Football and Family Dynamics

When I was a kid, I wanted to play professional football. I was an avid Chicago Bears fan, and I remember asking my parents to tape Super Bowl XX on our VCR. I wanted to see what the vaunted Bears defense would do to the hated Patriots (a hatred I still carry to this day). I wanted to see if William “Refrigerator” Perry would score a touchdown. I wanted to watch Walter Payton run for days in the big game. I probably even knew the words to the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” In fact, in first grade I remember writing one of those “What do you want to be when you grow up?” assignments and said that I wanted to play middle linebacker for the Bears like Mike Singletary. As the years went by, my athletic skills did not develop, nor did my body type fit the prototypical NFL middle linebacker. Oh well.

Even though my life and skills never matched the level necessary to rise to the ranks of NFL superstar, one aspect of my life does fit the mold—an intact family.

This week, ESPN released the results of a survey they conducted with 128 current and former NFL quarterbacks. Some of those surveyed include Super Bowl winners Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Russell Wilson. Among the retired quarterbacks surveyed were Hall of Famers Joe Namath, Bob Griese, and Steve Young.

Some of the questions included in the survey considered typical football-related topics, such as when they first threw a football, if they played in a spread offense in high school, and if they attended an instructional camp to develop skills or be seen by scouts. But the most interesting results to me were the ones about their families.

Nearly 90% of the quarterbacks surveyed came from 2-parent households!

In addition, over two-thirds of them came from families of 3 or more children. Thus, it seems that the typical NFL quarterback (including some of the best of all time) comes from what would be considered a larger family with both parents. ESPN reports:

[A]ccording to the Child Trends Databank, ‘the number and type of parents (e.g. biological, step) in the household, as well as the relationship between the parents, are strongly linked to a child’s well-being.’ Our survey did not seek details beyond the number of parents in the household, but the overwhelming presence of two parents (nearly 90 percent) in quarterback homes outpaced the overall nation average.

NFL quarterbacks seem to be passing over the top of all the cultural trends. Almost 41% of all children born in the United States today are born to unwed mothers. 37% of families with children under 18 do not include married parents.

In addition, the typical American family has less than two children today, but the typical quarterback comes from a family with 3 or more children. Perhaps one could see this as an advantage to have more receivers to throw the ball to and more defenders to allow him to practice avoiding the rush. No matter how you look at it though, the successful quarterback at the highest level of football comes from a family that is no longer normal in the United States. Instead, they come from traditional married families with more than the average number of children.

I can’t tell you how many parents are convinced that their kids are going to play professional sports when they get older. Some have even limited the size of their families in order to pour their energy and resources into giving a child or two that special opportunity. Some might even be willing to sacrifice their marriages in order for a child to hit that big payday in the NFL. But it seems from this research that the best place to start a pro career is by throwing the ball to your brothers and sisters in the yard while your mom and dad lovingly look on.


Kevin Seifert, “Quarterback survey: What we learned,”, February, 4, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Unmarried Childbearing,”

Jonathan Vespa, Jamie M. Lewis, and Rose M. Kreider, “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012,” U.S. Census Bureau, August 2013.

U.S. Census Bureau, “Average number of own children per family (for families with own children under 18),”

Image credit: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr