Originally created 08/30/98

Moms of pro athletes get organized



BALTIMORE -- What happens to a soccer mom when her little boy grows up to be a soccer player? Or baseball player or football player?

Does she hang up her carpool keys and spin the satellite dish, hoping to catch a glimpse of her baby as he flashes a smile and a "Hi, Mom!" at a sideline camera?

No way. The modern mother of the professional athlete doesn't sit at home waiting for her son to pay her tribute in a Sports Illustrated profile. The modern mother of the professional athlete gets organized.

"When Jonathan was drafted," said Cassandra Sneed Ogden, whose son was a first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens football team in 1996, "I didn't understand why there wasn't an organization out there to provide me with support as the parent of a young man making the transition into professional football."

So, after two years of sitting in the family waiting room at Memorial Stadium and sensing a kinship beneath the reserve of other mothers, she started just such an organization: the Professional Football Players Mothers Association.

The first step was a hurried meeting in that waiting room after last season's final home game. Now, as the 1998 National Football League season gets under way, the association has more than 20 members among mothers of Ravens and players on nine other NFL teams, including Ki-Jana Carter of the Cincinnati Bengals, Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos, Eddie George of the Tennessee Oilers, Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts, O.J. McDuffie of the Miami Dolphins and Darrell Russell of the Oakland Raiders.

The group's which Cassandra Ogden modeled after the NBA Mothers Association, ambitious plans include everything from financial advice to home cooking, boilerplate prenuptial agreements and assistance with community relations. They will do whatever comes under the heading of "support" for their sons, many of whom are sudden millionaires at the age of 22, and all of whom will put the finishing touches on their growing up in the fishbowl of professional sports.

It is tough to tell, though if the Professional Football Players Mothers Association is more an organization of mothers dedicated to mothers, or an organization of mothers still dedicated to sons.

"It works both ways," said Chong Vinson, mother of Ravens running back Tony Vinson. "We need the support, but so do the players. We look out for each other."

Vinson was sitting in the shade of tented bleachers watching the Ravens practice at their Western Maryland College training camp earlier this summer. But her son wasn't on the field. He was in the training room getting treatment on his injured shoulder. She had traveled from her home in southern Maryland to check on him.

As a member of this new organization, she might just as easily be checking on an injured player whose mother is far away.

"We share our pain, our happiness, we comfort each other," she said. "When I am not here, a phone call from another mother can mean so much."

After the moms' first informal meeting in the Ravens' hospitality room in December, there was a teleconference call in March and recruiting trips to the NFL draft in New York and to the NFL rookie orientation in Denver.

"When we met for the first time, it felt like we'd known each other forever," said Rhonda Lewis, whose son, Jermaine Lewis, is a Ravens wide receiver.

The mothers group wants to make sure players living away from home have a place to go for Thanksgiving dinner or any home-cooked meal. They want to help mothers of opponents get tickets to Ravens games and, perhaps, offer them a comfortable guest room in which to spend the night.

Already the group has pulled together for one task more difficult than any it had envisioned. When Leon Bender, a Washington State defensive tackle selected in the second round of this year's draft by the Oakland Raiders, died suddenly, the association went to his family immediately, offering comfort and financial assistance.

But '90s mothers are very often working mothers, and these women bring more to the table for their offspring and each other than meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Ogden and Sandy McCrary, mother of Ravens defensive end Michael, are both lawyers, and McCrary also has a background in real estate.

"I never put anything past my mother," Michael McCrary said. "She can do anything, organize anything. She goes after things and gets them done. The league is fortunate to have her involved."

Her son then adds something that is echoed by Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis, whose mother is also a member of the group: We, personally, don't need any help. But we can see where other players might.

"I came from a great family background," McCrary said. "But a lot of guys didn't. Younger players, rookies -- they don't realize what kind of a big financial mess they can get into. These women are not just housewives. They are career women. They can help."

Not every player welcomes their involvement, though. Eight-year veteran defensive lineman Tony Siragusa, a parent himself, scoffs at the entire idea, dismissing it as another car hitching itself to the NFL gravy train. He says he plans to ridicule Ogden, McCrary and Lewis mercilessly.

"I understand there are kids who need direction in this line of work, but parents should direct their own kids. I appreciate the values my parents gave me, but it is time for me to put them into practice in my own life.

"I don't know what a mothers' association is going to do," he says, "except drive the players crazy."

Even Jonathan Ogden, who sat for a brief interview during precious training camp minutes reserved for lunch -- after he was told that his mother had said that he would do so -- is certain this new association is really for some other mother's son.

"My parents raised me so well, I don't need that kind of help," said the Ravens' massive Pro Bowl offensive lineman. "But they can do something for the youngsters, the ones who can't do a thing for themselves."

Cassandra Ogden sputters in amused disbelief when she hears of her son's remarkable self-sufficiency.

"They think they don't need us," she says, "because we have always been there for them."