To the best of my knowledge, Dale Morgan Sr. has never met Sean 'Diddy' Combs. But I bet he understands him, to a degree.
"I'm like most parents who have kids who have good talent," he says. "We're all kind of crazy."
Dale brings this up in reference to his son DJ, a former USC running back who was once a top-100 recruit nationally, as well as the 2009 World Youth Champion in the 110-meter high hurdles. Without qualification, DJ Morgan is a much better athlete than Justin Combs, Diddy's son and the unwitting catalyst for his father's arrest on Monday.
Justin Combs is a seldom-used – read: woefully out of his depth – 5-foot-7 inch defensive back who recorded exactly one tackle last season in four total appearances. The head coach who recruited him, Rick Neuheisel, has gone on record confirming that Combs was offered a scholarship almost entirely because he was the son of a famous musician. That Diddy saw fit to inject himself into his son's affairs owes itself to UCLA strength coach and world-class goon Sal Alosi refusing to do Justin the same courtesy. With Sean Combs as his witness, Alosi kicked the younger Combs out of practice that morning for a lack of effort, reportedly tacking on, "I don't care if your dad's here, I'm going to treat you just like I treat everyone else."
There's no need to peruse well-respected psychiatry journals to conclude that the resulting aftermath extends well beyond the bounds of "kind of crazy." It is, point of fact, batshit insane to wield a kettlebell like a war hammer, especially when it is in the direction of a scared intern rather than the coach who supposedly treaded on Justin Combs' honor. But the thought process leading up to it? That just run-of-the-mill football parent crazy, and it's pretty deep rooted within powerhouse schools.
Spend any extended period of time covering a high-level program, and you'll be exposed to many explosive scenes like the one that played out at UCLA. In my case, that's USC, but the broad strokes are the same. You can likely intuit the reasons why these things happen: ego, testosterone and an athletic culture that, beginning in Pop Warner and culminating with the feverish, zero-boundaries nature of modern high school recruiting, does not incentivize parental detachment.
So generally, it's beneficial when parents remain involved in their children's athletic careers. But sometimes, thanks to internal politics and the inherent sensitivity of careers that could wind up leading to multimillion dollar contracts, things get testy. It's easy to understand why parents might pounce at the slightest hint of injustice against their son, whether it is real or imagined.
They pounce often. I've had a father accuse me of harboring a conspiracy against his son because I didn't report a play he made in practice. He apologized when I informed him that I was on the other side of the field and simply didn't have a view of the action, before adding that he couldn't fathom why people held his son's position-mate – a surefire first-round pick whenever he turns pro – in much higher esteem.
Then there was the dad of the backup cornerback who swore up and down that his son was the best cover man in the entire conference—apart from the consensus All-American who played for one of USC's rivals. There was also the mom who tweeted ad nauseum about how her son was 100 percent recovered from a serious injury and wasn't seeing the field only because he hadn't been recruited by the new coaching staff. Several months later, that same kid told the media that he knew he wasn't at full strength until well into the offseason.
A certain family was notorious for swooping like hawks onto anyone with the audacity to criticize their boy, never mind that tectonic plates move faster than he did to seal off edge rushers. The mother ofone of the lightest-recruited players on the team, who was athletically limited and considerably undersized, couldn't fathom why her kid hadn't cracked the rotation at his position. I know of at least one dad who convinced his son to turn pro because he felt the coaching staff had disrespected them, only for that player to go undrafted. That same logic has played into countless transfers.
The necessary addendum is that, without exception, all of those parents are extraordinarily nice people. Their sons are even nicer. This isn't a case of entitlement or ego run amok, so much as a bunch of people living on a floodplain that periodically runs over and washes away their sanity; a world in which their son's ability to excel at a recreational activity directly equates toward more earning potential, a better education and generally higher status than their peers with inferior genetics. That is the definition of crazy, which makes them and their resulting actions byproducts of a warped environment.
This, of course, has not steered any of them toward attempted physical violence at one of their sons' coaches. But it's not a major stretch to imagine them, at their most frustrated, mulling over the notion in the abstract. That Diddy actually went through with it only reminds us that his ego, wealth and recognition wildly outpaces those of his Bruin parental counterparts.
Dale Morgan still remembers the time when he contemplated barging into a coach's office. His son DJ had fallen down the depth chart in his redshirt sophomore season and, despite working compulsively, was being given little assurance that he would be able to regain the starting spot he lost due to injury. The only thing that stopped Dale from following through on his planned confrontation was DJ insisting that he would take care of it himself.
But impulses are impulses, irrespective of standing, and so the line between Dale Morgan and Sean Combs is thinner here than any other facet of their lives, because football, with all its corrupt and counterintuitive incentives, made it so.