The softer side of the Bears
Two players speak out on football and fatherhood
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The Chicago Bears are the pride of the midway, especially this season. Between touchdowns, interceptions, field goals and footballs, there has been much to cheer about, putting the players, including punter Brad Maynard and wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, in the spotlight. While the world may see them as No. 4 and No. 87, their families will always see them as number one—dad that is.
While he loves football, Muhammad savors the unconditional love that comes from being a dad. "No matter how bad my day is, no matter how rough work was, I come home and my 2-year-old, Kennedy, has no clue about that kind of stuff, she just loves to see Daddy."
Kennedy has already learned daddy’s jersey numbers. "She is a fan of anybody, any team who’s 87. If you’ve got 87 on, she just may just call you Daddy," says his wife and high school sweetheart, Christa.
Muhammad juggles football, fame and family by staying involved in his children’s busy lives, from coaching their soccer teams to teaching them the lessons he learned growing up.
His three oldest kids Jordan, 10, Chase, 9, and Muhsin III, who they call Mookie, 5, all play sports while maintaining 4.0 grade point averages.
"When they were in dance class when they were younger, he knew their whole dance routine because ... he’s at all their stuff," Christa says. "He’s like a soccer mom."
But this soccer dad mentality hasn’t been exactly easy for Muhammad. "The toughest thing is sharing myself," he says. "Having to fulfill obligations, work obligations and family obligations and having to decide which one I have to do when they both conflict and that’s tough." Last year, Muhammad missed one of his son’s football games because he also had a football game.
Muhammad says he enjoys ending his day with his children, telling them bedtime stories by embellishing the details from real-life adventures, such as his turkey hunts, and throwing in sound effects for good measure.
Life in the Muhammad household is not purely focused on sports and competition. The family spends a lot of their time giving to others. Keeping his kids humble and grounded is high on his priority list. "We really think that’s more important. And character is really more important to us." Often the family is involved in charitable events, from visiting a children’s hospital during the holidays to donating to Muhammad’s M2 Foundation for kids. The foundation, based out of Charlotte, N.C., gives Muhammad a chance to be a big brother to 15 boys. The foundation offers tutoring in English and math. As a reward for good grades, Muhammad flies the boys somewhere new during spring break. Last year, he flew them to Chicago for a Bears game and showed them around the city.
Muhammad credits this giving spirit to his father. "That’s how I was raised," he says. "I used to hate it, my dad had me doing river clean-ups for free, all kinds of stuff." His wife only strengthens it. "My wife is a giving person, she’s really sweet."
While he has high hopes for his children, he doesn’t believe Mookie needs to follow in his footsteps as far as being a football player. "I always just wish that he loves Jesus and that he can just be a man of God. That’s the only thing I wish for him. I pray for him. That’s it."
Christa calls her husband a romantic. "He’s got a heart of gold," she says.
Every Thursday night is date night, spent at the same restaurant downtown while the kids spend time with their grandparents. "The two times we didn’t go, we lost both of those games. So now, we’re totally superstitious, like, we gotta go. We go to have a little one-on-one time. It’s nice," she says.
For Muhammad and Christa, it’s all about the little things. "I like bringing her gummy bears home, you know, she likes small gifts and ... I try to bring something home to surprise her."
The gummy bears have come to mean more to Christa. She and her mother-in-law have found that chomping on bears helps during tense moments in the games. "The spotlight doesn’t bother me. It’s watching him play football," she says. "It’s rah! Rah! Rah! when he’s catching the ball, making touchdowns, but when he’s getting hit, it’s hard."
For the kids, having Dad in the spotlight is normal. "That’s all they’ve ever known. They were born into the Carolina Panthers," Christa says of her husband’s previous team. "My daughter always says, ‘I was born a Carolina Panther, I’m going to die a Chicago Bear.’ "
The kids do understand the accessibility Dad has to the players. Often, the kids bring home items for him to get signed. "I think they’re peddling me, too," Muhammad jokes, playfully accusing them of selling the stuff.
Maynard’s oldest son, Conner, 6, is only now beginning to grasp the concept that Daddy is a pro-football player. "I think for the most part, they just see me as Daddy," Maynard says. But don’t let this confuse you—the Maynards are a football family.
"You know what, they’re so used to it, they don’t know any different," Maynard’s wife, Karen, says of her three children. "All of my kids were born into football." Cole, the middle child, is 3, and their youngest, Ava, is 1.
"It seems like football 24-7 in the Maynard household," Karen says.
At the last parent-teacher conference, Karen discovered just how much football has touched her sons’ lives. When the teacher asked Cole what he wants to be, he told her, " ‘I want to do what my dad does.’ And she goes, ‘You want to kick the ball? Right?’ and he goes, ‘Maybe not. I want to do what Moose does,’ " Karen says, in a reference to Muhammad.
Maynard treasures the time he gets to spend with his kids. "You know, those commitments are the biggest commitments of my life," he says.
Karen says she handles their morning routines. "... And Brad, he puts them to bed. He does all the fun stuff in the evening."
Tuesdays are specifically dedicated to family. After school, it becomes 100 percent Maynard family time. With the Bears giving players Mondays off after a win, Maynard is finding even more time to spend with the kids this season.
Sticking with football traditions, the Maynards make Monday their family football day. "Usually on Monday we go out to dinner and we come home and we watch Monday Night Football. Monday Night Football is a big thing in our house," Karen says.
But bigger than Monday Night Football is a little Maynard tradition called "First Half, Second Half." The game surprisingly has nothing to do with football. "It started out as a way to get them upstairs to their bedrooms to get their pajamas on, but now it’s turned into a full-court [basketball] game," Maynard says of the nightly competition. Each half is played in one of the boys’ rooms.
It tends to get a little rough, Maynard confesses.
But before long, the basketball game turns into football, with the boys breaking a house rule, "No punting in the house," Brad laughs as he sets up the last ball for Conner. The rough-and-tumble Maynard boys have yet to break anything in the house. "Just limbs. They’ve broken arms," Karen says matter-of-factly. "None of my furniture or anything. Just their arms."
For Maynard and his wife, it isn’t always about helping care for their children. They always try to make time for each other. The two met at Ball State University, became close friends and were dating by their junior year.
"He comes home and he’s turning on the fireplace and getting out a bottle of wine or firing up the hot tub and at 8 p.m. I think the brain just shuts off. You definitely have to make an effort when you have three little kids," she says.
The couple spends their date nights at their favorite restaurant. "You kind of forget what he does sometimes and then you walk out and you hear somebody and it’s like, ‘Oh!’ " Karen says of their public life. "We’ve had such normal childhoods that I have the tendency to forget, not forget, but it’s like we’re so busy with the family."
Being with family is most important to the Maynards.
"I think there is always doubt in your mind that whether you’re doing a good job as a parent or not and only time will tell," Maynard says of being a father. "I just think you have to stick to your guns on issues that you have with your kids, go with your heart, go with what you believe in."
One day the Chicago Bears part of Maynard’s life will only be a memory, but being a husband and a father is forever. "I hope I’m fortunate enough to play five or six more years to the point where my youngest is talking about it," Maynard says. "At that point I think it would just be a bigger deal to be around the other guys on the team. They’ll start realizing, ‘Hey, wait a minute. That’s Rex Grossman, that’s Brian Urlacher’ and they’ll understand what that means. In my mind, I think they’ll always just see me as Dad."
Kate Pancero is the assistant editor of Chicago Parent.