Jets head coach Rex Ryan says occasionally a reporter will ask him to reveal something about himself that people might find surprising. Ryan has a ready answer for that question.
"Well, you'd be surprised to know I am dyslexic," he'll say.
That is interesting. The learning disability involves difficulties in acquiring and processing language and has a range of symptoms, typically involving problems in reading, spelling and writing.
But obviously, Rex's dyslexia hasn't held him back — he said he didn't even know he had it until a few years ago. And he said he's happy to talk about his condition, especially to the men in his locker room.
"I'll tell my players anything because I'm not ashamed that I have this. It's something that I overcame," he told newyorkjets.com. "By far I'm not a perfect person and I don't have all the answers. But if I can relay a story that's happened to me or a situation that's happened in my life that I think a player possibly can benefit from, I'll be more than happy to share it."
The biggest message is that problems, dyslexia or otherwise, that may seem big can be conquered.
"All my life I struggled," Ryan said. "I don't spell well — still to this day I'm a horrible speller. I read, but I probably don't read as fast as other people, even though I read all the time now. I struggle with names sometimes, how to pronounce names, or how to read names.
"I remember skipping school when I was a kid all the time. The only way I would go to school would be like if there was floor hockey or softball or something like that. Then I'd stay," he said. "I was embarrassed. How come I was struggling? I'd get a spelling test and it was ridiculous. I couldn't even get in the ballpark. So that was really frustrating."
Further confounding the young coach-to-be was his family background. His mother, Doris, has her PhD and was a vice president of the University of New Brunswick in Canada. His dad, Buddy, was a two-time Academic All-American. His older brother, Jim, has an MBA and degrees in journalism and law.
He didn't mention the academic accomplishments of his twin brother, Rob, but he doesn't think Rob ever had dyslexia. "He can spell a hell of a lot better than I can," Rex said with a laugh.
Despite the condition, Ryan was driven. He got his bachelor of science and then his master's in physical education from Eastern Kentucky. And he worked his way steadily up the coaching ladder.
"It was never easy," he said. "But it's funny because I had this weakness but I had other gifts. That's probably why I'm sitting in this chair now."
Among those gifts are creativity and problem-solving, two traits that he scores off the charts on.
One of the problems Ryan has solved is how to process all the information coaches have to deal with every day. He doesn't retain information as well when it's in black and white, but color helps with the retention. So he color-codes everything. He's not the first coach to do this, of course, but his old playbooks and callsheets look like a paint store catalogue.
Ryan is happy to spread the word not only inside his locker room but outside of the confines of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center to the public. His upbeat message to kids and adults is to hang in there and run with that ball.
"If you have dyslexia, you can still reach your goals," he said. "And understand, it'll be a negative, no question, it's a challenge. But if you overcome it, you can do some great things, so don't let it get in your way. Find ways to work with it. I truly believe it's nothing to be embarrassed about.
"So far," Ryan added with his big smile, "I'm not doing bad."