In recapping a round of NFLPA engagements, I have to say that while my purpose was to promote engagement, provide direction and promote self worth in others, I may have benefited most from these visits.
What I have learned is that the women of the NFL truly are in a league of their own. From taking the reins through player careers, trades and transition to finding their own footing along the way, the women of the league are the strength behind the shield.
Having the privilege to sit with former players and their spouses through the NFLPA Chapter events coordinated by Andre Collins, I have the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of triumph and adversity from those who have journeyed through the NFL.
NFLPA Engagement Mediators vary from city to city. I have had the pleasure of working with Freddie Scott ll, Leonard Wheeler, Isaac Keyes and Kathryn Taylor Smith. Through activities and role playing we dive into such issues as: Self Worth, Communication, Transition, Depression, Second Career Goals and Family. Players are somewhat guarded when they walk in, but once others start to open up, once they realize that they are not alone in thought and experience, those walls break down. It can get heated and it can get emotional, but everyone walks away with something.
In one of my favorite activities for the women, I photograph of each of them as they are coming in. These portraits are usually apprehensive and that is the intention. Players have Game Faces every Sunday. Player's wives have them every time they walk out the door. It's called the expectations of an image. The Player's Wife. Later, I work to chip away the stone. We talk about self purpose, we reflect back on childhood dreams, we open up about regret. The purpose is to remind, refuel and redirect the women. It forces them to think about who they are, what defines them and finally, what they want out of life right now.
We then direct them to resources that are available to them as former league women. Resources that will help bring their life plan to fruition. We also encourage them to reach out to each other. Engagement is the true purpose. There is much to learn from our unique experiences in the league. There is much to gain by looking around the room and realizing that you are a part of an elite group. The NFL makes up 1% of the world. There is honor in representing that 1% and it should last a lifetime. Many former players forget that and so do the women. By the end of our time together, you can feel the change in the room. Pride, self accomplishment, drive and adrenaline enter. We take that energy and retake their portraits. The results are expressive, confidant and raw. It is rewarding to watch them compare the two shots. Nothing had changed on the outside, yet everything changed within. When they walk out the door and back into their worlds you can feel the shift. On my own return home their images stay with me and leave me feeling blessed to be a part of the process. The simple process of reminding them of what they already were. Women-- in a league of their own.
Cynthia Zordich is the co-author of When The Clock Runs Out (Former Players share their stories of hardship and triumph in Letting Go of the Game) and a contributing author of NFL Player Engagement. She is the Wife of Former Pro Michael Zordich and the mother of current Carolina Panther Michael V. Zordich. www.cynthiazordich.com