In the annals of parents watching their kids play sports – from a 4-year-old’s soccer game where there are more daisies picked than goals scored to the final drive of a Super Bowl – there’s never quite been a 24-hour stretch like what’s coming for Arthur and Camille Jones.
On Saturday night, in Toronto, their middle child, Jon “Bones” Jones will defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight belt against Vitor Belfort. The next day, their eldest son, Arthur III, a defensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, and their youngest, Chandler, a defensive lineman for the New England Patriots, will square off in NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
The husband and wife will travel to both events, a chance to take in their children’s great athletic fortunes.
There’s just one catch, one negative twist to the weekend, although the fact the Joneses don’t consider it a negative helps explain how they got here on the eve of parental sporting perfection in the first place.
Camille Jones is blind. She lost her eyesight to diabetes a few years back. So while she will be at both the Air Canada Centre and M&T Bank Stadium, she won’t technically see a thing.
As per her spirit, she hardly cares.
“I don’t let it get me down,” the former nurse from Endicott, N.Y. said. “Life goes on. I go in there and dance and scream. As a matter of fact [being blind] made it more exciting. I don’t see anybody looking at me like I’m crazy. I can scream and act crazy because I can’t see anybody looking at me funny.”
That’s the full-of-life attitude, one that speaks to overcoming adversity, standing up in the face of challenges and finding new paths to success, that her kids credit as a reason one family could do so well.
“For me, making my parents proud was one of my top motivations,” Jon said, citing their work ethic, demanding ways and the positive outlook on life that they brought to their central New York home.
Camille isn’t lamenting her blindness; she’s counting her blessings. Like every mother, she wanted her boys to be happy and successful in their chosen career. That it turned out to be mixed martial arts – which she’s never actually seen – and professional football, is almost immaterial.
They could be teachers or accountants or cops or artists or whatever. Reporters might not call, but the love would be just as deep.
Of course, this is pretty exciting, she admits. She and Arthur, the pastor at the Mt. Sinai Church of God in Binghamton, N.Y., have figured out how to make watching football and fights work despite her condition.
The UFC, where Jones is a breakout star and a vital part of the company, provides Octagon-side seating. Camille sits with Jon’s fiancé Jessie Moses, who supplies the blow-by-blow action.
“I go, ‘what’s happening?’ And she goes, ‘Jon hit him in the face, Jon hit him here,’” Camille says.
“I’m the No. 1 cheerleader. I just scream, ‘Get him Jonny!’”
And even in the din of a cage fight he hears that?
“Oh, he hears his mama scream,” Camille said.
“Oh, yes,” Jon said. “She yells, ‘Get him Jonny. Get him.’”
For the NFL, where there are a lot of players so they don't get preferred seating, they’ll be in the handicap section and Arthur Sr. will describe the action. Since both her kids play defense, she usually doesn’t pay attention when opposing defenses are on the field. Sunday is different though. A Jones will be on the field plenty. She’s just glad they aren’t actually hitting each other.
“If they lined up against each other I’d be screaming, ‘Don’t hurt your brother. Stop that fighting on the field,’” she laughed.
The UFC bout Saturday is easy for the family. Everyone wants Jon, the favorite, to win. Sunday is more complicated. For someone to win, someone must lose. Camille said she is rooting for a 0-0 tie, all defense. “I’m not going to be out there voting for any team,” she said. “I’m going to be voting for my boys.”
Jon, as brothers tend to do, is anticipating not so much who wins, but who loses. He's kind of looking forward to one sibling getting to mock the other in defeat. He has a midday flight Sunday from Toronto to Baltimore to watch the game alongside his parents.
“If Chandler wins, Arthur will not hear the end of it,” Jon said. “I’m telling you. They may play twice [counting playoffs] and if Chandler wins the first then Arthur better win the second or he is going to be in the doghouse for the next year.”
At least Camille has seen and understands football. MMA came into the Jones’ family realm after she lost her eyesight. What she’s learned is cage fighting is actually safer than football. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true. Especially when your son is Jon Jones, whose 16-1 record (his only loss was a disqualification) and incredible skill set make him among the top two or three fighters in the world.
“Of course I was nervous the first time [I heard about MMA],” Camille said. “Then I realized he wasn’t really getting hit. I was like, ‘Jon is really good. He doesn’t get hit.’”
Still, after fights, mother and son have a routine. Jon sneaks up on her and she immediately demands to grab his face to check for swelling or bleeding. She was a nurse after all.
“I ask, ‘Is my boy still pretty?’”
“Yes mama,” Jon says he answers every time.
And yes, one of the toughest men in the world has absolutely no problem humoring his mother just moments after pummeling some guy.
The Joneses wouldn’t have it any other way. All three kids speak of a tight parental unit that complimented each other perfectly. They were raised in a strict, Christian home, where distractions were simply not tolerated. No cable television. No cell phones. Instead, it was lots of board games and family time.
“Being very sheltered as children, we weren’t allowed to have sleepovers, weren’t allowed to do anything like go out to parties or anything like that,” Arthur III said. “Sports were pretty much all we knew. We were ingrained into sports, and that helped us stay focused and maintain our focus on what’s in front of us.”
Basically they played sports and wrestled with each other, nearly knocking down the house on a few occasions. Eventually Arthur Sr. just bought some wrestling mats and turned the basement into a battleground.
“Jon [always won],” Chandler said. “He was always better.”
Camille was the ultimate taskmaster, setting goals for academics, chores and other expectations and claiming sports would not be allowed until those were satisfied to her liking.
Arthur saw the athletic potential of his sons and tried to raise champions – he was an excellent high school wrestler who fell short of a state title. “I told everyone they were going to be state champs and they’d look at me like I was crazy.”
So Arthur served as a buffer, often doing their chores for them behind Camille’s back and even helping with homework. Meanwhile he was there pushing them through every double session and practice. “He always tried to make us be tough,” Jon said.
“We had a regimen,” the father said. “I raised them to do what they are doing.”
Arthur III, now 26, was the oldest and the first to find success. He went to Syracuse and was drafted by the Ravens in 2010. While Jon, 25, went the MMA route, Chandler, 22, followed Arthur to Syracuse and was a first round pick of the Patriots last spring.
He’s become an instant contributor for New England, 10 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack already. This is not the least bit surprising to his family.
“I think Chandler will be the biggest star of the Jones house,” Jon said. “He’s going to be bigger than Michael Strahan or [Dwight] Freeney or any of those guys. That’s what I want for my little brother.
“I’m really proud of Chandler because there was a lot of pressure on him,” Jon continued. “Throughout college he had to live up to Arthur and then he had two brothers who were making it.”
Arthur III shares the same pride for both his younger brothers, understanding he set a high bar.
“It’s awesome to see them develop from children into men now,” Arthur Jr. said. “We have all gone our different paths, different ways. I am their biggest fan.”
While Chandler’s future is undeniably bright, and Arthur is part of a famed Ravens defense, Jon is undoubtedly the best known, according to the parents. Even though the NFL’s popularity is greater than the UFC, Jon is one of the biggest fighting stars in the world.
“Even at football games it’s: ‘You’re Jon’s dad?’” Arthur Sr. said.
“You know, somehow it slips out that he’s Arthur and Chandler and Jon’s dad,” Camille said before breaking into a big laugh. “How it slips out, I don’t know. He’s a humble guy. And as it slips out, his head grows bigger.”
Arthur Jones doesn’t dispute it. Whatever, he shrugs. Darn right he’s proud, just as he and his wife should be.
Not everything has been perfect for this family, far from it actually. Their lone daughter, Carmen, fought cancer before succumbing just before her 18th birthday back in 2000. The death left the close-knit family devastated for a stretch. She’s never far from their mind, and certainly won’t be on this special weekend.
So they’re pushing on in her memory. Jon even named his daughter Carmen.
Sports are part of life for them. Three healthy, successful children and neither death nor disease is going to stop this family. Camille has only one additional goal.
“I want my commercial,” she said. “I have three athletic sons, somebody should give me a commercial.”
She’s got the personality. The Joneses have even managed to turn blindness into a comedy routine, at least once Arthur began informing his wife that he has grown considerably better looking over the last few years.
“She has a handsome husband now,” he deadpanned. “I’m the trophy husband.”
“That’s what he tells me,” she said right back.
The big weekend for the Jones family is almost here. A proud father who always believed something like this could be possible. A thrilled mother happy just hearing about the exploits of her kids.
And three boys pursuing their dreams and never forgetting the family unit and the indomitable personality of the parents that first raised and still inspire them.
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