Roman: A truly decent man who belonged around games our kids play

This was the tweet Thursday from Gio Lopez, a senior football player at New London High:

"Glad I got the chance to help NL take the dub on Thanksgiving and also help the legend coach Rome end his coaching career with a W."

I had no idea that Juan Roman's last game at New London had just happened a few hours earlier.

Wish I'd been there.

Because in 26 years here now in this corner of the world, I've encountered no finer human being than Juan Roman.

Funny, too, that the news has me oddly emotional. Not sure why, other than this: I always loved hearing him talk. Chatting after a game, addressing his team ... didn't matter. There was always some nugget of insight and spirituality that just made me want to do better moving forward.

I've learned this much about my profession over the years: We in the media often roll with irresponsible — and distorted — bouts of hero worship. Just because someone can hit a baseball 500 feet, for example, doesn't make him a superior human being. We seize on mutually exclusive irrelevancies and present them as truths.

All of which cheapens the truly decent people who belong around the games our kids play.

I never told Juan this ... but I always hoped my son, if he ever wanted to play football, would play for him. Then I'd know that he'd be taught about a whole lot more than bubble screens and dime coverages.

Roman made sure his kids were exposed to what's required to be good men, evidenced by their weekly sessions with Patrick Sheehan Gaumer of Safe Futures, an agency that works to rebuild lives affected by domestic violence or sexual assault through counseling and advocacy, case management, court advocacy, support groups and educational programs.

It was kids talking about their own vulnerabilities, relationships and fears. In other words: real life.

"Normally, kids don't talk about things like this," Roman said earlier this fall. "It's a chance for them to have true, meaningful conversation."

Roman made sure his players understood spirituality's role in everyday life. Not religion. Spirituality. He was part coach, part preacher. Always with a message worth deeper reflection.

This year, he chided his players for talking too much junk on the field. He told them after one game, "Let's do this the right way. We don't need to talk and chirp. What bothers me is prior to the game, we told them to play hard and say nothing. I mean, if you beat someone up, why do you have to say anything? You think they don't know?"

After another game, we were chatting about life in general. He was talking about dealing with disappointment. He likened it to his college days when an old girlfriend broke his heart.

"I was a mess until I discovered Bonnie Raitt," Roman said.

"Bonnie Raitt?" I said.

"Yeah," he said. "That song 'I can't make you love me if you don't.' I listened to that over and over. It made me realize I'm only responsible for my behavior. I can't change anyone."

And I'm walking off the field chuckling.

To think I was there for a football game and got a free therapy session.

That sentiment has stayed with me since, too.

You are responsible for your own behavior. That's it. You can't change anyone, especially if they don't want to change. So stop trying and get on with your life.

Now Roman gets on with his. He gets to watch his kids play. Sons Hunter and Major play football at Yale. His daughter, Spencer, was the guts of New London's state championship girls' basketball team last season. She's back for her senior year.

"My wife and kids get all of me now," Juan Roman said.

His wife and kids are very lucky.

I never told Juan any of this, by the way. But if it's possible to be a mentor from afar, he just retired the trophy.

So happy retirement, my friend.

And thanks.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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