Flowers and First Downs
they met their future NFL husbands, most of these young women were
strong-willed and goal-oriented with high self-esteem, a far cry from
the stereotype of the shallow, calculating gold-digger the media
sometimes portrays. In fact, for many couples, the man's eventual
success in the NFL would not have been possible without the emotional
and sometimes financial support of his girlfriend or spouse.
. . An avid college hoops fan, Jackie quickly became annoyed by the
distracting commotion in the stands. Before the game had started, and
even after it had, numerous spectators, including many of what she
calls "giddy girls," began asking the soon-to-be-drafted Jerry for his
autograph. People considered him the best wide receiver to come out of
the small Division I-AA Mississippi Valley State. Jerry had amassed an
astounding career total of 4,693 receiving yards, and he was turning
the heads of NFL scouts from Green Bay to Dallas.
. For Dwight, Chandra was refreshing: here was a woman who loved ESPN,
yet did not dwell on the fact that Dwight played professional football.
Chandra was interested in his career, but she was firmly committed to
her own as well, and her intellect and independence impressed Dwight.
For one thing, she never assumed that he should pay for her meals; she
always offered to pay her share. Later on, when the two were dating
seriously and Chandra traveled to Florida, she paid for her own plane
Sundays Are More than "Just a Game"
fans have an emotional stake in "their" team's game, and maybe a
financial one, such as a small wager with friends. For NFL families,
the stakes are much higher. For a player who has not yet made the team,
that day's performance, or lack thereof, could make the difference
between whether or not the couple has health insurance at the time
their baby is born. A key loss for a coach might mean another firing,
which means finding another job in another city, which means, once
again, uprooting the couple's children in the midst of the school year.
Most NFL women realize that for football fans,
voicing their displeasure as well as their excitement is part of the
game. Even the injury-causing violence that makes NFL wives shudder is
part of the "entertainment" of football. Fans come to have a good time,
and these things are part of it. As Pat Kennan says wryly, "Fans like
to second-guess." Unfortunately, some fans do more than just criticize
the play-calling or briefly boo a costly mistake. They belittle and
berate. They disparage and attack and punish. They get personal and
just plain nasty.
. . . "And the guy behind me starts
yelling, 'Yeah, stop making a big deal. It is football. Let them play,
let them play. Get your ass back on the field.' All because they paused
for a minute."
A Woman in a Man’s Game
women stated that feeling valued by their partner made it easier for
them to separate from his job. When NFL men recognize and respect the
roles of wife, mother, household manager, and so on, NFL women maintain
a stronger sense of self. In their most important relationship, their
marriage, NFL women come to know that they are more than a "football
One woman said it is "definitely" difficult for
NFL women to carve out their own personality, but she added,
"Fortunately, my husband gives me a lot of recognition and support that
I need in my life. If he didn't do that, it would be more difficult."
. . One rookie player's wife was honest and self-aware in her
observations: "Some people have beautiful jewelry, really pretty
jewelry, and normal people don't wear that type of jewelry. As a woman,
I think you are just naturally drawn to beauty, and there is that
jealousy that, I think, can spark in just about anyone. It's a pressure
I think that we each put on ourselves, and it really has a lot to do
with your self-confidence and whether you really want to compete or
Hello-Goodbye in the Not-For-Long League
. . Another coach's wife now sees the first firing almost as a right of
passage. While she says you "get really hurt," she maintains: "You are
not a real coach until you have been fired. You have to learn how to be
resilient in this business, and you have to learn how to promote
yourself, and you have to know how to network. All those things are
important in being a professional coach. It is a good old boys society
of who knows who."
. . . One player's girlfriend
remembered receiving a call from her boyfriend's aunt and uncle the day
after he was released from training camp. "Why didn't the coach like
you?" they probed their nephew. "Aren't you good enough?" In some
cases, family members have become dependent on their son's, brother's,
or cousin's income, and this only adds to the pressure and stress of a
cut or firing.
. . . After Mike left for his tryout,
Kathy held a yard sale. She says, "I just knew that he had signed a
huge NFL contract, and we would be wealthy and we would be moving to
Dallas. I thought, 'Okay, I want to get rid of this junky stuff,' which
I probably bought at a yard sale anyway. So, I sold all of our
Raising Football Kids
today's highly mobile society, many families deal with moving at some
point, but few do it as frequently and regularly as NFL families. The
nearest comparison is probably military life, and army brats and NFL
kids do tend to grow up with similar issues and strengths. They tend to
mature more quickly, learn to make friends readily, and consider the
world their home. It is nearly impossible for fathers to hide their
physical pain when, after the game, their hands are swollen and
bandaged and icepacks are wrapped around every joint. Kids quickly
learn that Dad can't wrestle or play with them because he hurts.
. . One player's wife says it's important to be honest about injuries.
She says, "When he comes home, they need to know why he is hurt, and
that is the reason why he doesn't want to play with them."
Big-Time Money? Not for Everyone
stories involved parents who expected their sons to pick up their
mortgages or buy them new cars, and others involved friends who had
found "great investments" and just needed a little cash. It didn't
matter if the player was a practice squad "jake" or an All-Pro vet,
once he had a contract of any kind, family and friends often showed up
to request their share.
. . . In general, it is likely
that NFL families are probably no more or less generous with their
money than people in other high-paying professions. However, the family
and friends of an experienced computer programmer or lawyer making six
figures annually probably don't have the same sense of entitlement
toward their income. Some may, but probably not with the regularity
that NFL women describe.
. . . Not long after her
marriage, a player's wife expressed shock at her mate's spending
habits: "He told me that he lent someone twenty thousand dollars, and
at that point I was like, Where are we? What is going on? I thought we
were doing fine, but when I finally looked at things, he was paying
four mortgages: his mother's; a house he had bought as an investment;
his first house that he had moved out of, that he wasn't being very
aggressive about selling; and our house. At a certain point, I took
over the bills."