Friday, March 11, 2005

Building Men for Others – A Review of “Season of Life”

My friend, David Mann of Spring Mill Venture Partners in Bloomington, Indiana, recently made me aware of a book that is nothing short of life changing. David is a graduate of the Naval Academy and a Renaissance Man, so you can imagine that our conversations often center on issues of leadership and what it means to be a true and broadly educated Renaissance Man in this age of hyper-specialization. In the course of one of our dialogues, David mentioned the book, Season of Life, written by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jeffrey Marx. The full title page spells out what this book is all about and why it is creating such a buzz: Season of Life - a Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood.

The story begins with Jeffrey Marx as a frizzy-headed young ball boy nicknamed “Brillo” working with the Baltimore Colts. During those years, he built a friendship with Joe Ehrmann, who starred as a defensive lineman with the great Baltimore Colts teams of the 1970’s. Flash forward to 2001. Jeffrey Marx has become a respected journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting; NFL All-Pro lineman Joe Ehrmann has morphed into the Rev. Joe Ehrmann, a gentle giant who runs a non-profit organization called: “Building Men for Others.” The organization focuses on training men of all ages to become focused on the needs of others as they develop a healthy view of masculinity.

When Jeff and Joe met for the first time in eighteen years, their conversation took an interesting turn that provides a good window into the soul of what this book is really about. I’ll share an excerpt:

Joe asked me a question that initially seemed to be strangely out of place in our conversation: Had I read Richard Ben Cramer’s recently published biography of baseball great Joe DiMaggio? I had not. But I had heard about it. I knew it painted a pathetic picture of a much-celebrated public hero. . . who was anything but heroic in his private life.

‘Well, more than anything, it’s the story of a man’s search for a heart,’ Joe said. ‘And that’s really a journey that an awful lot of athletes go through, an awful lot of men, period, because we’re searching based on all the wrong things – money, fame, power.’ (pages 29-30)

The book proceeds to recount the relationship that Jeff and Joe built over the next few years, and Jeff’s embarking on writing the story of Joe’s other passion – helping to coach the championship football team from the Gilman School in Maryland. What emerges is a fascinating and deeply moving parallel account of a journalist chronicling a unique and successful approach to coaching high school football players and challenging them to become the kind of men that they should become – while at the same time the journalist looks inward at his own journey towards a healthy understanding of manhood.

Gilman head coach, Francis “Biff” Poggi and defensive coordinator, Joe Ehrmann, and the eight other assistant coaches have created a unique and mind-boggling philosophy that has built a team of perennial champions that is often the top ranked high school team in the State of Maryland. Let’s listen in on part of Coach “Biff’s” opening speech to the team in the opening practice for the 2001 season:

"We’re going to go through this whole thing as a team. We are the Gilman football community. A community. This is the only place probably in your whole life where you’re gonna be together and work together with a group as diverse as this – racially, socially, economically, you name it. It’s a beautiful thing to be together like this. You’ll never find anything like it in the world – simply won’t happen. So enjoy it. Make the most of it. It’s yours" (page 44)

OK. There’s the appetizer. Now run out and get a copy of Season of Life so you can devour the entire smorgasbord of inspirational stories and thought-provoking reflections. Any man who is self-aware enough to ask himself the question: “What does it really mean to be a man?” should read this book. And any woman who wants to support a man who undertakes such a journey should read the book as well.

Oh, by the way, after finishing reading Season of Life, I reached for the next book on my special shelf at home that I have mentally labeled “Next Books to Read.” So, I just finished the Richard Ben Cramer biography of Joe DiMaggio mentioned above. The book is very well written and one that I am glad I read. Joe Ehrmann was right; the life of Joe DiMaggio the man stands in marked contradistinction to the “Men for Others” that Ehrmann and his colleagues are trying to build. Joltin’ Joe was a man for himself – and in the end he died a lonely and pathetic figure.

Read both books. The contrast will take your breath away.

As always, I welcome your comments.

1 comment:

Earl Hipp said...

I loved this post. I'm writing about the same topic at:

Give it a look, and thanks..