At a time when professional athletes are making headlines for increasingly troubling (and sometimes bizarre) reasons, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that some are pretty great guys — stand-up fathers and husbands, productive members of society and genuinely good role models. I sat down recently with Curt Schilling, hallowed Red Sox pitcher of the famous bloody sock, and his wife Shonda, who, for years, have preferred to make headlines for their charitable work than for any scandalous trysts, drug arrests or juicy controversies.
In the summer of 2007, the Schillings learned that their then-7-year-old son, Grant, who’d been acting out, behaving irrationally and was spiraling out of control, had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Though the diagnosis was a relief, what followed for Shonda and Curt was an onslaught of a million different emotions — guilt, anger, pain, confusion. With tremendous candor, they detail their journey in a new book, “The Best Kind of Different,” which not only chronicles Grant’s triumphs after his diagnosis, but the battle they fought to strengthen their family and their marriage.
The Daily Caller: Shonda, raising kids is hard. Raising kids when their dad is away a lot is really hard. And raising kids who have health issues when their dad is away a lot must have taken a huge amount of patience and courage.
Shonda Schilling: For me, I think I just dug in and did what I had to do. You have to give yourself a break. And you have to take care of yourself first. That’s most important.
The DC: I imagine that’s hard when you have so many other people to worry about.
Shonda: Right, but you realize once you do give yourself a bit of a break that everything else will fall into place. And you’re a much better parent.
The DC: A family member’s daughter is 2 years old, and doctors have said that she might have Asberger’s …
Shonda: That’s very early.
The DC: I believe that they were told that if you catch the signs at a young age, you can almost socialize them out of it …
Shonda: Right, that’s true.
The DC: What should I tell them?
Shonda: Well, tell them to reach out for help. There are definitely Asperger’s associations everywhere that have techniques and strategies to help the kids, so that they sort of blend more into life, so that they don’t seem so different. And just embrace their difference. And take deep breaths — lots of deep breaths, because no two days are alike.
The DC: Curt, I imagine it takes some courage for a professional athlete, who is by definition probably something of a perfectionist, to publicly admit that he’s struggled as a father. I heard you talk about how guilty you felt for scolding Grant for his behavior before you knew what was going on with him, when it wasn’t something he could control. Does faith play a role in guiding you as a father?
Curt Schilling: Wow. No, it doesn’t play a role — it’s everything. It wasn’t publicly hard to admit those things. It wasn’t publicly hard to talk about those things. Because that’s who I am. And I’ve been with the same woman for 19 years and I absolutely know that I screw up. I make mistakes on a daily basis. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my professional career.
The DC: Don’t tell my father that. He’s a big fan.
Curt: Well it’s true. But none of it out of malice. None of it to be mean. It’s who I am. So when you understand that everyone’s born a sinner, it makes life a lot easier to live on a day-to-day basis. And at the end of the day, you have to learn the difference between losing and failing. That’s probably the key. You’re going to lose little battles every day. But you can only fail at something you quit. Knowing full well that I’ve never quit anything in my life, these are just the things that happen to everybody, regardless of your paycheck, your status in life. You’re not immune to anything.
The DC: This isn’t just a book about Grant’s struggle with Asperger’s. It’s also a book about your struggle to keep your family together while Curt was on the road, and, Shonda, while you were dealing with the kids’ health issues and trying to remain strong as a wife and a mother yourself. Divorce is a fact of life these days. How important to both of you is the idea of a nuclear family?
Curt: We’ve told everyone, we did not lightly or half-heartedly sit next to each other and say, in addition to taking vows before God, that walking away would never be an option. And I think that that lends a lot of credibility to the arguments that we had. When you read the book, you understand that a lot of it was her really venting for years and years and years, because she didn’t really feel like she had an outlet. But at the same time, I know I never sat back and said, “Wow, is my marriage over?” It was always, “How do we fix it?” and “How do we address it?” So the marriage part of this was the key to it … how much I loved her and the fact that I would do literally anything to make sure that we were doing what was right for us.
The DC: On that note, Tiger Woods is in the midst of an adultery scandal …
The DC: And Alex Rodriguez is deal with doping allegations. Again …
Curt: No, you don’t say?
The DC: And Dwight Gooden was just arrested again for a DUI. And here are you guys, writing a book about Asperger’s, working with your SHADE Foundation and Curt’s Pitch for ALS, giving back. Do you guys feel an obligation to be role models?
Shonda: I don’t really think it’s role models. I think it’s setting an example — or showing an example. I think a lot of people want to give back, they just don’t know how. We’ve been blessed, but we get much more out of it than we put into it. Unfortunately, the media cares more about what those guys do wrong, rather than showing examples of who does right.
Curt: You’re in the media, S.E., you know how this works. It’s about selling copy, right? I played with far more players who did it right and did great things than did it wrong, but those don’t sell copy. A-Rod in front of an elevator with a masseuse is front-page news, and David Wright doing work with a charitable foundation isn’t. It’s the world we live in, and you understand that. So we never got involved with anything with our name in any way, shape or form to make people think a certain way about us. We did it because we always felt it was the right thing to do. And because at the end of the day — where our ALS involvement is concerned — we didn’t want to be in a situation where our kid came home and said, “Dad, I have ALS,” and we’d just sat on our asses our entire life with the kind of opportunity we were given.
The DC: So who are your role models?
Curt: My dad.
Shonda: My mom.
The DC: Well isn’t that nice. Thank you both for being such wonderful role models, and best of luck.