Mitch Albom

It is already one of the most embarrassing video clips in sports history, and it has nothing to do with dropped passes or missed dunks. It is footage of New York Jets defensive back Antonio Cromartie, a 26-year-old man, trying to list the names of his children.

Cromartie, in the HBO reality series "Hard Knocks," sits on the field, counting his kids on his fingers. At times he seems to struggle remembering them, and he skips one of their names altogether.

Then again, who could blame him? He has, by his own count, fathered eight children, apparently with six different women. Only at the end of his list does he say, "And I have my newborn with my wife."

So Cromartie is the new face of irresponsible fatherhood. But while he has more than earned the honor (the Jets, according to reports, had to front him $500,000 for paternity suits), he is hardly alone.

Fathering kids as if you're watering plants is a growing problem in the sports world, particularly in African-American circles. And if we are gong to talk about this issue, we need to drop our sensitivities toward this fact.

No, African Americans aren't the only ones having kids out of wedlock. But, yes, the news is worst in that community, where, in recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 72 percent of new babies were born out of wedlock, versus 28 percent among whites and 17 percent among Asians. This is not in the skin. It is not about color. It's about culture.

And if the culture doesn't change, neither will the pattern.

A busy year of procreating

Cromartie, in listing his offspring on "Hard Knocks," mentions four who are around age 3. I'll never understand men who father kids as if opening Starbucks franchises. But four in one year?

That's unforgivable. Obviously, Cromartie enjoys his sex, but is it a sin to take precautions? Or does he think his seed is so special he needs to procreate on a quarterly basis?

And what about the women involved? Are they that naive? Or do some figure the fastest route to a sports star's wallet is through the delivery room?

Both parties ignore the well-documented consequences of absent fathers. Lack of guidance, discipline or demonstration of the love and respect needed in a marriage. Crime rates, dropout rates, violence rates -- all are higher for kids without fathers. It's not like this is a secret.

Yet the situation repeats, over and over. It is simply cruel. How will children ever learn their way out of the cycle? If we, in the 21st century, have fostered a culture where "baby mama" is an acceptable term, we have little to be proud of.

"A house without a father is a challenge," Bill Cosby once wrote. "A neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe."

A problem for our society

Travis Henry, the former NFL running back, reportedly has fathered at least 11 children with 10 different women. Evander Holyfield, the boxing champ who claims to be a man of God, fathered two children with two women a month apart -- while being married to another.

Now comes Cromartie -- on prime-time TV -- to again demonstrate how flippant fatherhood can be. He actually has the nerve to tell the camera, "Soon as you leave (work) and get home you got to be that father figure."

He is not a father figure.

But, sadly, a white columnist bemoaning this issue won't change it in the black community. An older couple wagging fingers won't make young people listen. Critics may be dismissed with "it's not your place to say anything."

But it is my place and it is your place, black or white or brown, because we share this country, and playing Johnny Appleseed to kids you won't tend to makes our country a more difficult place. That holds for Antonio Cromartie or Kevin Federline.

Cromartie's video is now the butt of endless Internet jokes. And almost unbelievably, Cromartie has complained only that HBO didn't show another clip in which he recited his children's names faster.

Hey, Antonio. It isn't how fast you remembered the kids. It's how fast you created them. And there's nothing funny about your story. It's sad. Really sad.






Television - 8 Kids with 6 Moms? NFL Star Is Shameful