By Rachel Terrill, Player Engagement Insider
The 2017 NFL season is underway, and hundreds of rookies just made their first NFL roster. While the world celebrates the players’ new roster spots, the women who love these men are left to make sense of their new reality as the significant other of one of the most watched men in America.
When the Seattle Seahawks drafted my husband to play in the NFL, his dream came true. I was excited for him to live his dream– but I felt unprepared to be an NFL wife. An array of feelings swirled within me - excitement, fear, insecurity, pride, hope, happiness, sadness, hyper-visibility, invisibility and confusion. I wasn’t sure what it meant to be an NFL wife, and I certainly didn’t feel cut out to be one.
Because I loved him, I followed him to Seattle. He played for the Seahawks for seven seasons and I spent each of those seasons and each year that has followed trying to make sense of what it means to be an NFL wife. I not only lived as an NFL wife but I also interviewed more than 100 other wives of NFL players about their experiences. Soon after my husband retired from the NFL, I wrote a doctoral dissertation on Love in the NFL.
Looking back, the transition into the NFL would’ve been easier if I had someone to help walk me through the process. Here are a few things I learned along the way:
8 Tips for New NFL Wives
- Be Yourself: I’d hardly ever thought about fashion before my husband was drafted. Suddenly, when I found myself as an NFL wife, I felt like I had to dress the part…. but I didn’t know how. For almost the first full season my husband played in Seattle, I sat alone in our dark apartment feeling like I wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel pretty enough or put together enough to hang out with other NFL wives. My closet was made up of t-shirts and jeans from college – hardly what I expected to see other NFL wives wearing.
I wish I’d taken a chance sooner to reach out to other NFL wives. It turns out, they didn’t care what I wore, and they don’t care what you’re wearing. They, like you, are just girls who happened to fall in love with boys who were really good football players. All of us were displaced, thousands of miles from our friends and families. We needed each other. Only other NFL wives can truly understand the stresses and the schedules of the NFL life.
- Cheer for Him: From the moment my husband became an NFL player, it felt like everyone around us only wanted to talk about how great he was. I thought he was great too, of course. After all, I’d fallen in love with him. However, I knew the parts of him, off the football field, that weren’t quite so glamorous. I knew that he left his socks on the floor and that he was not in the habit of wiping off the counters after he made a sandwich. I knew that he snored when he slept, and that his jokes weren’t always as funny as his audiences made them out to be.
I made the mistake of believing that it was my job to keep him humble in the world that lifted him up. I thought it was my job to keep his ego from inflating larger than it should be, to help him keep it real. When people told me how funny he was, I explained to them why he wasn’t really THAT funny. When people told me how great he was, I explained to them that he still had his flaws.
Oh, how I wish I could take it all back. It turns out, our NFL players picked us to be their significant others because they care what we think of them. Research tells us that the happiest couples speak highly of each other. In fact, the stories we tell about each other and about our relationships determine how happy we are within our relationships.
Be his biggest cheerleader, it will keep the peace and make you both happier at home. It doesn’t matter if 60,000 fans are cheering his name, he wants you to cheer for him. It doesn’t matter if the NFL Network sings his praises, he wants you to tell him he’s great. Wear his number. Cheer his name. Let him know that you love him for all that he is, and that your love is deeper than his football career. Someday, his career will end and the fans will forget his name. Let him know that your love will never fade.
- Get to Know Team Staff: The most important people for you to get to know right now are the Player Engagement Directors and the Community Relations staff. Send them an email or ask your NFL player to get in touch with them for you. When you talk with them, tell them you want to be involved and ask them if there is anyone else you should get to know within the organization.
Each team functions a bit differently, but most teams will offer community service events, women’s luncheons, and Bible studies to help you get involved. Sometimes there is a coach’s wife or someone within management or ownership who directs a wives group. Ask them to help you get involved and ask them to pass on your information to a veteran player’s wife who is involved as well.
- Off-Seasons are Worth the Wait: NFL seasons can feel long, especially compared to a 13-game college football season. With four preseason games and up to four post-season games, an NFL player can play up to 24 games in a single season. The first season will feel long – for you and for him. His body isn’t used to a season that lasts that long and neither of you are used to being so far from home.
Make friends. Encourage family to visit. To help him stay fresh, find a good masseuse and chiropractor in your area – ask other players’ wives for recommendations. Just don’t despair. The off-season will be there before you know it.
NFL off-seasons give you time off to travel, take your vacations, visit your family, take classes, and explore what life might look like post-football.
Here are some resources to get you started: http://www.nflplayerengagement.com/resources?tag=life. There are few careers outside of professional sports and education where off-seasons are a reality. Enjoy them!
- Save Big Now: The best advice we received when my husband was an NFL rookie and getting paid a league-minimum salary was to save like no one else so that someday we could live like no one else. This is a concept made famous by businessman Dave Ramsey. As NFL rookies, we didn’t know anything about finance, investing, or why we should save. We started reading all of Dave Ramsey’s books and any others we could find.
Had we watched those around us and tried to live like they did, we would’ve believed that we needed to live in a million-dollar house, drive top-dollar cars and eat at fancy restaurants each night. Instead, we tried to keep our college student mentality while putting away as much money as possible. There were times when we said no to dinners out with teammates because they were dining at places that our budget didn’t allow – and there were times when we splurged to be a part of the moment with his teammates.
If you want to learn more about how to save and when to invest, the NFL has a finance program setup for current and former players and their significant others. You can read more about that program here: http://www.nflplayerengagement.com/life/lifenext-program-boot-camp-personal-finance/.
- Celebrate the Good Times: The average NFL career lasts a little over three years. That means that many NFL players won’t play that long and that even the best NFL careers are over before you know it. Your significant other is living his dream. Celebrate the good times, the good plays, the team wins - and don’t ever take a moment for granted.
You will sit in the stands and hear 60,000 fans cheering for the man you love. Cheer with them, and take a mental picture of that moment. Embrace the craziness of being a football fan. Take in the sights and sounds of a whole city going crazy when the team wins and the despair they feel after a loss. No matter what, celebrate the great moments of his career. They will be over before you know it and if you embrace the moments now you won’t have any regrets later.
- Take Advantage of NFL Benefits, Boot Camps and other Programs: The NFL has wonderful programs in place for NFL players and their families. Current and former NFL players even have opportunities to go back to school for free. The NFL also has myriad other programs for current and former players as well as their significant others. You can learn more about some of them here: http://www.nflplayerengagement.com/programs/?tag
- Don’t Forget Who You Are: The NFL is so big and so pervasive in our society that it seems like everyone feels like they are a part of the team. As an NFL wife, people seemed to see me as an extension of my husband. Both fans and friends asked how he was feeling, if he would be playing, and what he thought of other players on the team. They rarely asked me how I was feeling or about my academic studies.
Some fans thought of me so much as a part of him that they even asked me to sign his name on their footballs and jerseys. Other NFL wives have even worse stories of being pushed aside or pushed down so fans could get closer to their husbands.
It can be difficult to hold onto your identity when others no longer see you in the shadows because of the bright lights that shine on NFL players. There were years when I put my academic career on the backburner to support my husband in his NFL career. If I’m being completely honest, I even began to think of myself more as an NFL wife than as an academic. It wasn’t until his career ended that I realized that I was no longer an NFL wife and I needed to remember who I was before. Fortunately, my husband remembered who I was before football took over our lives. He pushed me back into my academics, back into reality, and I finished my dissertation on Love in the NFL.
Don’t make the same mistake I made. Embrace your identity as an NFL wife – but not at the expense of forgetting who you are and the dreams you have for your life. Take classes. Find an internship in your desired field of work. Use your NFL connections to make contacts in each NFL city that may help you when his career is over or when you feel ready to jump into the job market. And when football is over, use the NFL programs and transition resources to help you transition back into the real world. You can learn more about resources for former players and their significant others here: http://www.nflplayerengagement.com/programs?tag=next.
For now, welcome to the NFL! We’re glad you’re here!