smacks that bend a quarterback or the head-on traffic accidents that leave wide receivers to writhe in pain. But until Chucky Mullins hit the turf, the players always got up. Not this time. Tears stormed down my cheeks. Football’s innocence had just died for me.

Testing football helmets, 1912

Testing football helmets, 1912; from Rare Historical Photos



The Disappointment of Roger Goodell

Football has problems.


Roger Goodell, his black bow-tie snug to his neck, beamed. His tailored tuxedo jacket broke at his shoulders, which bounced in-sync with his amusement. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, presenting at the National Football Foundation’s Annual Awards Dinner on December 8, had just quipped: “I had a chance to sit next to the commissioner of football, Pete Rozelle tonight…Oh, excuse me, Roger Goodell. I apologize. I had six concussions in the NFL.”

Unease lofted from the more than 1,500 people seated inside the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom. Goodell, undaunted, broadened his smile and intensified his laughter. Tasteless, smug arrogance from the self-professed protector of the shield, a boardroom champion elected to his post by win-at-all-costs NFL owners.


Photo courtesy of ESPN

Seated at a table less than thirty-yards from Goodell, I slugged half my glass of red table wine, swallowed, and pursed my staining-purple lips. The cocktail-party humor had hit home, and the offensive reaction from football’s vile prophet had struck a nerve.

I scanned the dais, moving through sixteen hall of fame faces, national champions, and Heisman Trophy winners. Football legends seated at the head table; men who limp and cringe with simple steps. Academic All-Americans flanked their sides, as did heroes from our nation’s service academies, the evening’s Distinguished American Award winners. Condoleezza Rice sat waiting her turn to speak as the recipient of the NFF’s Gold Medal award. My eyes swept past these faces and zeroed in on my mother. As the crowd’s laughter faded, hers was the reaction I sought. (more…)

What Comes Next for Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant announced he will retire at the end of this NBA season. Twenty years, more than 1,300 games, 45,000-plus minutes, 33,000 points on over 11,000 buckets, five titles, one MVP, seventeen-times an All-Star, and the man who delivered thousands of scowls on the court. One heart in demand of greatness; one competitor craving competition.

But now Kobe readies for the greatest challenge of his life: leaving the game of basketball.

Kobe PPT

Source: Flickr, creative commons


College Football Hall of Fame

On Tuesday, December 8, the National Football Foundation will induct its class of 2015. The list of inductees impresses for the body of its accomplishments and depth of character. That Dad will be enshrined with – and the recipient of – such an incredible honor is humbling, meaningful, and a testament to how Rob Lytle played football – with his whole heart.

Leading into the event, Rich McGowan of the Fremont News-Messenger has written several pieces that highlight Dad’s character, enduring legacy, and how bittersweet these celebrations are for our family.

Character led Fremont native Rob Lytle to Hall of Fame

Lytle Family stand in for Rob, rather than with him

Is Hall of Fame career worth price of admission

The events on Tuesday will include a press conference for all inductees (and yours truly) in the morning and the ceremony in the evening.  Live streams of both the Annual Awards Dinner (link here), starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the morning press conference (link here), starting at 9 a.m. ET, will be available on ESPN3. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET, the American Sports Network will produce and nationally televise a live Red Carpet Show leading up to the dinner ceremonies. Visit for a full list of stations and times throughout the country.

Full information on viewing all events is available on the National Football Foundation site: Hall of Fame Ceremonies.

And for those interested in more on my bond with my father, To Dad, From Kelly offers an honest, heartfelt look into our relationship.

A real Ohio State – Michigan story

Rob Lytle made his final commitment to the University of Michigan and Bo Schembechler while staring into the angry eyes of famed Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. During Dad’s recruitment, he and Woody bonded while dissecting battles from the Civil War as if they were defenses from a future opponent. But now that Dad had made his decision to attend Michigan, Woody sat in the living room at my grandparents demanding to know why. That day, Dad summoned the courage to tell Coach Hayes that he thought Michigan “was a better fit” for him. The two men never spoke again, their relationship another casualty of being on opposite sides of the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State.

Except things weren’t that simple. And, as my dad learned a decade later, Woody Hayes was too good a man with too much character for the story to end there.

The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State is one of the most fierce in sports. However, as the following story from Jim Brandstatter’s Tales From Michigan Stadium shows, the respect between the competitors on each side is what allows it to persist as the greatest rivalry in sports (photos courtesy of Lytle family and not part of original story).


Lytleisms – Quotes from a Hall of Fame Smart A**

Dad suffered a heart attack and died five years ago today. Anyone that knew him understands this loss. Those that did not missed out on knowing a man who just got it. He understood when to comfort, like when he hugged my sister after she smashed her car into his while learning to drive and never said a word about the damage. And he knew when he needed to deliver a stern warning – in as few words as possible and with a sly smirk across his face – when I showed up for a workout hungover. It worked. We never needed to speak of the message again.

In To Dad, From Kelly, I described Dad as living “somewhere between the innocent and the instigator….he was a father, friend, mentor, and teacher. And he played these roles with a playful, often devious smile spread across his face.” A friend recently relayed with me a memory he has of Dad, and I think it beats at the heart of what made Dad special.

Like several examples in your book he was very good with timing. In tenth grade he pulled me aside after practice and gave me a talk telling me I had “it”. He even called my mom one day when I was skipping practice to tell me to get my ass there. Remember I was such a punk at this time most of school faculty hated me. Deservedly so. Huge in me (slightly) turning around to at least graduate and get it together. He could be very hard on me so when I was ruled ineligible for football in 96 I was mortified and scared to face him expecting him to be livid. When he finally spotted me at a bball game he was the opposite he was very tender because he could tell that’s what I needed. Can’t say enough about how big this was to me because he was so big in my eyes. To a man who grew up without a father these things are immeasurable. Many examples in your book of things I take going forward for my own family learned from great men like your dad.


My Life in Shit

I wake up and can’t escape it. Smeared across the hardwood floor, caked into the carpet, stained inside my nose. There’s shit. Everywhere.

Our two dogs, Sula (a 13-year old pit bull with pensive eyes and a sensitive personality) and Panda (a 6-year old black and white shedding machine) rest on the couch, raising their heads at my snarls. They point their snouts and huff, indifferent, wondering how I could have the audacity to bother them at this early hour. Then they smile, I think, as I clean. They know that I know that this is their shit. And they give zero fucks about it.

I scoop and wipe and spray and blot. I disinfect and mop and curse and whine. When I’m done, I walk to the couch and lift Sula’s head, clutch her face, and melt in the gaze of her instantly innocent eyes. “I know it was you Sula,” I say, “You broke my heart. You broke my heart.” I kiss her and she rolls onto her back for a belly rub. Sometimes she farts. This is our routine. This is my life.

My friends and I in happier times

My friends and I in happier times

I feed the dogs and give thirty minutes for the food to settle before we venture outside, hoping this makes the entire shitty routine go more smoothly. When it’s time to walk, Panda – who reminds me of the hysterical hyena Ed from The Lion King and whose legs seem too short for her body – hops up and down and spins round and round. Sula is old and moves like it. If she had her way, she wouldn’t leave the couch the entire day. She’s like Paulie in Goodfellas, and doesn’t have to move for anybody. Making her go outside to poop offends her sensibilities.

Sula. Angel.

Sula. Angel.

Sula is particular where she poops. Panda doesn’t give a shit. Sula chooses from one of three grass patches about two blocks from our house, always pooping at the absolute edge as near to the road as she can without being in it. Her ass is in my face, and (I imagine) a big, happy smile is across hers as she watches the cars passing by acknowledge me readying to smush her crap into a green baggie. I pick up so many poops in these lavender-scented bags that lavender now smells like crap to me.

Panda doesn’t squat to poop. Instead, she arches her back in order to point her ass toward the ground. Maybe this causes hers to run like liquid concrete mix. One time, I stopped paying attention and Panda pooped on her leash. She celebrated by digging her back paws into the ground and kicking them into the morning sky as if revving for take-off.

New Panda

Panda and her pirate booty

The poop they carry must be heavy because their energy sparks once their business is done. Sula, with her muscular back and chest, shoots from her squat and barrels ahead, taking me along for the ride. Panda, with those legs that just don’t fit given the size of her belly, trots ahead like Babe Ruth to first base after a home run.

We’ve finished this morning’s walk, and the dogs have retreated to the couch. That’s where they head after their poop-performance art finishes. I’m at our kitchen table writing. I could say more about my life in shit, but I’ve run out of time. Coffee has chugged through me. Nature calls, now, and I must answer.


Celebrating Rob Lytle with the University of Michigan

On September 25 and 26, the University of Michigan honored my father, the late Rob Lytle, for his election to the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. Friends, family, former teammates, and school administrators celebrated on Friday evening at Michigan’s Towsley Museum inside Schembechler Hall. We heard from Jim Hackett (Michigan’s Interim Athletic Director), Calvin O’Neal (co-captain with Dad on Michigan’s 1976 Big 10 championship team), directors from program sponsor Fidelity, and the National Football Foundation. Former Wolverine linebacker Steve Strinko read an “Ode to Rob Lytle.” The words shared this evening inspired laughs, tears, smiles, and warm reflections of a well-loved Wolverine.

The special moments continued on Saturday with an on-field tribute. The lasting image of Mom holding a plaque that recognized Dad’s accomplishments above her head while more than 100,000 fans roared is a moment to hold close forever. The fact that a foul, 1970s-era mustache covers Dad’s face in the image on the plaque somehow also seems fitting.

Michigan AD Jim Hackett, Michigan-Great Calvin O’Neal, and our Family at Halftime

Michigan AD Jim Hackett, Michigan-Great Calvin O’Neal, and our Family at Halftime

Our entire family is grateful for Michigan’s celebration, and our debt of gratitude to everyone involved in coordinating the weekend is steep. I’ll do my best to honor the entirety of the weekend in a future post that I hope captures the specialness – and emotions – of the celebration.

For now, though, I want to share the unofficial transcript of the speech I gave remembering Dad at the Towsley Museum.


So, before I start I need to warn everyone if I seem a little nervous. My fiancée and I were engaged three weeks ago and tonight is actually the first time our families have met. Please bear with me.

First, I want to say thank you. Thank you to the University of Michigan and Mr. Jim Hackett for this celebration; I cannot begin to express how thankful we are; thank you to the National Football Foundation and Fidelity for your support; thank you to all our friends and family who are here tonight. Last, Dad always said that football is the greatest team game there is. So it’s unbelievable – and humbling – to see this many former teammates. Thank you – this weekend is a celebration of everything the team accomplished.

In the early 70’s, Bo Schembechler traveled to Fremont, Ohio. “Rob,” Bo said in his traditionally gruff style, “at Michigan we have 6 halfbacks. If you come here, you’ll be number 7. Whatever happens after that is up to you.”

Not your typical recruiting pitch. But SNAP!….Dad was hooked.

Hooked on this fiery coach whose integrity oozed from him.

Hooked on the chance to compete with the best team in the country and against the best players every day in practice.

Hooked on the Victors – the greatest fight song in college football – and on those maize wings that make Michigan’s helmet so iconic.

And once Dad visited campus – hooked on Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.

So it is with deep pride that we are here to celebrate this moment and the specialness of the school, the sport of football, and the team for Dad.

Rob Lytle Memorabilia, Courtesy of Michigan Photography, Copyright

God – Dad loved Michigan football.

I remember November 1996 – during the Ohio State – Michigan game. Mom and I huddled in our kitchen watching the game on a TV smaller than most computer monitors are now. Dad paced outside – raking leaves, mowing the grass, gardening. Anything to stay busy. Every few minutes he’d rush up to the window, intensity burning through his eyes. He’d look for the score then dart back into the yard. He was so proud when Michigan won that day.

Dad bled maize and blue.

When I think about Dad and Michigan football, the games never come to mind. It wasn’t in his nature to discuss yards or touchdown or any individual plays. In fact, the only one he ever talked about was the Purdue game from 1976, when he claimed he lost the game and a shot at a national championship for Michigan because of his 4th quarter fumble – always ignoring that he gained 150 yards and averaged more than 7 yards per carry that day.

Michigan football meant so much to Dad not only because of the games but because of what surrounded it…because of what happened outside the white lines on the field.

Michigan football mattered because of what it required of him. The sacrifice…the work ethic…the toughness…the commitment to a team – to being part of something greater than himself.

It was about standing on the sideline inside Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, and looking up at a scoreboard that read Michigan 22 – Ohio State 0. Dad always said that his favorite football memory was being able to “hear a pin drop” inside the Horseshoe that afternoon.

It was about standing in the dark in the tunnel inside Michigan stadium. Hearing the snap of chin straps… knowing the M-Club banner was stretched across midfield… and exploding into the gameday sun while more than 100,000 fans cheered.

It was about learning not just how to play a game but about life.

How deeply do you care? Will you sacrifice for others? Put their needs ahead of your own? All to be part of the team?

Will you accept the challenge of not being satisfied every morning when you wake? Of getting better every day?

These words aren’t just a cliché meant to motivate a football team. They’re values that show how to be a good person. And they can last forever… I know they did for Dad.

Kelly Lytle Remembering his Late Father, Courtesy of Michigan Photography, Copyright

The more I think about Michigan – and football – and Dad, I can’t avoid thinking about my own childhood. I remember being 10 years old again. And it’s Sunday afternoon and my friends and I are gearing up for our afternoon football game. The anticipation is accelerating. We’ve waited all week for these games and for Dad to play all-time quarterback.

We pile into Dad’s jeep and chug toward the park. We spill out onto the field and the cool October air chills our skin. Red and orange and yellow leaves blow along the ground. The grass is wet and cold and seeps into our shoes and against our hands. Maybe we can see the smoke from our breaths.

As kids, we’re carefree, having the time of our lives.

I remember Dad against this backdrop. He’s wearing ill-fitting, short shorts. He has a wad of tobacco bulging from his cheek and a pouch of Levi Garrett dangling from his pocket. He’s talking smack…Coaching…Teaching.

And of course his face wears that big shit-eating grin that everyone remembers.

Dad’s at home here. He’s a part of the team, playing the game he loved.

I think that tonight is such a tremendous honor because it lets us remember what is special, right?

We get a chance to laugh, as Mom and I did remembering the story of Dad passing out face down in a Whopper at Burger King after celebrating the Ohio State victory a little too much.

We get to cry as we remember those who aren’t here. And I think these are good tears…because they remind us of those we’ve loved and lost.

And we get to smile because of this game that is in our blood. For what it meant to be part of the team at the University of Michigan. And for how special that is.

Thank you and go blue.

Rose Bowl touchdown celebration, Photo courtesy of Curt Stephenson

Rose Bowl touchdown celebration, Photo courtesy of Curt Stephenson

What Bear Bryant and Bo Schembechler Thought About Water

On day one of camp, nearly 100 football players pressed their cleats into hard dirt that refused to yield. Sharp rocks gashed their bodies; cacti pierced their skin; crunched noses spilled blood onto ragged jerseys. During the day, players suffocated in the 110-degree heat, fluids exhausted from their worn bodies. At night, they bunked in metal huts “hotter than a breakfast griddle,” sweat running off foreheads and eyelids and dripping from behind knees. By day ten, the team numbered less than 40. This was 1954 in Junction, Texas, a sparse cow town wasted by a years-long drought. This was Coach Paul Bryant’s first training camp at Texas A&M. This was hell at the hands of a man remembered simply as “Bear.”

Bear BryantThis was a different era for football. Toughness mattered more than talent. “Sacrifice. Work. Self-discipline,” as Coach Bryant said, “I teach these things, and my boys don’t forget when they leave.” During this camp, one player cracked multiple ribs at morning practice. He returned in the afternoon – wheezing, wobbling, and vomiting – but still practiced. Injuries needed dirt rubbed on them, not medical attention. Missing practice to heal was not smart it was weakness. And water, well in Coach Bryant’s mind, water was something wasted on the weak.

Bryant believed the fastest way to whip a team into shape was to deny the boys water, even in the brutal heat. He had withheld water during practices at Kentucky and Maryland, and those teams seemed to grow stronger in the fourth quarter. The team doctor even agreed with Bryant’s harsh methods. Back in College Station, Dr. R.H. Harrison had told him, ‘A stomach that is full of water can cause the blood flow to increase to the spleen. That, in turn, could cause a ruptured spleen.’ Smokey Harper (the A&M trainer) summed it up in a manner that pleased Bryant: ‘Hell, you never pour ice water into a car’s hot radiator. So why pour ice water into a hot boy?’

Jim Dent’s Junction Boys offers a glimpse into the harsh sacrifices made to appease the tyrant most players grew to love (or at least respect). Junction Boys is a football book about hard men built by an even harder man. Its stories are hard-nosed and without bullshit, as if also shaped in Coach Bryant’s image. I appreciated the entire read, but loved the point about water because it reminded me of one I heard as a kid.JB

At Michigan, Dad played for an equally determined and driven coach in Bo Schembechler. Though Dad’s nature was not to share many stories about his days playing, he did tell one about a particularly memorable practice. I’ve done my best to paraphrase him:

I don’t know who it was. The NCAA maybe, or the University. But someone mandated to Bo that we needed a certain amount of water at practice. So Bo agreed. ‘Fine, they’ll have their water.’ Next thing, we’re at practice and right at midfield is an oasis of long folding tables stocked with water jugs, cups of cold water, relief from misery. So we’re out smashing into one another for hours, wonderin’ when Bo was gonna let us taste that water. We’re whispering, angling to figure how we could sneak a sip and soothe our damn sandpaper tongues. Finally, one of the guys asked Bo when we’d get a water break. So Bo stopped practice and gave the poor kid an all day stare. Then he said, ‘they told me we needed to have water at practice. Nobody said I had to let you drink it.’

As I said, a different era.

We Can Do More Than Watch the NFL This Weekend

Syria’s civil war has claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced over 11 million people since 2011. Better descriptions than I could ever write exist detailing the war’s timeline, its origins and terror, and the ideologies of its factions. I encourage doing so.


America’s favorite distraction kicks off Thursday. Right now, the start of another NFL season seems secondary, as sports should when measured with the same tape as the real crises afflicting us. I fear, though, that sometimes this perspective is lost.

I’m not here to condemn sports. I love them, especially football, and believe sports instill values of teamwork, sacrifice, loyalty, and commitment through moments that reverberate our hearts and instruct our minds after the act of instruction itself has passed. They have for me. And I know that without them I would lack the same capacity to care.

Which is why I’m considering numbers on the eve of a new season.

Did you know, the combined seating capacity for the 16 home teams during the NFL’s opening weekend is 1.1 million? And that more than 100 million more will watch on TV?

Imagine if each NFL team gave $1.00 of every ticket to a relief organization aiding Syrian refugees. That equals $1.1 million donated.

Imagine if only 50% of us watching football at home offered that same $1.00. That donation would equal more than $50 million. The precedent is not crazy. The world’s other prominent football teams have already donated millions.

Look, I understand that checkbook philanthropy – especially four years into this horrific crisis – can be condemned as the simplest and least impactful way to assist. In many ways, it’s an easy-out meant to appease one’s guilt. Besides, the U.S. has already donated more than $4 billion to Syria only to witness the need necessary to support the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era swell.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy to question the worth of any single dollar. Why continue giving when the crisis only worsens? What good will it do anyways?

Well, here are more numbers on Syria to help answer those questions.

Every day more than 2,000 people place their lives at risk to flee the war-ravaged nation now too deadly to call home.

$140 provides a cash lifeline for a family of three to five for one month. $1,500 can support a family for one year.

$5,500 can refurbish a classroom and pay a teacher’s annual salary. $17,000 refurbishes an entire hospital.

Imagine what $1 million could do? Or $50 million. I lack answers and a better way to help. Doing something, though, seems better than doing nothing.

I love sports. Practicing and committing to the work to excel at them helped shape my outlook on work ethic, compassion, and sacrifice for others. Sports can congregate masses like nothing else. Sometimes, then, we need to take the platform that sports afford and use it for something much bigger than the games themselves.

I will watch the NFL on opening weekend. I have also made a small donation. It isn’t much. But it’s something.

Whether this organization or another, I hope if you’re watching the NFL this weekend that you follow suit. And if you do, please share with me over email at or twitter @kelly_lytle.

Hurricane Katrina Changed my Life

Hurricane Katrina unleashed hell on New Orleans ten years ago this week. Levees burst, storm waters surged, and families fled – their homes ruined, their hopes scattered. From the horrors witnessed in the Superdome to decency inside the wreckage, stories detailing the endurance of survivors cover the news.

Katrina changed my life, though in a less accosting way than most. A visit to post-Katrina New Orleans propelled me on an inward journey. Part selfish search for meaning – part reconciliation – without New Orleans this quest never happens. And I’m likely not doing anything – writing, storytelling, volunteering – that I’m doing today.

Many Katrina stories exist. This is mine.


Chevy To LevyI sat on the fractured wood floor of a single-room Baptist church buried in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and rested my back against a white wall rotted by water and spotted with dark circles. It was early August 2007 and the second to last day of a volunteer trip I made to paint schools ravaged by Hurricane Katrina almost two years earlier. Sweat dripped from behind my bent knees, slipped down my calves, and settled on the ridge of the dirt-stained tube socks stuck to my legs. On the floor near my right leg rested a black Bible. I flipped through its smudged, cracked pages with my yellow and green paint-stained fingers. Moses melted into Jesus who melted into Paul and the disciples. They all vanished into Revelations.

In front of me, a decaying white hat clung to the edge of a large pulpit streaked by ash the way pale scars decorate a ravaged body. Members of my volunteer group stepped over broken statues and around pictures of Jesus, cautiously making their way through this tiny house of God long ago left to rot. Others sat on the dust and mold covered pews in the church’s center. They pointed at the water lines that reached a foot below the sole wooden cross hanging just below the ceiling. The building had flooded when the levees burst, swallowed like the rest of New Orleans. My life was about to change, though I didn’t realize it steaming in the church. (more…)

Harlem Lax: A Profound Example of Why Sports Matter

Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and, when it comes to youth sports, someone who has “been publicly outspoken about the winning-at-all cost mentality in which lip service is paid to academics and personal growth when it should be the other way around,” recently called Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership the “single best school-based co-curricular program I have ever seen” in an article for Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” series.

As a sport, lacrosse historically is associated with white, upper class participants. That dynamic is changing, and lacrosse is the fastest growing high school sport in the country. In Harlem, though, lacrosse is being used as a vehicle to change lives, as,

the carrot to get kids to stay in school and become motivated far beyond the playing field. It is using the power of sports to unleash the potential of kids, many of whom…live in single parent households, some of who come from lower middle class backgrounds and some of whom live in shelters. It causes them to see a world they never knew existed but also to become a part of it.

Harlem Lax fascinated me for this reason. Sports, at their purest, can help participants experience not simply a world they never knew existed, but to challenge their minds and bodies to reach heights never believed possible. Sports can exist outside the confines of wins and losses, in a realm where the lessons are more tangible than the final score. As Bissinger writes:

Winning is exciting, molding a team into even greater cohesion. But it’s the level of effort that is important, the constant pounding away at the concept that what you put into anything in life is the exact same amount you get out of it. So is learning to overcome adversity and the twin companions of frustration and humiliation.

And the value stretches far beyond capitalizing on mere talent, to one of the most important virtues sports can teach – dedication:

It isn’t talent that defines a person but passion for something and love for something and dedication to something. Once you figure that out, which many kids first learn playing sports, the sky of possibility has no clouds. Talent can be squandered. Too many times it is squandered. But hard work and discipline are never squandered. They are never wasted.

When sports are kept in the right perspective and the idolization at all costs mentality is sacrificed, they offer a forum that unleashes an individual’s passion while instilling a framework that rewards discipline, dedication, work ethic, and the team. This is why sports matter. And why programs such as Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership are vital to the personal development of their participants.

The Junior Seau Hall of Fame Speech

Junior Seau played 20 seasons in the NFL. He made 12 Pro Bowls, the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1990’s, recorded nearly 2,000 tackles, and – in a sport renowned for its passionate foot soldiers – impressed an entire league with near unmatched ferocity and spirit. Seau committed suicide in 2012, at only 43 years old, ending his fight against the onslaught of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). When Seau died the cascading effects of repetitive collisions and brain trauma had altered his behavior. However, it had not changed the “passion” and “love” his family felt toward him.

The NFL inducted Seau into it’s Hall of Fame last Saturday evening. And though short-sighted ceremony rules prohibited Sydney Seau (Junior’s daughter) from speaking at the induction ceremony, she since recorded and shared the speech that she would have given.

Sydney Seau’s words are heartfelt, an eloquent remembering of a father gone too soon. On her father’s love for football, Sydney writes:

I think the point is, he could never fully retire from this game because that would indicate that he was quitting and you can’t quit something that is a part of who you are. Instead he graduates, and this is the diploma he has always dreamed of.

On missing her father and the hidden fragility of our super heroes:

But I think what we tend to forget about our favorite invincible, unstoppable, indestructible superhumans is the minor detail that they are also human. That is something that we all must endure today without his physical presence. We cannot celebrate his life and achievement without feeling the constant piece that’s missing.

And on her father’s greatest gift:

Dad, you gave us your time, your presence, your love, but most of all you gave us your heart. For that we honor you with this induction and this final graduation. I know at times it seemed as if everything you accomplished in life wasn’t enough, but today and every day since you held me in your arms for the first time, you weren’t just enough; you were more than enough. In fact, you were everything.

The full speech and video are provided in their entirety: The Hall of Fame Speech Junior Seau’s Daughter Couldn’t Give.

Saying Thank You to Mom on Father’s Day

I watched Mom stand, rest her hands on the top ridge of the wood pew in front of her, exhale, and move toward the front of the church where I stood. My words of remembrance for my father had just filled the air, and now Mom would speak. The sun pierced the stained glass windows, shining into the hushed crowd, which spilled into the balcony, aisleways, and crevices behind pillars. Grandpa, Mom’s dad, pressed a tissue to his eyes.

Mom moved with purpose. Red eyes singed by grief resisted an onslaught of tears. She would cry them later, in private. We hugged. A storm lurched inside me, a faucet dripped from my eyes. Mom ascended three slight steps until she stood behind the lectern ready to speak.

With her head high and voice steady as to betray the inner misery only those who’ve lost a spouse can understand, Mom read two passages from her books of daily inspiration, both from four days earlier—November 20—the day Dad had died.

The first came from the book of James: How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow. For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog.

The second from Ralph Waldo Emerson: The greatest gift is a portion of yourself.


Each day is nothing if not a series of choices—big and small, simple and difficult. Every morning I ask myself a series of questions: What type of person will I be today? Will I be someone who teaches? Will I give of myself to help others? I fall short (often) in my mission because life is too hard. Still, my answer never wavers, and my intentions are always the same. Yes, I will be that person, I say, and the reason is due to Mom’s example.

Mom exemplifies kindness, patience, and selflessness. She is a servant who acts in the service of others. And does so not for reward or recognition, but because the authenticity of her spirit demands no other path. Mom is that rare person who is wholly genuine in how she cares for others—day in, day out—in every patient question and every extra minute spent listening. Small acts magnified by thousands of changed lives.

I see school papers spread across our kitchen table, some decorated with stickers and others splashed with red ink. Mom is awake, working, before the sun has lifted its head from its pillow and not in bed until long after the Moon has spent its goodnight wishes. This is the example of Mom as a teacher, and thirty years of students are lucky to have had their essays on photosynthesis graded by someone who will never stop challenging—and encouraging—them to dream bigger and care deeper.IMG950914

There is the example of Mom as a patient listener. Students visit our house long after they’ve left Mom’s 5th grade class. They want to stay connected and close to the woman who will listen to them without limitation. Friends and family need her ear, too. Protected, guarded souls lay bare—exposed, yet comfortable as they seek counsel. When empathy always trumps judgment, every conversation is a chance to make a difference.

In 4th grade, I was in my basement playing video games on my Sega Genesis. Mom pounded down the stairs toward me, a fast and furious tornado whipping destruction from every blonde curl atop her head. My report card—and the C- I had received in reading—hung like a sickle waiting to slice at her side as she stood above where I sat on the floor. She backhanded the control from my hand, picked up the console, and smashed the Sega into the ground.

“This is the reason your grades stink,” she pointed at the Sega’s battered corpse. “Get your act together!”

This moment kickstarted my appreciation for how words and stories can transform our hearts. It also reminds me that for anyone who believed that Dad, with his football hero past, ruled our house is mistaken. Mom set the example for toughness.

I see Mom today as a grandmother, asking questions of and conversing with her granddaughter. Their interactions are blessed with laughter, smiles, and love. I watch these exchanges and I remember the mother who immersed herself in Erin’s life and mine. I remember Mom always helping with homework, probing us with questions, listening as we talked, and holding our hands as we cried. She’s with me in our driveway rebounding my missed jump shots, and she’s there on the track for every childhood sprint workout. Always positive; always caring; always present.

Mom made the best nachos, mixed the best Kool-Aid, and offered the best conversation for my friends and me. There exists a group of kids who grew up in Fremont, Ohio, near Birchard and Park or just off Buckland Avenue, who will always associate the Lytle home with Mom’s inviting spirit.

In This is Water, David Foster Wallace says: The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

If the greatest gift we can give is a portion of ourselves, than I know of no greater example of sacrifice than Mom.

On this Father’s Day, as I reflect on the time I spent with my father, I find myself feeling grateful for Mom. Mom inspires me each day that she faces with courage, strength, and the willingness to rebuild from her heartbreak. She has inspired me with a lifetime of compassion, consideration, selflessness, and caring.

Thank you, Mom. I love you.

Father’s Day Weekend Events

This week marks a busy time as we near Father’s Day. I’m grateful for the continued support of To Dad, From Kelly and looking forward to speaking at three events this week and weekend in Cleveland and Michigan. Check out the list below and if you’re in the area come say hello. I promise many laughs and some never before shared “behind the story” stories.

I hope to see everyone this week!

Thursday, June 18, 7:00 pm @ Mac’s Backs-Books on Coventry in Cleveland

Join Alan Dutka (author of Misfortune on Cleveland’s Millionaire’s Row), Vince McKee (Redemption of the KIng: Lebron James Returns to Cleveland), and myself as we share from our books.

Friday, June 19, 7:00 pm at The Arena in Ann Arbor, MI as part of the Ann Arbor Book Festival

Join To Dad, From Kelly as it returns to the town and University where many of the Dad lessons took shape under the watchful eye of Coach Schembechler. I’ll be joining the Friday evening “Book Crawl” through Ann Arbor and reading at The Arena at 7:00 pm.

Saturday, June 20, 2:00 pm at Hart Area Public Library in Hart, Michigan

Excited to see an old family friend, some new faces, and spend time just a few miles from Lake Michigan.

Please stop by and say hello if you can and visit me on Twitter and Facebook to share your own stories!

Heroes, Legends, and LeBron’s New Story

The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the NBA Finals. And the games remaining could forever change the story of the NBA’s best player.

Novelists don’t pen the richest narratives, nor are they authored by the platitudes sportswriters pound into their keyboards every night. The most powerful stories tug at our humanity because their truth is more compelling than fiction and their raw vulnerability exceeds any generalization. These are the comeback stories, the underdog tales of valor against insurmountable odds. Of setbacks and perseverance; of courage and the will to fight. Stories where the road to survival cuts a curved path through darkness wrought by unrelenting desperation. These are the stories of sacrifice. Heroes. And redemption. For a city.

And a man.

LeBron James is a drama queen and a crybaby. He seeks glory and craves adulation. He uses personal pronouns with such frequency when describing his role as a basketball player and self-professed leader that it’s tempting to forget that Me, Myself, and I aren’t the names of his teammates. LeBron has failed, many times, and in spectacular fashion. We anointed him the Chosen One at 16 and besieged his throne when he begged to rule without winning anything. We called him weak and gutless when the championship moment required the most of him and he hid in the shadows.

The Basketball Gods blessed LeBron with a combination of talents never before seen in professional sports. His body is Karl Malone. His mind is Magic Johnson. And his athleticism is Michael Jordan. Although LeBron has honed his skills to become a one-man wrecking crew capable of shooting, passing, driving, and defending his team to the cusp of greatness, everything about his accomplishments feels too easy, too ordained. Despite the clear dedication of a player who improved his footwork, learned a post-game, and crafted a jump shot, LeBron is a product of his natural gifts. Put simply, LeBron has never earned his success. It was always given to him.

Until now.

And that’s what separates the story of this NBA Finals from its predecessors.

Public perception holds that the Warriors are too deep, too talented, too full of silky shooters stringing shots through the nets for the Cavs, and their injury-depleted roster, to compete. I’ve read claims from writers that LeBron has nothing to lose and nothing to prove in this series. I’ve seen experts assert that whether Cleveland wins or loses to Golden State, LeBron’s legacy remains intact. But they’re wrong. These finals aren’t about LeBron maintaining his legacy—they are about him building a new one because LeBron, for the first time, is an underdog.

In Miami, LeBron’s two championships required determination and perseverance. But that’s not why we remember them. We remember the super team, the triumvirate of Bosh, Wade, and James. We remember the defeated player who fled Cleveland and became a champion under the umbrella held over his head by Pat Riley and Dwayne Wade.

Now, the story has changed. If Cleveland—minus two All-Stars and begging throughout each game for a new unsung hero to rise—wins the title this year, the Cavs won’t be remembered for choreographing a ballet on the hardwood. They’ll be remembered for their grit and their toughness and their heart. They’ll be remembered for what they earned. And nobody will have earned more than LeBron James. This is LeBron’s chance to write a new script, to flip his story forever.

The most powerful scene in the movie The Sandlot is a dream sequence that ends with an imagined Babe Ruth testing a would be hero to be greater than he believes he can. “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid, and you’ll never go wrong.” Maybe, that is this series for LeBron James—a test if he has a heart greater than the collective force of an NBA juggernaut. This series isn’t a test of LeBron’s jump shot or dribble drives or pinpoint passing. It’s a test to see if he can sacrifice himself for 50 of a game’s 53 minutes, in the NBA’s most hostile environment, endure missing 17 of his final 21 shots, and still lift his team to a win. This is a test to be not just a hero, but a legend.

LeBron knows this, too.


His face bore the strain of blown opportunities when his lefty layup rolled off the rim in regulation in Game 2. We saw the resolution stamped on him when the clock clicked to all zeroes and he spiked his emotions and unleashed his primordial scream. That scream was borne of the desperation – and temporary satisfaction – of a player trying to ascend to heights we’ve never witnessed. LeBron understands the stakes. His talents will only carry the Cavs so far in this series. To win, he has to have the heart to be a force greater than his individual talents. He needs to inspire his teammates to new heights by absorbing every blow the Warriors can throw at him, remaining on his feet, and begging Golden State to have the heart to stand in front of him and be willing to sacrifice everything themselves. This series is a real fight. And one the Cavs, led by LeBron, are going to bring at Golden State for every second remaining in these finals.

The Cavs season is stranger than fiction. From LeBron’s triumphant return to the early season tumbles that led to rumblings of ineptitude and dispirited play. To a mid-season trade that rescued the season and the playoff injuries that threaten to derail it. Now, a team of cast-offs and who are these players, stands even with the NBA’s most dynamic team. Doggedness and resolve versus offensive wizardry and effervescence. LeBron and the Cavs are underdogs with no chance to win, except they are two home victories away from winning the NBA Finals.

You could never make this story up. Because this is the story of heroes.

And maybe a legend.

Lessons from Dad – A Father’s Day Challenge

My first memory of “quality time” with Dad ended with me in tears. The second left him wearing a protective eye patch for a week. In the former, I was four years old and Dad had taken me to see the Transformers movie in 1986. Optimus Prime’s death near the end of the movie pushed me to tears. In the second, I jabbed Dad’s eye with a toy Voltron as we battled robots on a lazy Saturday morning. Maybe this was early compensation for the angst the smart-ass man with the devil-sly grin would cause me later in life.

Thankfully, our relationship graduated from those early days of action figures and movie theater tears.

Dad was my best friend. He shaped me through his unique blend of humor, sarcasm, humility, and self-deprecation. In writing To Dad, From Kelly, I sought to capture the defining lessons I learned from my father through specific moments in our relationship. Big, small, expected, and unexpected, these memories illustrate the values I hold closest.

With Father’s Day on June 21, I want to celebrate the lasting influence that fathers have on our lives by hearing from all of you. To honor fathers everywhere, and in memory of my dad, I’m giving away three (3) signed copies of my memoir, To Dad, From Kelly, to anyone who answers this question:

What is the best or most memorable lesson you’ve learned from your father?

You can share your stories with me on:

1. My blog, by commenting on this post or by emailing me through the Contact link

2. Facebook, by sending me a message at

3. Twitter, by mentioning me (@kelly_lytle) and including #fromdad

4. LinkedIn, by mentioning or messaging me at

5. Email, by emailing me at

Share as many stories as you want as many ways as you can. Nothing is out-of-bounds, just be open, honest, and willing to share the best or most memorable lesson you’ve learned from your father!

I’ll select three winners by Wednesday, June 17, so winners will receive their books by Father’s Day.

Happy storytelling!

What Chris Borland’s Retirement Means for Football

This Friday, I am participating in a symposium presented by Cleveland-Marshall College of Law on “The Social, Ethical, and Legal Consequences of Sports-Related Brain Injuries.” The discussion features a range of legal, academic, and athletic experts covering a diverse set of issues relating to this subject.

JLHMy father, College Football Hall of Fame running back Rob Lytle, died at 56-years old in November 2010. He suffered double-digit concussions during his career and was diagnosed posthumously with moderate to severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The doctors who conducted the autopsy stated they were shocked he could still work and manage on his own given the advanced state of CTE present in his brain. My talk will draw on my experiences with my father to present an intimate look at life after football, the ugly consequences of an all-consuming devotion to a violent sport, and CTE in real-life. Some stories I covered in To Dad, From Kelly while others are new.

This topic seems especially relevant this week after the bombshell announcement from San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Chris Borland, who retired from football after one professional season over concerns regarding football’s risks and the quality of life he might experience if he continued to play. “I just want to live a long healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise,” Borland told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

Borland’s decision incites a terrifying thought. Football is the undisputed king of sports in America. It’s also a killer. So what?

*** (more…)

Valentine’s Day with Priscila and 2Pac

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day. To celebrate, Tupac and I wrote a love poem to my Valentine, Priscila.

Dear Priscila

When I was trying to sleep me and Priscila had beef
33 years old, girl wouldn’t let me sleep a wink
Though right from the first time I saw a smile light up her face
Ain’t a woman alive that could take Priscila’s place
Suspended from work, scared to go home I was a fool
With the big boys breaking all the rules
I’ve shed tears with my Mormon lover
Over the years we’ve laughed more than all the other kids
And even though she’s got many daddy’s, the same drama
When things go wrong she’ll never blame Obama
I reminisce on the stress she’s caused, it is hell
Trying to wake Priscila without having to yell
And who’d think at Prosperity?
Heey! I see her lookin so lovely, one day
And wearing pink pants at the solstice, that’s right
Priscila couldn’t stop staring at my backside
And even as a Cabernet fiend, Priscila
You always was the Brazilian queen, Priscila
I finally understand for a woman it ain’t easy trying to love a man
You always been committed
A loan-laden over-worked lawyer, tell me how ya did it
There’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
Priscila, you are appreciated

The Youth Football Question

Football is violent. Lethal. We play the game and put our future bodies and minds at risk. Still, we celebrate football. It’s the sport I’ve praised, though perhaps from some misguided longing to stay close to those who are gone. We scream, cheer, and cry for our combatants caught in its vicious throes. We hold our breath whenever our warriors wobble but always crave more. Football brutalizes its participants.

And somehow, our kids still play the game. (more…)