Father Provided Foundation for Laurinaitis' Success
By Nick Wagoner
Picture for a moment if you will, Joe “Animal” Laurinaitis out of his realm within the wrestling ring and playing the role of dad on your local softball field.
Picture a 325-pound professional wrestler – a man who makes a living knocking people down and falling over with equal aplomb, who regularly wore face paint and spikes for his version of business casual – standing on a softball field coaching 6-year old girls.
If it’s hard to gather the image in your head, it’s not because it never happened. In fact, for most of his life, Laurinaitis somehow found the time and opportunity to coach all three of his children in whatever athletic endeavor they took in.
“Imagine me at 325 pounds, coaching 6-year old girls swing ball softball,” Laurinaitis said. “I looked like a silverback gorilla coaching little girls. It was kind of funny looking but that’s what I wanted to bring to my kids.”
Laurinaitis and his wife Julie formed a tag team as good as the Road Warriors, the duo that won wrestling championships on a regular basis in the ring, by raising their children in a healthy, athletic environment that would breed success.
Any doubt about that is erased simply by taking a look at the couple’s son, James Laurinaitis, the Rams’ second-round pick in April’s draft and almost certainly the team’s middle linebacker of the future.
Almost from the day he was born, James Laurinaitis was destined to be an athlete of some kind. In the Laurinaitis family, sports were a way of life.
Joe Laurinaitis was a junior college All American football player, an accomplished baseball player (like his father) and eventually one-half of one of the most successful tag teams in wrestling history.
Julie Laurinaitis was weightlifter and bodybuilder with the knowledge to provide her children with a nutritional diet and cart them around to various practices.
“I’ve been blessed with great genetics being a wrestler and a meathead and my mom (Julie) being a fitness model,” James Laurinaitis said. “So I have a unique set of genes, but I’m very blessed.”
James Laurinaitis took to the sports quickly. Joe put a ball in his crib soon after he was born and James was instantly taken by sports.
Even as a kindergartner, James would sit at the bus stop and want his father to throw him the ball so he could make ‘Ozzie Smith catches.’
Joe installed a 40x80 Sport Court in the backyard so his kids and any kid who wanted a safe place to play sports could go.
“He was just crazy that way,” Joe Laurinaitis said. “He wanted to dive for the baseballs all over the place, all the time. That’s just the kind of kid he was.”
Being a father is difficult enough for anyone taking on the task but for a professional wrestler, life on the road can make it almost impossible to be a steady force in your child’s life.
But for Joe, missing out on his children growing up was never an option. Whether he was working for World Wrestling Entertainment, World Championship Wrestling or any other organization, he would have it written in to his contract that he would fly home for at least two days a week.
When he wasn’t delivering clotheslines and body slams, Joe was at home coaching James and his other son Joe (from a previous relationship) in football or baseball or hockey and his daughter Jessica in whatever season she happened to be on at the time.
On the road for about 325 days a year, Joe hated the time it took to be away and there was an adjustment period for James as well.
“It was the most horrible thing I could do,” Joe Laurinaitis said. “My goal, especially when James was born, it was just like ‘I have got to get home to my boys.’ I remember distinctly with James he would be so happy to see me. He was still at the age where he was in his high chair and he would see me and just get all excited and smiling and then it was like something switched after a few hours like ‘Hey, you’ve been gone forever’ and he would cry and get mad at me. I told him some daddy’s jobs they are at home every night and your daddy’s on the road all the time. The hardest thing to teach was that no matter what you see in the ring, your dad is OK.”
Being the son of a professional wrestler wasn’t without its privileges, though. In addition to coaching and providing a place for kids to play, Joe would regularly invite James and his teammates to the arena for wrestling events.
Once there, the team would get to go in the ring and meet all of the other wrestlers. In the ring, James never really harbored dreams of following in his father’s footsteps but Joe encouraged him to play any and all sports.
Eventually, James decided to give up hockey and baseball and pursue football for a living.
“From day one, when James did anything, he never did anything halfway,” Joe Laurinaitis said. “He’s a perfectionist like his mom. If he can’t be the best at it, he’s not doing it or he will work hard at it until he is the best.”
Of course, a simple conversation with Laurinaitis would alert anyone to the fact that he was brought up in a home where those ideals were enforced on a regular basis.
When the Rams drafted James in the second round of April’s NFL Draft, all of the Ozzie Smith catches and quick trips across the country turned dreams into reality for the entire Laurinaitis family.
As if by some twist of fate, Laurinaitis ended up on the team he believed would be the best fit for him but also the one that Joe loved so much as a kid.
“I’m so proud of James,” Joe Laurinaitis said. “To this day James and I tell each other we love each other every conversation. Life is too short not to tell your children you love them every time you get the chance. I just got off the phone with a friend of mine, Dino, and I said ‘Man, my son is an NFL football player.’ We thank God every day and he thanks God every day for the opportunities he’s got in front of him.”
Indeed, James wears a bracelet on his wrist every day that proclaims how grateful he is for the chances God has afforded him.
And though he won’t be able to spend his first Father’s Day as an NFL player with Joe (he has some charitable commitments), James is the first to acknowledge that without the help and valuable lessons his father has taught him, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“He’s a big kid, he gets excited,” James Laurinaitis said. “He definitely has had a huge influence, he does a great job of being a role model – how to handle things, how to handle success. He taught me two very important lessons when I was young, and the first was the day you ever become satisfied as a player just walk away, because if you ever think you’re good enough, you should be done, you’ve already accomplished everything. And the second thing he taught me is no matter how hard you’re working, there’s always somebody across the country working that much harder to try and take your spot. So two very good lessons I think from a parent.”
Lessons cultivated no matter how odd or unusual the picture might be.
What's not to like about this kid? Is a seed of greatness germinating for the Rams at a position we've needed to fill for several years??
Re: Father Provided Foundation for Laurinaitis' Success
Heck yeah, the Animal!! I wonder if James can wear the spiked shoulder pads or paint a spider on his face.