Ronnie Lott is so adored that people applaud for him the moment he walks into a room. It’s not just his 15 seasons in the NFL and place in the Hall of Fame. It’s also the legend of his toughness and perseverance. He famously gave up a finger sooner than miss time on the field.
He’s also half of one of the most successful father-son NFL duos ever. Ryan Nece built his own successful career after stepping out from under his father’s shadow. Both have Super Bowl rings.
But fans who think they know Ronnie and Ryan’s stories should think again. When I had the chance to interview the two of them together at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans (as part of my ongoing partnership with Dove Men+Care), we laid waste to some myths — about Ronnie’s take on having his pinkie amputated (he has regretted it at times and worries that it sent the wrong message), modern masculinity, and fatherhood. Ronnie even discussed how his own dad helped shape his life, and Ryan has now begun the adventures of fatherhood himself.
They also weighed in on kneeling during the anthem, whether the NFL is doing enough about concussions, what actual locker room talk is like, and a lot more.
The two began speaking after one of the dads present, Doug Ziegler, shared a story of overcoming a gambling addiction. Ronnie was blown away, and used it as a jumping off point to talk about the under-told story of male vulnerability.
Some highlights with time codes to help you skip ahead:
On having different last names. Ryan explained that it helped free him to “create an identity” for himself. Still, he couldn’t escape comparisons to his father, and there were times that was particularly tough.
Ronnie, meanwhile, did not push Ryan to pursue football. “My thought process is that ‘a love is a love’” — and that it was up to Ryan to find his “destiny.” (6:08)
On repeated visits to San Quentin State Prison. “It’s a chance for me to ground myself with understanding, ‘What is the world really like?’” Ronnie said. “When you go in there, you’re amongst men… All the dreams, all the hopes, all the opportunities are all the things that they talk about.” (12:10)
On men caring for themselves and each other. “One of the things that I’ve admired about my father and watching him over the years is how he cares for himself by surrounding himself and putting himself in different positions to create different perspectives to constantly learn from others and constantly challenge his beliefs and constantly figure out ways to live life to the fullest,” Ryan said. “I think about: how do I apply that on my own life… Whether it’s in San Quentin or it’s in an NFL locker room or it’s in a church or it’s in a library or it’s in a school, there are men that gather together, that talk to one another, that share their vulnerabilities, that encourage one another, that care for one another. And I don’t know if we always celebrate all those opportunities.” (13:50)
On the truth about the pinkie story. Despite the lore that giving up his little finger was heroic, Ronnie once told the AP that he didn’t want his willingness to sacrifice a finger and go through severe pain to be glamorized. “We’re losing the compassionate side of sports,” he said. “We’re becoming gladiators. You never want to lose the sight of the fact that players are people.”
I asked Ronnie what he wants today’s men to know about this. “When you talk about pain, there’s a badge of honor. Everybody wants to be John Wayne,” he replied. But men should open up about pain and seek help for it — whether physical, mental, or emotional, he added. (19:18)
On locker room talk. Any suggestion that so-called “locker room talk” is all about misogyny is “for the birds,” Ryan said. It’s not the norm, he added. Players have “intimate conversations” about life, finances, and more, and they look for ways to connect with each other, Ryan said.
Ronnie compared it to the conversations colleagues may have in any professional environment. “They’re adult conversations,” he said. “You’re trying to figure out life.” (22:30)
On concussions. Ryan praised steps the NFL is taking to address concussions. And although some prominent NFL players are saying they would not let their kids play, Ryan feels differently. “Absolutely,” he said.
But Ronnie said his thoughts on this are evolving. Information a doctor presented to the NFL Health and Safety Committee about “the little hits” players suffer “changes my mind,” he said. “Maybe kids shouldn’t be out and playing at a certain age.” (25:23)
On kneeling during the anthem. Ronnie pointed to his father’s service in the Air Force. “I salute the flag for a host of reasons,” he said. But he has friends who kneel, who are also honoring their fathers’ military service. “The great thing about that moment though, of that person kneeling, is that there’s a belief — he’s vulnerable. He is deciding to do something that takes a little courage.” (30:20)
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