Preaching to Todd Marinovich

Todd has learned a term, performance-based love, to describe the trauma of his youth: “The […]

Nick Lannon / 1.25.19

Todd has learned a term, performance-based love, to describe the trauma of his youth: “The only time, perceived or real, that I felt loved, is when I was performing, which is super sick.” He believes if he had not turned to drugs, he would have killed himself. “No-brainer,” he says. “I don’t know what else makes sense.”

The Todd Marinovich story is well-worn territory. I’ve written about it myself in these very pages. Briefly, Marinovich’s father, Marv, bred him from birth (that sounds strong, but read the post and the attendant articles) to be the best possible quarterback he could be. It worked, and it didn’t. It worked, in that Marinovich was great; a starting quarterback at USC as a redshirt freshman and a first-round NFL draft pick. It didn’t work, in that it so messed up Marinovich mentally that he has been in and out of drug addiction, rehab, and prison ever since.

Through all of that, though, Marinovich never blamed his father. He told everyone that he and his father were teammates, working together, aligned to the same purpose. Not anymore. Marv Marinovich has Alzheimer’s, Todd is still balanced on the knife’s edge of drug addiction, and the truth has come out.

In a truly wrenching article for Sports Illustrated, Michael Rosenberg outlines what really went on during Todd Marinovich’s childhood. He and Marv were never teammates; it would be more accurate to describe Todd as an inmate in Marv’s prison. The article is hard to read. The people who made fun of Marv Marinovich (including me) can do so no longer. His law—the weight of his expectation—wasn’t just passively felt by a son who wanted to shoulder the burden. Todd lived in fear. As his father’s car pulled to the curb, he would wonder how many minutes of fun he’d had, now that Marv had arrived and it was all over. This law was actively punishing Todd Marinovich, driving him to his knees. The real tragedy of the article, reading it today, is that Todd seems to never have called out for a savior. Sure, he turned to drugs to dull the pain and as his only escape, but he never heard the name (or at least, had never heard it properly applied) that could have—and still could—give him true freedom.

Rosenberg says that Todd has learned a term, “performance-based love.” This is a love with which we are all intimately familiar. I hope that no one reading this has experienced it quite the way that Todd Marinovich did, though perhaps some have. As Marinovich says, it is a “no-brainer” that, left alone with the uncompromising demand of his father—without the dulling and escapist effects of the drugs—he would have killed himself.

When demand builds to a level that cannot be escaped, something terrible must be done. After the law refused to exonerate him, Judas sought refuge alone, at the end of a rope. Todd Marinovich turned to heroin. Neither of them had access to Jesus’ comfortable word: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). It’s probably a job hazard, but I can’t come away from Rosenberg’s article without a single, overwhelming thought: Todd Marinovich needs a preacher. Of course, that thought is immediately followed by another. I, myself, need a preacher. You need a preacher.

So listen, and do it carefully: this world is chock-a-block with performance-based love. It’s how your office works, it’s how your circle of friends works…too often, it’s how your marriage and family works, too. But it is not how the God of the Bible works. Yes, the law is good, holy, righteous, and true. The demand is high. It is great. You are failing to uphold it. Your shoulders, like Todd Marinovich’s, are insufficient. Todd was bred from birth—you and I are, for the most part, just doing the best we can. All of us are scheduled to crash and burn. But the God of the Bible comes for the crashed and burned. Todd Marinovich is our patron saint! We should paint him on our shields and sing his story around our campfires. The healthy have no need of doctor, Jesus reminds us, with an arched eyebrow. He didn’t come for the righteous but for sinners (Mark 2:17). His shoulders are broad where yours are narrow. His back is strong where yours is weak. His life was holy where yours is ridden with sin. And yet, this is the Good News: you are called beloved child of God. This new name of yours is not given on account of your performance. It is not like a USC football scholarship, a selection in the NFL draft, or the love of Marv Marinovich. It is yours on account of another, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation—the perfect offering—for your sins. And not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).



3 responses to “Preaching to Todd Marinovich”

  1. Duo Dickinson says:

    Cruelty in the cause of parenthood damages entire lifetimes. I am left in prayer to accept that I will never understand reasons or rationales. Thank you (& SI)

  2. DLE says:

    How are Christians speaking to the power structures in our society that perpetuate “performancism”? And in a way that is winning?

    We may receive grace for the day on Sunday, but how—for instance—do we find grace in the corporate space where everything is measured and optimized in such a way that if we cannot keep up we are replaced (and no one cares that we have been)? Who is speaking to that justice issue?

    At some point, the questions get old. We need workable answers that create change in the world, not just more ways to cope with something that is increasingly oppressive.

  3. Patricia F. says:

    Some time ago, I watched an ESPN ’30-For-30′ episode called ‘The Marinovich Project’. It was so heartbreaking, to see the young man that was Todd Marinovich turned into something less than human, by his own father.

    And now to find out that that father has Alzheimer’s disease??? Some might call it ‘what goes around comes around’. But I have pity for Todd, and for his life today.

    Thank you for this post, Nick.

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