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When my husband, Craig, was drafted to play for the Seattle Seahawks in 2004, we left our homes across the country to make a new home, together. We didn’t know a single person in Seattle. A few weeks into Craig’s rookie season, he brought home a baby shower invitation that had been placed in his locker. It was from the wife of the team’s quarterback who I had never met.
I felt my anxiety build. I had never loved large social gatherings, preferring instead to spend time with just one or two close friends. There I was, thousands of miles away from my close friends, feeling alone and isolated, despite my invitation to spend time with other NFL wives. I looked at my nails — uneven and unpainted with a little bit of dirt resting comfortably beneath them. I’m not sure that I had ever noticed an NFL wife’s nails, but I was sure they would look more like the grown-up manicured nails my mom had and less like my fresh-from-college half-bit nails. I didn’t know what the NFL wives might be wearing, but I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t look anything like what was in my closet.
I closed my closet door, disgusted at myself for never paying more attention to fashion so that I’d be prepared for fitting in with fashionable women. I walked to the mirror for a final assessment. For the first time, I felt that I needed a styled haircut– something more than the free trims my sister has given me for the last dozen years — and a new wardrobe.
I spent that weekend, and many after that, alone in our apartment, sitting on our rented couch feeling sorry for myself.
Slowly, I started working up the courage to attend events. First, only with Craig. Then, team baby showers like the first one I avoided. Finally, I started sitting with other players’ wives at games and even inviting them out to lunch or to my house to watch away games.
Years later, I heard a younger NFL wife mention that it took her two years to feel like a part of the team. Despite the name brands in her closet the younger NFL wife wasn’t sure that she would measure up to the more seasoned multi-millionaires whose husbands she had only seen on TV.
I realized then that my experience from Craig’s rookie year wasn’t unique. In fact, as I started to get my bearings in Seattle, I should have reached out to her and other new wives. I silently shouldered the blame for every woman far away from home who felt alone in Seattle.
Soon after that, a few other wives and I made it our mission to work as a welcoming committee, just as the quarterback’s wife had tried to do for me years before by inviting me to the baby shower. We wanted to reach out to new girlfriends and wives who seemed to spend most of their time on their own. As others saw what we were doing, they too joined us.
As wives of professional athletes, we spend so much time in the shadows of our husbands that sometimes we forget to look out for others who are lost in their own darkness. In the NFL, the average career lasts just 3.5 years and most players will play for several teams within that time frame. We don’t have the luxury of a couple of years to wait to get to know our fellow sports wives. Time is of the essence!
After committing to get to know each other, the Seahawks wives formed a very special sorority. We attended games together, believing in the team, and experienced being a part of victories and championships. We laughed and cried together, had Bible studies, threw baby showers, and spent holidays together.
Who else might understand the times that we were scared to be alone and longed for a husband who was home more, whose body didn’t hurt, who could participate in non-football activities with us? There were times that we wanted to be seen by the outside world as more than NFL wives, or to be seen at all.
Now, Craig is two years retired from the game. The women from our Seahawks welcoming committee are spread out on other teams throughout the league. I can’t help but wonder if the spirit of Seattle’s wives welcoming committee is still at work. Is there a new player’s wife who is sitting alone and lonely tonight?
This is my call to you, spouses in sports. Friendships in the NFL and other professional sports are so important. Veteran wives have to reach out to younger wives. Make a point of finding out if each player on your team has a wife, fiancé, or a serious girlfriend. Go out of your way to spend time with her. Show her the team’s city. Sit with her at games. Invite her over for dinner. Get to know her story — and tell her yours. Let her know that the sorority of spouses in sports has nothing to do with the clothes she’s wearing or the style of her hair.
When the game ends for good, you will need these friends. Neither a friend from home nor the general public will feel sorry for you when your husband loses his job after years spent in the public eye with an outlandish salary. Only friends within the sorority of professional sports wives will understand that the profound loss goes deeper than the money. It is about the friendships, the opportunities, and the identity that comes with being a part of a team or a part of the league. It is a loss that comes suddenly for most of us, without warning, and inevitably through no fault of our own. When the game ends abruptly, it feels like an ever-lasting loss, and no number in our bank account can alter that emotion. Moments in pro sports become meaningful when we can share them with others…and there are some things that only other spouses in sports can understand.