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Todd Marinovich story is a cautionary tale for parents

Cautionary tales are how we learn. And the tale of Todd Marinovich — and his domineering dad, Marv — is one of the best.

You’ll recall that Todd was the young man manipulated from birth (actually pre-birth) by his father to be the best, purist, greatest quarterback the world had ever seen. Marv had played football at USC, and he wanted, for reasons buried deep within his own inadequacies, to create a boy who would have the sporting genetics for quarterbacking and be trained incessantly, focused unfailingly and driven like a sled dog toward the apex of the country’s most popular game.

Todd, now 49, has been called America’s first test-tube baby, the Robo QB. His dad scouted for genes and settled on former USC quarterback and teammate Craig Fertig’s sister, Trudi. They married, Todd was born and the training began.

Marv stretched Todd’s hamstrings when the boy was one month old and had him trying to lift medicine balls before he could walk. Marv never let Todd eat sugar, refined foods, McDonald’s burgers, anything that would detract from, as Marv called it, “the perfect environment” to create his athletic masterpiece.

Los Angeles Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich looks to pass against the Browns on Sept. 20, 1992, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Browns won 28-16. Mike Powell/Getty Images

There were trainers, sports psychologists, even biochemists whom Marv consulted or hired to help groom Todd into what so many American dads crave: a boy with your last name setting the sports world aflame, making millions, glorifying you as the creator of genius.

And it worked — up to a point.

Todd was a Parade All-American in high school, an All-Pac-10 quarterback at USC and a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1991, taken before a fellow named Brett Favre.

Todd signed with the Raiders for three years and $2.25 million. He started some games, played well in a few, then descended into the hell of drug addiction. He flunked drug test after drug test, went to rehab, came back, flunked more tests, played briefly in the Arena Football League, threw things at referees and on the day he received his signing bonus was arrested for buying heroin.

So there’s your perfect athletic specimen.

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Basically, Todd Marinovich is a wreck of a person. He is drug-addicted and constantly going in and out of jail, rehab, etc.

Now Marv, 79, has finally been silenced by Alzheimer’s and thus leaves his boy alone to wrestle with the demons created by a brute of a parent with no notion of love other than what might accrue on a playing field and be labeled success.

I hope all of you can find the time to read Michael Rosenberg’s stunning article about current-day Todd Marinovich, published recently in Sports Illustrated. The story unfolds like a modern-day Dostoevsky-ian journey into the psychological wreckage of a man who finally has the courage to call his father what he was: “a raging beast.”

The drive to want your children to succeed at sports is a strong one, hard-wired into fathers (and some mothers) the way the drive for food, shelter and comfort are. Our DNA cries out to dominate, to be passed into the next generation and beyond, to flourish and conquer and overwhelm, because survival of the fittest is the rule of the jungle.

The problem is, our world is not a jungle. It’s complex and dangerous. But it’s not a jungle.

And our children still need love, direction and inspiration more than they need pushing and dominance.

This is a hard lesson to learn, though none of us is likely to be as brutal as Marv Marinovich in our failings. I could feel myself being sucked into the Little League Dad syndrome while watching my own children compete in sports. When my daughters lost in a state championship swim relay by seven-hundredths of a second, I nearly fainted. When my son blew out his knee and missed his entire senior season of high school football, I wanted to yell and punch something.

But why? This wasn’t about me, though I was making it so. My kids recovered, with life lessons learned. And my selfishness seemed, in reflection, like the vanity of a man who was living through the ups and downs of somebody else’s life. Alas, that’s part of the drama of parenting.

Todd Marinovich, still and always an addict, is not whole. Not by a long shot.

“I missed Human Being 101,” he tells Rosenberg, sadly. “I was anesthetizing, covering up the very vitals of me being human.”

Remember that, sports folks.