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The bonds of politics, sports and family: Lt.-Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll and the Dolphins' Nolan Carroll

It's the summer of 1999 and 12-year-old Nolan Carroll II, a talented little soccer player and track star, is skating around his Jacksonville neighborhood with a stack of political fliers, going door to door to campaign for his mother. He is racing his younger sister, Nyckie, and brother, Necho, to see who delivers the most leaflets for Jennifer Carroll, who is running for the U.S. House.

It became a ritual in the Carroll household over the next 10 years. Mom runs for office, kids canvass neighborhoods, wave signs on street corners, smile and shake hands at rallies. They got good at it, and whenever they could make a contest of their political duties, they did.

Politics and sports continue to consume the family. Nolan is now a rookie cornerback for the Miami Dolphins. His mother last week became Florida's lieutenant governor-elect, the first black and first woman elected to that post. She was also the first black Republican woman voted into the Florida Legislature seven years ago.

"I was so relieved when we found out they won. My mom has worked so hard, put so much into it, and it is amazing what she has accomplished. We talked about how we couldn't believe how blessed we both are, me in the NFL and her a lieutenant governor," Nolan said.

Among her conditions for joining Rick Scott's ticket: "Dolphins time is my private time."

She has attended every Dolphins home game this season, watched the road games on TV, and talked to her son the day after every game. "I call Nolan and we have a little briefing, talk about what went right, what went wrong, how he could do better next time."

Nolan smiles when asked about his mother being an armchair quarterback. This is a woman who refused to let him play football when he took up the sport in middle school because she worried he would get hurt. "I was not okay with it at all because of the violence and brutality," she said. It took a home visit from the coach to change her mind.

"She went from not letting me play to thinking she's a coach," Nolan said. "I let her say whatever she wants to say. She's my mom and I've always listened to her, whether I agree or not."

When it comes to politics, Jennifer Carroll said she lets her family members make their own choices, though she acknowledges she was delighted when Nolan registered as a Republican. "We talk about the issues, and I tell them the pros and cons as I see them, and then it's up to them to decide," she said. Nolan prefers to keep his mother's politics out of the locker room, but when teammates find out, they like to ask questions.

"They'll ask me if she can lower their taxes and take care of their parking tickets," he said. "Sometimes people will want to debate issues, and I just tell them what I know. I don't like to talk about politics much because it gets too heated."

Jennifer Carroll said over the years Nolan has run across a lot of Democrats in the locker room and has called her with questions. "He'll tell me what they say, and then I tell him the other side. I think now he understands my views a little better, especially about taxation, because he's making a nice living. Why give it all up to Uncle Sam?"

The Carroll kids and their father, Nolan Sr., who grew up in Liberty City, remain Jennifer's biggest cheerleaders.

"When I bubbled in her name on the ballot, it was really special because for the first time, I truly knew, first-hand, what kind of person I was voting for — a woman with strong opinions, strong work ethic, and the desire to put everyone ahead of herself," son Nolan said. "She loves a challenge, and lets nothing stand in her way."

She ruled their home with an iron fist — the product of a strict upbringing and 20 years in the Navy, from which she retired in 1999 with the rank of lieutenant commander. Although her husband, an IT security specialist, also has a military background — he was in the Air Force — it was she who enforced the dreaded chore board.

"We had this board hanging in the kitchen with our names and thumbtacks, and there were eight or nine chores we rotated," the Dolphins player recalled Monday. "We had to clean the kitchen, wash the cars, vacuum, clean the patio, take out the trash. She wanted us to be disciplined and responsible. We had to respect elders and do as we were told, and even though I complained at the time, I am thankful for that now.

"The problem today is too many young people don't follow rules. They think the world revolves around them and they don't respect authority."

Jennifer Carroll, 51, was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and moved to the United States when she was 8. She said her parents instilled "Caribbean old-fashioned values'' in her, and she passed them on to her children.

"We always had tasks for them to do, and nothing short of excellence was accepted," she said. "If they didn't do it right, they had to go back and do it again. The word 'can't' wasn't in our vocabulary. We'd say, 'Don't tell us what you can't do, tell us what you can do.' There was always structure, after-school activities, sports, no time to hang out. When we went on vacations, it was always as a family. I truly believe that is why our kids are doing so well."

Nyckie, 21, a former high school track star and homecoming queen, is a senior at the University of Florida. Necho, 17, plays on the Fleming Island High basketball team and is weighing college scholarship offers. And Nolan is making his mark as a kick returner.

Jennifer Carroll sees many similarities between politics and sports but wishes politicians could be as sportsmanlike as NFL players.

"The Dolphins have their rivals on the field, but at the end of the day, when the final whistle blows, they pat each other on the back and mostly respect each other because of the bond they've formed over the years," she said. "Our politicians could learn from that. Political rivals can't seem to come together for the good of the country. That's really a shame."

The bonds of politics, sports and family: Lt.-Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll and the Dolphins' Nolan Carroll 11/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 10:25pm]

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