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CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: 'Pop' group: Cosby, White & Dungy

September 4, 2006

CHRIS KATTERJOHN

Commentary 'Pop' group: Cosby, White & Dungy

Bill Cosby, Eugene White and Tony Dungy are a pop group of a different kind. They are out and about these days calling on men to be better fathers.

Comedian Cosby was in Baltimore late last month urging fathers to help raise their kids.

"This is a great evening because we're calling on men to come claim their children," Cosby said to the crowd. "And that's part of being a man. You cannot be a man at all if you haven't claimed your child."

You recall that Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent White in early August encouraged fathers to bring their kids to the first day of school at IPS this year and proclaimed that day to be "Dad's Day is the First Day."

The goal was to create stronger bonds between men and their children and to get the dads more involved in their children's schools, according to White, whose district is more plagued than others in this area when it comes to absentee fathers.

At the same time, Indianapolis Colts Coach Dungy is gearing up for the second All Pro Dad Dinner and Awards banquet Oct. 6. The event is a fund-raiser for All Pro Dad, a program of Tampa-based Family First, a notfor-profit whose mission is to strengthen the family.

Dungy has been involved in the program for a decade.

Why are these three prominent black leaders in positions of authority and respect on the absentee-father bandwagon? It's because the numbers are alarming overall, and they are worse in the black community.

The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that an estimated 24.7 million U.S. children (36.7 percent!) live without their biological father. Almost 17 million children-one in every four-live in homes with no father figure at all.

Here are two more mind-numbing stats: About four of 10 first marriages end in divorce and 26 percent of absentee fathers live in a different state from their children.

In Indiana, a state known for "strong family values," more than 20 percent of families don't have a father figure in the home.

Cosby, White and Dungy's message is a powerful one that is urgently needed today. I particularly admire Dungy for taking the lead in the National Football League and standing up to deliver the message in a public arena with a huge audience.

No doubt the message of Family First and Dungy's mission became even more meaningful to the coach in the wake of the December 2005 suicide of his eldest son, James.

Dungy says he became involved with Family First when he moved to Tampa to coach the Buccaneers in 1996. The coach, who is seen by many of his past and present players as a father figure, benefited from a strong relationship with his own dad, who died in 2004.

He's using that experience, his belief in the importance of family, and his religious faith to push the message.

"Growing up," he wrote in a 2004 column in Sporting News magazine, "I just assumed every kid must be as lucky as I was to have a dad to follow. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

"The role of the dad within our society has changed," Dungy wrote. "We seem to see the man as the provider and the mom as the nurturer. More and more dads aren't handling their responsibility with their kids."

To his credit, Dungy has helped spread the message throughout the NFL. All Pro Dad now conducts a program called the Father & Kids Experience with the Steelers, Packers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jaguars, Buccaneers and Bills.

That same program will take place at the Union Federal Football Center on the Saturday afternoon following the banquet. For $10, dads can bring up to four kids to the practice facility, where they will get tours and participate in activities, at the same time learning more about how to be a better father. I can't think of a more important cause.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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