KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Right now, as you read this, Scott Pioli is obsessing about the Chiefs' roster. This is the job description of the general manager, of course, so he thinks about his constantly, never stopping, during his 20-minute drive to the office and 16-hour workday once he gets there and, if he's honest, a bigger chunk of his time with family than he'd like to admit.
His thoughts come out in phrases that are now cliches around town, like "finding the right 53," and they come out in conversations with coaches and assistants and janitors and teachers and most anyone else he sees.
By now, we've heard plenty about this in Kansas City. Coach Todd Haley talks about not liking "yo-yo guys," who are fast one week, slow the next, and bad for the locker room in between. The Chiefs do seem to think about these issues of character and dependability more than most.
Passionate fans can tell you that six of the Chiefs' seven draft picks this year were college team captains, the highest percentage in the NFL. The Chiefs signed Thomas Jones as much for his leadership as running ability, and contract extensions for Derrick Johnson and Andy Studebaker are rewards for attitude and hard work as much as sacks and pass coverage.
This is the part of the Chiefs' story that we're getting to know very well.
What virtually nobody is aware of is that the team is also a fascinating if unwitting social experiment.
Eric Berry's father coaches little league teams and mom attended each of his games growing up, except the time she was in labor with his little brothers. Mike Vrabel's parents are both educators and still married.
Dexter McCluster's high school coach credits much of his former player's success to two supportive parents. Same with Tony Moeaki. Jones' parents both worked in Virginia coal mines and still live together.
Stories like this are all over the Chiefs' locker room, and intentionally or not, the organization's focus on "the right 53" is creating a very different makeup than the rest of the NFL.
Depending on who you count, at least 11 of the 17 most high-profile players added or given contract extensions since Pioli took over grew up in two-parent households. Overall league numbers aren't available, but nearly 70 percent of players at recent NFL combines were from single-parent homes.
This is a sensitive thing, and Pioli is careful talking about it. Drafting and signing and trading for players is a complicated process with gigabytes of information on all sides. None of it comes in absolute terms.
"We're not so rigid in trying to find a certain kind of guy or background," Pioli says. "I'm more concerned about the profile of the individual and the behavior than the background, because the background doesn't necessarily define the person and who they're going to be and what they're going to be."
So, no, the Chiefs won't draft a linebacker just because he comes from a stable home, just like they won't ignore a receiver whose parents split. Coaches and the front office want good teammates and hard workers, and there's too much at stake to judge a man by how many parents he grew up with.
Larry Johnson has a strong mother and father and way too much knucklehead. Brian Waters is the NFL's reigning Man of the Year and his father has been in jail. Hell, Barack Obama comes from a broken home and Lindsay Lohan's parents are still married.
So plenty of exceptions exist, and besides, this is not done in pursuit of some virtuous calling. Pioli is trying to win games. He happens to believe the best way is to focus on dependability and accountability, which, so far at least, happens to involve a disproportionate number of players from two-parent households.
Even if it's done unintentionally -- perhaps especially if it's done unintentionally -- an important and uncomfortable sociological question emerges:
Are kids from two-parent households somehow better suited for football success?
Before we continue, let's all agree on a couple things. Two-parent households can be dysfunctional, particularly if the parents fight in front of the kids, and some single parents can put a married couple to shame in terms of care and support.
But research by Penn State professor Paul Amato found that single-parent kids have "more behavioral problems, more emotional problems, and lower levels of school engagement (that is, caring about school and doing homework)."
Other studies find children growing up with both biological parents to have higher levels of academic, social and emotional well-being.
Isn't that at least close to what the Chiefs say they're looking for?
"This is politically charged, because if it's seen as a defining variable, people would find that as a form of unfair selecting," says Sharon Chirban, a sports psychologist from Boston who works with high-level athletes. "But I do think intact households are more likely to support team behavior, like working well on a team.
"The variable that hasn't changed is that there's a certain stability. And I bet that stability does breed certain behavioral makeup."
Not that it can't come from single-parent upbringings. Many in sports -- not just football, but all sports -- will contend that growing up tough can be a good thing. They're not spoiled, and sometimes appreciate coaches and teammates even more than others who already have support.
Maybe rough times drive them to work harder, to achieve success and provide a better life for their family, and besides, many of them get just as much love from uncles or step-mothers or cousins to make up for a missing parent.
Really, there's no way to know for certain. Just guesses, each made in the context of our own biases.
The Chiefs are just giving us a little different way to look at it.
You might know some of Berry's story by now. Honor student, worked an internship for a local dentist, an All-American at Tennessee who spent part of each game week shining helmets with the equipment guys so he could "appreciate what they do for me."
James Berry is on the phone, and he's just as proud of his son as you'd expect. He beams about a million things, you know, like how Eric's always there for his younger brothers or that he used part of his first NFL check to buy a new field where he played football as a kid in Georgia.
Anyway, as our conversation winds down, I tell James about a friend of mine. She did business with Eric over the summer, certainly not the first local athlete she's seen, but the only one she's talked about.
"So down to earth," she says. "And really smart. Couldn't believe he was only 21. Most of the people I deal with are older, but he's more thoughtful than most of them."
James Berry chuckles as he hears this.
"We wouldn't expect him to be any other way," he says. "If he was, me and his mother would have to come see him."