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As the wife of a professional athlete, I thought that it was my job to keep my husband grounded while the world around him tempted his ego to inflate. Early in his career, I found myself putting him down both publicly and privately, reminding him and the rest of the world that he was only human.
That all changed when the wife of a veteran player told me this story:
“As a child, Mark was put on a pedestal by his parents, teachers, and friends. He was smart, athletic, and he always seemed to work harder than the other children. As he grew older, the pedestal grew higher as his hard work and natural gifts helped him develop into a collegiate sports star.
When he was drafted to play in the NFL, hundreds of thousands of fans suddenly knew his name. They knew his stats, his hometown, and his hobbies. The fans lifted him so high upon his pedestal that he could no longer see the ground.
Mark had no idea how high he was standing on his pedestal. He was a star from as far back as he could remember. From his perspective, his life wasn’t unique, it was all he ever knew.
Then, one day, Mark met Kelly. He was smitten. She adored him too. As they fell in love, she leapt onto the pedestal with him. The fans didn’t seem to mind. She was more or less invisible to them, carrying little weight compared to the player for whom they cheered.
Mark was so in love with Kelly that he didn’t even hear the fans’ cheers anymore. He only heard her. It became her applause for which he played.
Eventually, Kelly and Mark got married upon that pedestal where he stood. A few months later, Kelly turned her gaze from Mark and began to look down from the pedestal. She was scared. After all, they were really high in the air. She thought Mark should be scared too. “Can’t you see how far off the ground you are?” she asked. Mark looked down but just shrugged his shoulders. The ascent was so gradual for him that it didn’t seem much higher than it had always been.
“We’ve got to get down,” she warned Mark. “This pedestal is too tall. Hang on tightly or you’re going to fall”.
The more she looked down, the more frightened she became. As she found herself hanging on for dear life, she couldn’t use her hands to cheer for him any more. That was okay, though, because she reasoned that clapping would only continue to elevate the pedestal higher and higher. Kelly was sure that her warning of the danger of being too high was Mark’s only chance of becoming grounded.
A few years into their marriage, she began to shout to the fans, “Stop cheering, he is not as great as you think.” Mark didn’t pull his weight around the house. He was gone six and a half days a week, on the road for games, and gave his body entirely for the sport that he loved. When he was home, he was too sore to play with their kids or do chores around the house. Can’t they see that? Kelly wondered.
The more the fans cheered for him, the more Kelly feared that Mark’s ego would inflate as the pedestal continued to rise. What she didn’t realize is that Mark only heard her. He didn’t play for the cheers of the fans. He played to impress her. From the day they met, he always had.
But after a while, Kelly was so lost in her quest to quiet his pride, she forgot how great he was and why she started cheering for him in the first place. She found herself unhappy in her invisibility as a sport’s wife and scared at the top of her husband’s pedestal.
Kelly failed to realize that the cheers would, inevitably, stop. The pedestal would come back down. When Mark’s career was over after that season, the fans disappeared. When they did, there was nothing left to balance the criticism he heard at home.
A die hard fan saw him years later and asked, “Didn’t you used to be Mark?” He nodded, remembering the way they used to see him — and the way he used to see himself.
By then, there was nothing left to counteract Kelly’s shouts of his shortcomings. Sadly, both Kelly and Mark began to see each other, and their marriage, through the story Kelly had been telling herself and others for years. They believed the lies. And in the silence, absent the cheers, only the memories remained of the healthy marriage that might have been… if only she had cheered along.”
It is our job as the wives of professional athletes to build up our husbands in public. To let everyone know that we are fans of our husbands too — for everything that the public loves and everything that they are beyond the role they play on the field.
Here are five easy ways to cheer for your spouse:
- List the positive traits that first attracted you to him. Share them with him and keep them where you will be reminded of them.
- Wear his jersey. Other fans aren’t afraid to show their loyalty, show him that you are proud of him too.
- Speak only positively of him to others, no matter what the situation. Let him overhear you complimenting him to others.
- Remember that life in sports is ultimately short lived. Celebrate his on-the-field victories with him, big and small.
- Place a sticky note on his bathroom mirror for him to find in the morning that says, “I believe in you!”
Rachel Terrill, Ph.D., is an instructor at Northwest University and spent seven years in the field studying NFL relationships while her husband, Craig Terrill, played for the Seattle Seahawks from 2004-2011. She writes and teaches about love and marriage on her website www.rachelterrill.com.