We all know the stereotypes about professional
athletes: They're not family men. They're showboaters. They're not
good role models. The antics of players like the New York Jets'
Antonio Cromartie, who has nine children by eight different women,
don't do much to promote the idea of an NFL star as a family
But for every stereotype, there's someone who sets out to
bust it, and Devin Hester has been running through walls most of
his five-year, record-setting career with the Chicago
So when he sat in a meeting last year with a sports
marketing team to plan out his future off the field-what
sponsorships he wanted to pursue, what type of work he wanted to do
outside of football-he came up with an idea of his own.
He was a new father-he and his wife, Zingha, had just
welcomed their first child, a son named Devin-and he wanted to be a
role model for young dads. He wanted to show fans that for every
Cromartie, there's a dad like him, who changes diapers and takes
their kids to Yo Gabba Gabba!
And he wanted to start with a parenting magazine in his
adopted hometown of Chicago.
You'll find the third installment of that column on page
12 of this issue. "Hangin' with Devin" is a color commentary of
Hester's outings around town with 18-month-old Devin. But it's
other things, too: a pushback against a stereotype and a playbook
of sorts for fathers everywhere to get involved in their kids'
"You don't have to be rich, you don't have to be a star,
you just have to be there," Hester says. "It's not about the money.
It's about the time you put in."
Hester's own parents divorced when he was a toddler. But
rather than having an absent father figure, Hester says he had two:
his own father, who was active in his kids' lives before dying of
cancer when Hester was a teenager, and his stepfather, who raised
Hester and his brother like they were his own.
Many kids whose stories start with a broken family aren't
so lucky, something the Hesters know.
"Devin has some friends who didn't have their fathers
around, and he was able to see some of the trouble they had,"
Zingha says. "He could see for himself the difference it makes to
have that man in a young guy's life."
Growing up in a fatherless house has been linked to
behavioral problems, struggles in school and run-ins with the law,
says David Klow, a psychotherapist with Northwestern University's
Family Institute specializing in men's issues.
"Fathers give us guidance, direction, stability, model a
way of living in the world, and without that presence, kids are
often left to look for that inspiration out in the world," he says.
"Sometimes they get lost."
Klow says he's inspired by Hester's high-profile daddy
"He's really showing what he's about is about family, that
he's not into crazy partying, that he's not out getting into
trouble," he says. "That's a choice and it can be a hard choice for
someone who's that famous and who's pulled in a variety of
directions. It takes a certain strength and sense of self to say,
'That's not what I'm about.'"
Instead, Hester is, in his own words, a man focused on
family. He and Zingha met during his final year at the University
of Miami and married last summer.
"I'm a family guy, a one-lady kind of guy, and I think
having strong father figures in my life … it was never going to
happen that I was going to be an absent dad," he says.
Zingha says Hester is hands-on when it comes to Devin, who
goes by D.J. at home.
"He's excited to be a dad and it shows," she
Some dads can point to a singular moment when their
fatherhood hit them. No so for Hester-not when Zingha told him she
was pregnant, not when he saw the ultrasound, not even when he met
his son for the first time. Instead, it was over the first few
weeks of his son's life that the feeling crept in, during late
night feedings or when young Devin would cry and reach out to
"For me, it was realizing that this is someone depending
on me, actually reaching out to me, needing my help, needing love,
needing me to be a father figure," he says. "That was
Not that Hester is a stranger to responsibility. When he
lines up to receive a kick, he knows he carries the expectations of
himself, his team and his championship-hungry city. But fatherhood
is, pardon the pun, a whole different ballgame.
"It's a different kind of responsibility," he says. "When
I'm on the field, I'm a football player and I've got guys who count
on me to make the play. But when I leave the locker room, it's
family time. I've got a kid counting on me to bring groceries home
and spend time with him. He doesn't care about any of that other
And while the uncertainty of the NFL upcoming season has
Hester a little on edge these days, he's enjoying the time off with
his son. So far, the pair have hit Navy Pier, KeyLime Cove and the
"I love Chicago, and you get to see a whole different side
of it with a kid," says Hester, who says Bears nights out don't
often include cotton candy and Ferris wheels.
If he sounds like he's having as much fun as little Devin,
that's because he probably is. In a lot of ways, Hester is still a
kid at heart. He has a young boy's love of cars and motorcycles; he
restores old cars in his free time. He was one of the first people
in line to test out the new Microsoft Kinect video game system when
it debuted at the Oakbrook Microsoft retail store last
And when he returned a punt 64 yards into the endzone at
the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, becoming the NFL's
leader in punts returned for touchdowns, he wanted to thank the 10
guys on the field who blocked his path into history. So he bought
them remote-controlled cars.
"I just like to have fun, and to me, there's nothing
better than running around with my little man," Hester says. "He's
getting big so fast and he's always on the move."
And if genetics have anything to do with it-or if our
cover photo shoot is an early indication-little Devin might give
his father a run for his money one day.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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