Third in the Series: The NFL Power Couple by Cynthia Zordich
As a member of the NFL family, there is endless opportunity for personal and professional growth through numerous league outreach programs, as well as fantastic networking opportunities at a national level. This is the time to define who you are, to hone your own talents, to create your own identity. This is the time to take advantage of the resources available to you. This is no time to be passive. The NFL window opens wide, but closes quickly.
Where the player is concerned, the goal is to establish 'parallel lines' early on in your NFL career. As a player spouse, your goal should be to stand tall on your own and carry the dignity of knowing that you were not lost in a number, not hidden in the shadows, but an integral part of a partnership and celebrated for your own contributions to its success. In the end, you will have established yourselves as an NFLPC and become future ambassadors of the league.
The Role Model: The Dante and Renetta Wesley Story
Role Models. Often we look to the stars, the athletes, the musicians to find them. We model ourselves after their style, their cars, their clout. But often, lying in obscurity, are the true models of our culture, lost under the haze of celebrity. These are the humble, the patient, the forgiving. They know their place in the world and inhabit it with humility and grace. They understand their role and respect both the opportunity and responsibility that comes with the position.
Renetta Wesley is a role model and what I would consider the ideal model for all future players when considering a life partner.
Raised in a small country town by a family of God, Renetta Wesley is patient, she is kind, she does not envy or boast, she is not proud, not rude, not self-seeking or easily angered, she keeps no records of wrongs. She does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, because she knows the truth always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
There are those who read poems while standing in pretty dresses and there are those, like Renetta, who live them while standing for purpose.
Dante Wesley was a third-year veteran defensive back for the Carolina Panthers. It was a crisp morning heading to Spartanburg, South Carolina, yet the air was thick with regret and burden. Married for a little over three years, Dante's SUV was loaded for training camp, but his mind was packed with guilt. God was pulling him in one direction, but temptation was leading him astray. "I had been lying, cheating, living a double life," confesses Dante. He had put himself on trial years before. He had assessed the darkness of his ways: the clubs, the liquor, the women, the NFL lifestyle and all that it implies. Even with prayer, he found he was too weak to be faithful. Even knowing that he loved his wife and knew he had a good woman, a woman who was not blind to his deception. "I always knew he was lying," admits Renetta. "There were so many times when he would try to get out of situations. No eye contact, sneaking away to take a call, covering his cell phone. But, I also knew he was struggling. I listened to him pray when he went to bed. You can tell when your spouse is struggling with his conscience."
One Sunday, Renetta was leaving church when her pastor stopped her and took her hand. "Pray for patience," was all he said. She had always felt she was patient and knew she would do anything to help a person in need. Still, she did as she was told and prayed for patience.
While Dante is not clear why his confession to Renetta came out at that particular moment, he considers it a defining moment in his life and marriage. To Renetta, he revealed that although he had been trying to get a hold of himself for years, he could not resist temptation. Like Samson, he was vulnerable to seduction. In the end, he decided that when women want something, they will get it, whether it be your hair or your soul.
While his confession unloaded burden, its purpose was far greater than a mere cleansing. Telling, Dante knew, would not make him stronger, nor help him resist future indiscretions. What he needed was a plan. "As he was talking, I was praying on him and thanking God," shares Renetta. "I thought of the pastor and the more I prayed, the more he opened up." Adds Dante, "I was just so happy that it came out like that - from me to her. Not in the papers, not in the street, not some woman coming up to her. It was just me and her, together. I had never spoken to Renetta like that before. Just revealing my whole life. That situation opened up our whole marriage."
Still, the liquor would pour, the women would prey and most notably, Dante was wise enough to acknowledge his predisposition. More than redemption, he needed help navigating through the distractions of the league.
"Come, be with me, he would ask," remembers Renetta. "And, because he wanted me there, I went. Whether it was a club, a function, even a night with the guys, I was there." Dante would wear her presence like a bullet proof vest. Soon, it was natural, not only for him, but his teammates. "Renetta became one of us," Dante says with a smile. "She was easy to be with. She did her own thing. We learned that we have fun out together. When girls came up to me, all I had to say was, 'You know my wife is in here,' and it was that simple. At the end of the night, after a few drinks, the girl looking good to me - was her."
Aside from a desire to be a faithful husband, came Dante's desire to be a role model for his children. "It got to a point, after the birth of my daughter, when I asked myself, is this how I would want someone treating my little girl? And then, when I had my son, I took a good look at my life and the reality that he would pattern his behavior after my reckless lifestyle? I knew it was time to break the cycle." Yet, growing up without a father - he didn't know where to begin. Again, he turned to Renetta for guidance.
Dante was brought up in a single-parent home. Brought up without a father present in his life, brought up by a working mother, his world revolved around one person: himself, and one thing: ball. By the time Renetta met the junior business major at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, he was not considered a major prospect. Renetta, an elementary education major, was walking down the hallway, minding her own business, heading to class. Always the instinctive player, Dante saw this beautiful woman walking by the door and jumped out of his seat, in the middle of class, to catch her. Dante and Renetta exchanged their information and this is the beginning of the journey. What intrigued Dante most was her lack of football knowledge or interest. When the season started, he asked her to come to his games and because he asked, she went. When he asked her to be there for his pro day, she saw nothing remarkable about his times, nor did she understand the impact they would have on his future. She was only there because he asked her to be. And when agents started to call, it was Renetta that he wanted next to him and she was, albeit silent.
Soon after the combine, Dante's numbers were public knowledge and his draft rating was high enough to foresee the inevitable. Already a middle school teacher back home, Renetta worked to take her feelings out of the relationship and prepared to let go. Instead, she was met with a marriage proposal. "I was letting go to avoid getting my heart broken. I was happy for him that he would go off and live his dream, but at the same time, I was in love with him. I was already teaching and felt it was time to set him free. When Dante came home and asked me to marry him I asked, 'Who? Me? You want to carry* me with you?'"
*Carry me with you. This expression was new to me. It had a self-deprecating ring to it. Many would be too proud to say it, too self-righteous to even think it. But not Renetta Wesley. I personally sat on this concept of carrying for a few days after our interview. In the end, I softened to it. Truth is, in any solid marriage, we do carry each other. We set off on our personal journeys to pursue our personal legend and along the way we invite another for the ride. If we choose correctly, that person will push us to continue pursuit, encourage our vision, redirect us when we go off course and yes, carry us when we are weak, when we are lost and misdirected. Ironically, it would be Renetta who would do the bulk of carrying as she helped Dante become the man, husband and father he so desired to be. And for this he would be forever grateful.
Now engaged to a fiancé in the NFL, Renetta's simple country life would soon collide with two forces of (human) nature: truth and lust.
"That's when all the changes in Dante happened," she reflects. Adds Dante, "I was already there. We weren't married yet. Being a player, everything is pretty much open to you. Every girl wants to be with you. I knew I loved Renetta, but it's just - these women on the street. It's a thrill and all players know what it's like out there. You get caught up in the sex, the beauty, the status. In the NFL, it's thrown at you." Renetta continues, "Right away I saw a change. When I visited, he would show me around. One day I said, 'Dante, you know where all the clubs are but you haven't found a home church yet.'" As Renetta saw it, Dante was forgetting all of the things that got him there. She would soon realize that the NFL journey would test their faith and threaten their future together. "I was living reckless," says Dante. "At the clubs every night, getting in late, messing with so many girls. It was an early morning practice and I was beat up from the night before. Here I am, a rookie, bent over catching my breath and I heard a voice: 'IF YOU KEEP LIVING THE WAY YOU'RE LIVING, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO PLAY LONG.'"
With divine instruction, Dante went home to set a date. A date that would propel Renetta into a lifestyle like she had never known. At the time, she didn't stop to think about how marrying Dante would impact her lifestyle. She didn't think about expensive cars, night clubs, designer clothes and fine champagne. Instead, she worried about the impact her leaving would have on her parents. With three sisters out of the house, who would care for them, cook for them? Who would dye her mother's hair? Her parents, she would find, would be the least of her worries.
New to the NFL, Renetta was naive to an irreverent force to be reckoned with for many NFL wives and girlfriends: the football mom. From biddy ball on up, many football moms sacrifice self to provide for their sons. They work finger to the bone. They cook, clean, discipline, rear, they drive to and from early morning and late night practices. They stand in the August heat and the November rain to support their boys. For many, the football mom will be the bow when it is time to pull back and set her arrow free. For others, she will be the ankle weight of guilt and obligation. Shares Dante, "A lot of moms feel like, 'If it weren't for me, you would have never made it. Now it's time for me to sit down.' That's a lot of pressure for young guys entering the league. Every guy doesn't make millions. I see guys that set their parents up and in the end, they have nothing. The parents have everything. Where many moms let go, my mom didn't. When I was signing autographs, she was right there over my shoulder. My wife would go to the car!"
"She wanted to be THAT girl in her son's life," shares Renetta. Dante's mom would go to great lengths to sabotage the new marriage. Renetta stood firm, yet remained respectful. "I knew my place," she shares. "I was the wife and she was the mother and no one can replace that. I did my part and was kind to her, even when she was hurtful - even when she gave other girls my husband's phone number. I never confronted her. I knew that line of respect. What was difficult, was seeing how her actions were hurting Dante. Because she was so demanding, it was clear to me why Dante was pulling away from her and I was proud of him for it - proud that he was beginning to stand up for himself." In reflecting back, Dante says, "If I didn't agree with my mom, I was being disrespectful. If I didn't meet her demands, I was being neglectful. She made me feel guilty, like, 'You owe me this.' I prayed about the situation. In time, I knew when I was right and when I was wrong. It was hard to break away from the hold she had on me, but having a strong woman to encourage me helped." "What is sad," follows Renetta, "is that she was so determined to force me out, yet she ended up alienating her son, instead."
Released from the apron strings of demand, Dante evaluated his life purpose. While he was raised without structure, he was determined to provide a stable home for his children. Just as he studied game film each week, Dante began to study the dynamics of family structure. With Renetta's family as his model, he watched and listened. He asked questions. What they took for granted, he took note. "For me, it was just me, my brother and my mother," shares Dante. "We never sat down to eat together. It seems a simple thing to do, but it's important. I know that now."
For Dante Wesley, breaking the cycle is one of his greatest life accomplishments. "It starts with one generation," he concludes. "One child growing up in a home with his mom and his dad. One dad sitting at the head of the table answering questions. One dad sitting in the church pew with his family in prayer. One home. One family. One name. It starts right here."
In the end, the Wesleys leave a legacy of truth, forgiveness, faith and a desire for family structure. Their candor is rare. They do not fear the truth, but rejoice in it, because they know the truth always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I, personally, have learned much from Renetta Wesley. I am in awe of her unique ability to see things, not as they affect her, but as they affect the people she loves. In Renetta, Dante found the true vision of himself. It is said that we all have an inner guide. A light within that protects us, that leads us to our true purpose and inner legend. Many fail to recognize this blessing and many more fail to search for truth, to assess their actions, to acknowledge their faults. They ignore the voices, shun the light and continue down the path of darkness.
Always the instinctive player, Dante Wesley was keen enough to recognize his inner guide and he jumped out of his chair, in the middle of class, to catch her. In his darkest hours, he turned within, he turned to God, and he turned to her, for guidance. Over and over again, she would be a light force in his life, this small country girl with the patience of Job and the strength to carry a hundred men.
Renetta Wesley, a role model.
To purchase a copy of Dante and Renetta's book FACTS UNCENSORED log on to http://www.factsuncensored.com/
"FACTS is a raw, modern day journey through the looking glass of a professional sports marriage, this book is riveting, thought provoking, and very insightful! A must read for all! If you want to understand the trials and tribulations of an NFL marriage, read FACTS. God bless this couple for their realness and allowing us to peek inside their public, however private, relationship." Cheryl Foster
FACTS Uncensored, A book by Dante and Renetta Wesley with Jospeh Green-Bishop http://www.factsuncensored.com/
Meet Dante and Renetta at Super Friday January 30, 2015 from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM at The Bowler, Fountain Park Center. 7300 E. Thomas Road Scottsdale, AZ. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Cynthia Zordich is an NFL Engagement contributing author. She is the wife of former NFL Player/Coach Michael Zordich and the mother of free agent FB Michael Zordich, New York State University graduate Alex Zordich and Penn State graduate Aidan Zordich. www.cynthiazordich.com