Dawn Neufeld’s Playbook – Football Wives Episode 3

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Dawn Neufeld of Football Wives has agreed to blog for us, giving us weekly behind-the-scenes insight and dishing on each of her show’s episodes. Her take on Episode 3 is below (the bolding is our editorial emphasis, not hers)…

This blog is a little longer than usual but there are so many things to talk about in Episode 3. Bear with me.

Let me start by taking you back to opening day of the NFL season in 2007. It’s the beginning of the third quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. Tens of thousands of fans stand and roar as the special teamers take the field. Rian Lindell kicks off and the Bills coverage team heads down the field full speed. Denver Broncos receiver Domenik Hixon fields the ball and races into oncoming traffic. The sound of helmets and bodies colliding can be heard over the fans’ cheers. The whistle blows, the play is over.

Ryan was on the field during that play. When I noticed there was a Bills’ player down, my heart started racing. I immediately started looking around to make sure Ryan was heading to the sideline. I spotted number 88 and immediately felt relieved, but was overwhelmingly concerned about the player on the field. The players were frantically summoning the training staff – you could tell by their urgency that someone was really, really hurt. Players from both teams were crying. Some immediately fell to their knees and began to pray. The silence that fell over the stadium was breathtaking. After a couple of minutes, I realized the hurt player was another tight end, Kevin Everett. As the ambulance rolled onto the turf, I said a prayer for Kevin and his family but thanked God it wasn’t Ryan.

Immediately after the Bills’ devastating 15-14 loss that night, we rushed to the hospital and waited in the lobby for news. Kevin was in surgery. It was bad – a spinal cord injury that would most likely leave him paralyzed. Even worse, they were not sure Kevin would survive.


We spent a lot of time at the hospital over the next week until Kevin was transferred home to Texas making sure that Kevin’s family had whatever they needed. I witnessed more grown men cry that week than I had ever in my life — as the players came to visit Kevin, each one was confronted with the danger and reality of the sport they loved and lived. Any of them easily could’ve been laid up in that bed on a respirator, hooked up to monitors in a medically-induced coma, a cold experimental saline solution being pumped through their veins in a desperate attempt to keep their spinal cord from swelling. I drove home from the hospital one day and I just lost it. I had to pull over as I sobbed uncontrollably. This one hit too close to home – that could have been Ryan.

There is a happy ending to this story – Kevin has made a miraculous recovery and while he’ll never be the same guy that was out on the football field before the collision that almost took his life, he is not paralyzed and is living a wonderful life with his wife and children. Unfortunately, not all of these stories have a happy ending. Just recently, a Rutgers University player suffered a spinal cord injury during a game and is paralyzed. We’ve heard of several high school students in our area suffering similar fates. The risks associated with football are real, the health consequences life-altering. We will forever live with this reality and no amount of money ever makes it feel “right.”

I have to take a moment to address one of the critiques we’ve been getting. People seem to think that we don’t have perspective – that we can’t possibly contemplate and appreciate that there are other jobs far more dangerous than football that aren’t compensated nearly as well. Well, here’s some perspective: as we prepared for Ryan to leave for training camp this year, my reaction was always the same when people asked how I was going to get through three months without him. I always said, “Well, he’s not going off to fight in a war and its only three months so we’ll manage. We just have to take it day by day.” My point is that I get it – no, playing football is not as dangerous as taking sniper fire in the middle of Afghanistan. My husband did not choose a career in the military, so I don’t know what it’s like to have my spouse gone for a year or two. Ryan approached me several years ago and discussed the possibility of going into law enforcement after football and I shut him down real quick – it’s too dangerous. However, appreciating the sacrifices and risks of other careers does not minimize those associated with football. We didn’t share our stories to get sympathy – we simply shared our reality about the risks associated with the sport. People suggesting we don’t have a right to be concerned or to bring attention to those risks because our husbands are spoiled, high-paid athletes is frustrating.

Ryan and I also addressed another aspect of our reality during this episode – our finances. Sharing our struggles has been difficult and has opened us up to all sorts of criticism. Someone actually chastised me for over-sharing and said I shouldn’t be putting all of my business out there. Well, I’m on a reality show. The only way I can make this process authentic is to be real about every aspect of my life, and this is one of those areas that deserved some attention. Ryan and I aren’t broke – we manage. But things definitely aren’t as comfortable as they used to be.

The reality is that a significant number of football players are in extreme financial distress two years after official retirement from football. The average NFL career is a little over three years and I don’t care how well one plans and prepares for the transition, the money will only last for so long. We aren’t immune to the woes of the economy either – I had to take a part-time legal job that pays well under the going rate for an attorney these days because it was the only job I could find. Companies aren’t lining up to hire anyone these days, let alone retired football players, so it took Ryan some time to find something he wanted to pursue. Apparently some viewers aren’t interested in our story because of our financial situation – we’re just broke ex-football players so why are we even relevant? Again, this is our reality and it’s the reality for many people coming out of the game – it matters for the parents who emphasize sports over education, for women who think marrying an athlete will solve all of their problems. May our story be a cautionary tale for current and future football players and their families.

There was a lot of crying in this episode. I didn’t realize Chanita was such a crier – she’s just a big ol’ softy under that mean, aggressive exterior. People have asked how in the world I can let her talk the way she did to me in last week’s episode and still be cool. I’m not kidding – I ignore Chanita and some of her antics. They are beyond me. My mom always taught me to pick and choose my battles – the ones with Chanita aren’t worth fighting.

Seriously, there was so much riding on this football season for Ryan and me. This was supposed to be his last season playing the game he’s loved all his life. He’s finally hanging up the cleats and we’re closing this chapter. I didn’t think I was going to get so emotional, but the finality of it all got to me. Well, and the fact that I was going to be changing diapers and dealing with autism meltdowns for three months by myself. Speaking of autism, I want to do a separate blog focusing on that aspect of our lives – I will try to get to it this week.

Enough with the heavy stuff – let’s talk drama! We can’t have an episode of Football Wives without a little drama! First scene of the show – Pilar states she has a fitness program that she runs out of her home and that she wanted to invite us into her world for a workout. The TRUTH? Pilar lives 15 minutes from my house and I’ve never been invited to her home. We shot that scene the day Ryan left for Omaha. After dealing with the emotions of him leaving, I had to go to work (I do that) and then I had to go to an audition. It was a really long day. We were supposed to meet in my home city of Frisco for Pilar’s Zumba-type dance class at 5:30 p.m. that evening. A little over an hour before the class was to begin, we got a call that the location of our fitness class had changed. It was only after I typed in “Lancaster” in my navigational system did I realize just how far it was – it was about an hour south of where we were and we had to head down there in the thick of rush-hour traffic. When we arrived at the location, we found out we were going to be outside in 100 degree heat doing a boot camp-style workout. We all felt so bamboozled. So excuse me for not being appreciative of being invited into her world.

Looking back on the three months we were in production on Football Wives, I can honestly say that boot camp was the first time I actually wondered if Pilar and I were going to get along. Up until that point, we’d had some good interactions. She and I actually have a lot in common – probably more than we care to admit. But something about that day and how things went down just didn’t sit right with me. We ended up having a good time once we got out on the field that day – I even ended up playing a little football with some of the ladies from the boot camp class. But the lack of consideration for everyone else’s time really rubbed me the wrong way. Pilar hasn’t hesitated to tell us how busy she is, and so am I. My time is very, very precious to me.

For the record, Pilar’s body is banging. You can tell she works hard. But just FYI – I have abs. I just don’t run around showing them off all the time. And I have a kick butt boot camp instructor who is also a Football Wife – shout out to Sheila Stoutmire!

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I’m not going to spend too much time focusing on the fact that Pilar lied about her age although I’m sure she might try to say she was just kidding. It certainly didn’t sound like she was kidding to the ladies sitting at my table. I don’t think Chanita will be throwing herself a Sweet 16 any time soon.

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