Overcoming Generational Trauma: “The Book of Manning” as Child Manual

Zach Rhoads By: Zach Rhoads
Reviewed By: Dr Stanton Peele

Posted on January 2nd, 2023 - Last updated: October 6th, 2023
This content was written in accordance with our Editorial Guidelines.

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The universal theme of trauma as the cause of addiction and much else has been broadened to include generational trauma.

This phenomenon gives the 2013 ESPN series “The Book of Manning” new visibility and significance. The Manning family’s lived example provides a rulebook for nipping generational trauma in the bud.

The Book of Manning’s Seminal Trauma

“The Book of Manning” is a 2013 ESPN movie that follows Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning’s life and career.  During his multi season professional playing days, Archie never made it into NFL postseason play as the teams he quarterbacked (mostly the New Orleans Saints) never had a winning record.

But Archie faced worse crises than those teams in his life. On his return home from college before his junior year his father committed suicide with a shotgun blast in his bedroom. Archie discovered the body.

At the time he considered dropping out of college to help his mother. But she insisted that he return to school. She figured that his abandoning his gift and his career at this stage would merely compound the family’s trauma, creating two tragedies. In her parental wisdom, she nipped generational trauma in the bud.

Rather than doubling down on despair, Archie Manning built the best life he could. In doing so, he shared his adaptive system of values with his children and the generations beyond.

Raising a Family

Archie and his wife Olivia dedicated themselves to raising healthy children. For his part Archie resolved never to bring his playing woes home. He and Olivia had three very active sons: Cooper, Peyton, and Eli. For those of you in the know, the latter two, Peyton and Eli, each won two Super Bowls as quarterbacks, while Cooper, the eldest, entered Ole Miss as a surefire bet to be an all-American receiver.

But tragedy struck a second time. Cooper was diagnosed with a crippling back ailment that resulted in surgery and his never playing football again. 

How did the family deal with this frightening event? Like they did with all their family’s tragedies and traumas—they moved on. In the first place, Cooper himself adjusted to no longer being a star athlete. As described in Wikipedia, 

Cooper Archibald Manning (born March 6, 1974) is an American entrepreneur and television personality who is the host of the television show “The Manning Hour” for Fox Sports as well as principal and senior managing director of investor relations for AJ Capital Partners.

He seems to have adjusted quite nicely, thank you.

But his development was not accidental. Archie and Olivia intentionally limited their sons’ early involvement in organized football thus compelling them to develop alternative skills, interests, and friendships.

Working Together

In fact, the Manning family has always seemed to work in unison. Cooper and Peyton together host the popular collegiate game show, “College Bowl.” While Cooper and Peyton don’t have to be geniuses themselves, they do have to have their heads in the game in order to deal with the very smart student contestants.

Eli and Peyton meanwhile cohost “ManningCast,” their joint ESPN MNF commentary show. The brothers are obviously very knowledgeable about football. They also have an interesting sibling byplay — Eli is the more sedate brother, while Peyton tends toward hyperactivity.  

They host a number of guests as they watch the game. It quickly becomes apparent that people like the brothers, and Peyton in particular. He goes way back in his career to bring on opponents and teammates. And, while he sometimes goads them with plays he may have scored off them, he does so with such a good nature that the other players and he always have smiles on their faces.

One guest, ESPN TV sports personality Robin Roberts, gave the essence of Peyton’s appeal. Peyton jibed Roberts that she was intimidated when interviewing fellow great quarterback Tom Brady, but she was nonchalant with him. Roberts responded, “You’re in my comfort zone.”

This seems to be the general feeling about Peyton. It was described when Peyton was mentioned as possibly heading his old team, the Denver Broncos:

The Pro Football Hall of Famer, whose championship swan song with the Broncos in 2015 also marked the last time Denver was in the postseason, has frequently said since retiring that he is making decisions about his football future on a year-to-year basis. His media company, Omaha Productions, continues to grow in scope and influence, and No. 18 will have no shortage of opportunities to make a meaningful impact within the game in any way he sees fit. Perhaps he’s content to be everyone’s favorite Hall of Fame quarterback as he dissects games alongside his brother in an engaging way that has made the Monday night “ManningCast” must-see television. (Our emphasis.)

Parenting Lessons from “The Book of Manning” — how did Archie do it?

“You don’t raise a quarterback”. Near the end of “The Book of Manning,” Archie responds to the frequent query he gets, “How do you raise a quarterback?” “No, no, no” Archie replies. “You don’t raise a quarterback, you raise a child.”

Accept children’s differences. It doesn’t take long watching the Manning family to note that the boys are very different. Cooper is a motor mouth, Peyton is always active, and Eli is reserved. Archie readily accepts them all. When Eli was considering which college to attend, he didn’t inform his parents about his decision making. This was just fine with Archie.

Work together and support one another. Nonetheless the family works together, as the sons’ various TV collaborations show. When Eli won his first Super Bowl in 2008 against an undefeated Patriots team led by Tom Brady, the camera kept panning to Peyton watching the game alone in a glass-encased luxury box. He never sat down the whole game, gesticulating and groaning like he was the one on the field instead of brother Eli.

Competence and responsibility. The children all seem to know how to do their jobs and to accept responsibility. When Eli was a freshman at Ole Miss, he was arrested for public drunkenness. His parents said nothing publically. Eli, however, said that he learned he “had to get his act together.” He was a Manning, after all. None of the brothers has ever blamed his behavior on a mental disease, has entered rehab, or has gotten divorced. 

Generosity and humility. As indicated by the Robin Roberts comment about Peyton, the Mannings don’t set themselves up as being better than other people, no matter how much they have accomplished.

The Next Generation

How long can the Manning dynasty continue? Cooper’s son Arch plays quarterback at Isidore Newman School, the same school where his father and uncles played. Arch Manning is the number-one quarterback prospect in the national high school class of 2023.

But his father and uncles don’t speak publicly about Arch, seemingly feeling that he is already under enough scrutiny. When a TV news magazine featured the latest Manning quarterback, it extolled his leadership skills: his coolness under fire, his sharing the credit for his success, and his encouragement of his teammates.

Obviously Arch knows how to throw the ball and where to throw it.  But where and how did he learn those leadership skills? Your guess is as good as ours. In any case, the legacy and lessons outlined in “The Book of Manning” continue through to Arch’s generation.

Together, without calling attention to themselves as role models, the Mannings provide a roadmap for escaping generational trauma.

Can non-professional quarterbacks also take back their family destinies? One example: teen pregnancies are disappearing, as children born to teens make sure not to recreate that lifetime burden in their own lives: “Their Mothers Were Teenagers. They Didn’t Want That for Themselves.” Most are from minority or deprived backgrounds.

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