SB Nation

Greg Jordan | November 8, 2012

Football Father

Violence, rage, dementia, and the love between father and son

Mark Pellington knew violence long before he directed Pearl Jam’s video for the song “Jeremy,” a crazed, strobe-lit collage of adolescent despair, for his father Bill, a legendary linebacker for the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s and 60s, was as violent a player as the game has ever seen.

The video, filmed in 1992, became an MTV staple for the rest of the decade until the Columbine shootings made its public airing taboo.

Mark, though his career as a filmmaker took off, was dragged down for years by the errant critique of the violence in “Jeremy.” In the final scene of the video, the long-bullied Jeremy takes revenge by shooting himself in front of his schoolhouse torturers. Problem was, censors ditched that scene, and unknowingly multiplied its ill effect. Rather than the edited-out suicide, we saw the blood-stained classmates, and Jeremy’s self-destructive revenge was misconstrued as murderous. Then Columbine, the real event the censors no doubt feared, provoked yet another overheated discussion about that legendary fine line between art and life, for “Jeremy” was resurrected as a culprit.

Mark was never bullied in school himself. He was and is a bear of a fellow, resembling his father in both countenance and girth. To those who knew his father, it is clear that they share the same gentleness, too.

But, at the time of the making of the video, a vicious disease not then so regularly named as Alzheimer’s was beating the hell out of Mark as he watched his father succumb almost overnight to it.

How Mark channeled the violence of his father’s decline and death to spark the creative fury of “Jeremy” didn’t even dawn on him until recently. But it dawned hard, for the sudden, shocking death of his wife helped Mark realize that, in many ways, his whole artistic career has been a conversation with his father – the intelligent, mauling, dignified, suffering and battle-scarred old Colt.

I began this story with Jimmy Shelton, our crack video editor, as an effort to depict the consequences of football’s head trauma epidemic on the children of NFL players. But stories take you where they will, and it became simply a story about how sports, like art, can sanctify the complicated love between a father and a son.

About the Author


Greg Jordan's most recent book was Safe at Home, a biography of Willie Mays Aikens, the fallen slugger who became the face of mandatory minimum sentencing reform. His screenplay about the first circumnavigation of the globe was recently optioned by Mono Films in Spain. He is at work on a book about the troubles in Juarez, Mexico.

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