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Charles Mann’s Hands

Posted by Matt Terl on February 28, 2011 – 11:32 am

I shook Charles Mann’s hand when he was in the building on Thursday, talking to students about preparation and planning. It was an unexpectedly painful experience.

The pain was unexpected not because Mann doesn’t look strong (he does), but because there’s been so much talk over the years about Dexter Manley’s handshake and no one ever mentions Mann’s. “It’s a standoff,” Mann says, when I ask him how his grip matched up to his old defensive linemate’s. “He tries to hurt people. I’m just really firm, because for years these things” — he holds out his huge hands and twisted fingers — “hurt so bad, and now they don’t hurt anymore. So this is like payback.”

Mann considers his misshapen fingers a point of pride, and a sign that he played the game the right way. “Most of the defensive linemen these days don’t use their hands,” he says. “They’re not as good.” And the reason Mann believes they’re not as good actually tied in, in a roundabout way, to Mann’s message to the students from T.C. Williams High School.

Because Mann thinks the problem for defensive linemen starts early. “I don’t think they are taught at the lowest of levels,” he says. “I see kids on the football field. I see parents coaching them. I see the coaches. And in this country — probably the world, but I can only speak for this country — our kids are getting a disservice in terms of the quality of coaching.”

Between that observation and his comments last year about offering some mentoring to his Redskins pass-rushing heir Brian Orakpo, Mann might seem to be a natural to go into coaching. But, he says, “I like running stuff,” so being anything below head coach might be difficult — especially if he found himself working on the staff of a coach he didn’t fully respect.

“If I was really desiring to be a head coach, I’d go down to a high school and I’d start there,” Mann says. “Those kids are moldable.”

So it should come as no surprise that he’d pick high schoolers to reach out to to talk about setting goals and planning out strategies for success — and it’s an approach that Merrill Lynch was more than happy to share.

Jeff Wood, managing director of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, explained that reasoning to the students a little later in the day. “Please understand this: success is not as sweet unless you can share it with somebody. So what I would encourage you to do is learn from people along the way. You have the will, but a lot of other people have the skill to teach you. People like your teachers. Your coaches. Your counselors. Then you’ll reach that success.”

Mann is one of those people that you can learn from, and he followed up Wood’s comments with an object lesson that — coincidentally enough — centered on his hands.

“Success,” Mann said, holding up his right hand to display his Super Bowl ring.

“Sacrifice,” he said, holding up his twisted left hand. “You can’t have one without the other. What are you willing to sacrifice for the success?”

You can click to enlarge this close-up of Mann’s hands, although I’m not sure why you would.

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