Terrelle Pryor calls his father a "tough guy." Craig Pryor has to be tough. Although he's in his early 40s, he's largely confined to a wheelchair due to a rare neurological disorder that weakens the ankles, feet (making it difficult to walk) and hands.
Craig often traveled from his home in Pennsylvania to watch his gifted son play quarterback for Ohio State, despite his condition, which is called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder. Just not when it was cold. Craig Pryor is a smart guy, too.
On Tuesday, Terrelle Pryor sat before cameras in Miami and offered his first public comments on his role in the sordid mess that has brought shame -- and could bring sanctions -- upon the vaunted Ohio State football program. Pryor, the all-time leading rushing QB in Buckeyes history (and 31-4 as a starter), would have been suspended for five games to start the 2011 season by Ohio State and the NCAA for accepting improper benefits, including cash, tattoos and potentially more.
"I say sorry to all the Buckeye nation and all the Buckeye fans across the country," Pryor said, looking straight ahead while seated on an elevated stage. "I never meant to hurt anybody directly or indirectly with my conduct off the field and I am truly sorry."
Pryor specifically apologized to former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel, whose actions amidst the heat of the investigation into further allegations of players receiving improper benefits led him to resign last month. "I apologize with all my heart," the player said in a special "shout-out" to Tressel. "I love you just like a father."
On the stage, Pryor was surrounded by a flotilla of handlers, including most notably Drew "Next question" Rosenhaus, the ubiquitous agent who clearly relishes these save-the-world (or the athlete, at least) sagas -- particularly when said athlete stands to reap millions.
Yet with Father's Day looming (and having my own 17-year-old son who plays sports), I wondered why it was Rosenhaus sitting next to Pryor, and not Craig, his father.
Pryor turns 22 next week, old enough to be held accountable for his actions (just as I hold my son accountable for his). But, he's only 22, and in an age in which too many young men -- particularly African-American young men -- are growing up without fathers at home, well, it would have been special to see Craig sitting alongside his son. Or at least sitting opposite the bombastic agent.
Now, before you get all riled up at me for calling out someone who is disabled, hear me out: I understand. More than you know. My wife suffered a debilitating stroke nearly two years ago, so I empathize with the challenges Craig faces each day.
And in the end, it's really not about him specifically but about too many parents of talented college athletes these days who seemingly abandon their roles as parents to merely cheer from the stands as their sons chase their dreams on a football field or basketball court.
They abandon those duties to millionaire coaches. To hometown businessmen. To fat-cat alums.
To tattoo parlor owners.
By doing so, by getting caught up in the stage that is big-time college sports, too many parents are almost as culpable as their sons when their sons misstep.
Parents shouldn't stop being parents when the recruiting process ends.
They should still be stern, rather than star-struck, and continue to enforce the line separating right from you know darn well that's wrong, even when their son is rewriting the record books.
Especially when he's rewriting the record books.
Craig defended his son, which is what parents do, last week when asked why Terrelle sold his Buckeyes memorabilia, violating NCAA rules -- nonsensical rules, but rules nonetheless. "He needed the money," Craig told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
And by all rights, Craig has been there for his son, providing a strong model as he battled the affliction that began when his son was still an infant and he was just a young father. Two years ago, Terrelle participated in a fundraiser in Columbus in which the proceeds went to efforts to cure Charcot-Marie-Tooth, which afflicts 2.6 million people worldwide.
Sure, at some juncture, we all turn our children over to the world -- and the paths their choices take them. Terrelle no doubt knew better. Whether because Craig instilled it in him or because he, like other Buckeyes athletes, was informed of the do's and don'ts of the NCAA.
So what Terrelle did to get to this point (on a stage sitting next to one of the most powerful agents in sports, apologizing for actions that have embarrassed and embroiled one of the most prominent football programs in the nation) is on Terrelle, not his father.
And it has made him the new "face" of all that ails college sports, fair or not. (Terrelle, Reggie Bush thanks you.)
Entitlement. Arrogance. Selfishness. Greed. Right now, thy name is Terrelle Pryor.
That's why it would have been meaningful to see Craig up there on the stage next to his son. A father (a parent) should never abandon that role to a coach or an agent, especially when his son has fumbled.
Terrelle has a lot of work to do to transform his raw gifts into the skill set of an NFL quarterback, something many experts are skeptical he can accomplish; to recast his tainted image; to, most simply, grow up.
He won't accomplish the former without effort: a strong work ethic, patience and willingness to be coached, taught and pushed by those who know what it takes to succeed as a quarterback at the ultimate level.
In time, most people will likely forget about the mistakes of Terrelle's youth, particularly if he shows the kind of humility and remorse we began to see on Tuesday, as staged as it might have been.
To accomplish the latter challenge, he needs Craig (as well Thomasina, his mother) to push and prod when needed.
Doing, in short, what parents do. Or should be doing.
Roy S. Johnson is a veteran sports journalist and media consultant. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.