Check out this feature written by Reggie Lewis. No, I'm not 32 - I just look like it! :)
Dawn Belcher Neufeld: More Than Just a Football Wife
By Reggie Lewis
Photo by Chris Blumenshine
Dawn Belcher Neufeld wants you to know that she is more than just a pretty face. While you may recognize her from VH 1‘s reality show, “Football Wives,” Neufeld, 32, is also a practicing attorney, philanthropist and mother of two wonderful children. During her spare time, Neufeld finds time to participate in her favorite charities--Off the Field and Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation.
Her husband, tight end Ryan Neufeld, is a seven-year veteran of the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. This God-fearing couple met as undergrads at UCLA, where they became college sweethearts. After earning her law degree from the UC Davis School of Law, Dawn passed the California State Bar Exam on the first try. She practiced law in Los Angeles for one year before moving to New York to be with Ryan, who was playing for the Buffalo Bills.
In an email interview with “The Sports Zone,” Neufeld discusses life as a “football wife,” caring for a child with special needs, and her unwavering faith in God.
TSZ: What is it really like being the wife of a professional football player?
Dawn: Being a football wife is exciting! Going to games on Sundays, hearing thousands of people cheering for the team knowing your husband is out on the field – I think wives get our own adrenaline rush during games, especially if we’re actually fans (not all wives are). We are presented with opportunities to do so many wonderful things, from going to great parties and events to giving back to the community. Being a football wife definitely has its advantages.
But life as a football wife isn’t all glitz and glam. I remember earlier in Ryan’s career, I worried constantly about him getting cut. After he’d get cut, I’d worry about him getting another opportunity to play. You learn the politics behind football, and it can really destroy your love for the game. As Ryan’s career progressed and he got older and the injuries started tallying up, I found I enjoyed the game less and spent a lot of time worrying about him getting hurt. Ryan was on the field when his teammate Kevin Everett was almost paralyzed back in 2007. That was a huge wake up call for me - being a football wife became even more stressful after that. For the fans, it’s just a game. Some only care about the next win or how their fantasy football team is doing. Football stopped being a game a long time ago for us - we’ll deal with the costs associated with the game for the rest of our lives.
TSZ: If you had the opportunity to change one thing about your life as a football wife, what would it be?
Dawn: I’d live in the moment a little more. Ryan wasn’t drafted and he was always the guy who had to work a little harder just to make sure he had a job every week, so I spent a lot of time worrying about the “what ifs” instead of living in the moment.
TSZ: You are an attorney, TV personality, wife and mom…how do you find time to do it all?
Dawn: I have a supportive husband! I wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of this without Ryan. And I have to prioritize – I am tired A LOT! You won’t see me out at the club every weekend – I need my beauty sleep!
TSZ: As one of the stars of VH1’s “Football Wives,” you tried to display an elegance that women (and men) could be proud of. Did the writers ever try to get you to play a certain type of “character” that went against your beliefs?
Dawn: Were we watching the same show??? I hated how I was portrayed. I think I came across as being jealous and spiteful. Anyone who knows me knows the opposite is true. I always tell people that I can take responsibility for what they saw on the show (my cussing, for example) – it had to happen if it was captured on tape. What I can’t take responsibility for is the editing. It’s amazing how the powers-that-be can piece together and edit someone’s “reality.” What was portrayed on the show wasn’t necessarily my reality.
I can look back at the experience though and be proud of myself for standing up to someone who is used to bossing people around and treating people a certain way because she married well. Regardless of how that came across on television, I will never, ever regret calling a spade a spade and speaking my mind.
TSZ: Will we see any new episodes of “Football Wives” this season?
Dawn: VH1 has chosen not to renew the show – that was disappointing at first. We were very hopeful about a second season and what was in store for the viewers. The history-making NFL lockout took place, we had the debacle that was Super Bowl in Dallas, one of our cast members had a baby, Mat McBriar went to the Pro Bowl - so many awesome things happened in our lives that I think the viewers would’ve connected with. After watching some of the shows being featured on VH1, I realized they weren’t concerned about our reality at all.
We were told the show wasn’t being renewed because we were too boring and that viewers didn’t connect with Dallas. That’s funny to me – there are no fewer than three reality shows on big networks featuring Dallas right now. Shaunie O’Neal, who was an executive producer on our show, even called us “churchy.” There was no weave-pullin’, drag out fighting on “Football Wives.” If that made us churchy, I’m okay with that. I’m a mom, a wife, a professional – reality TV is not worth me compromising any of those things.
TSZ: Talk about the transition from professional football family to a life without pro football.
Dawn: It is so hard. No one can ever be prepared for that transition. People can tell you about it, they can try to help you prepare for it, but until you’re in it, it’s really hard to know what it’s like. We’re just lucky we made it through with our marriage intact. Many couples aren’t that lucky. The financial, mental and societal reality of the transition can really take its toll.
TSZ: Your handsome son Will was born with autism. Talk about the challenges you and Ryan have experienced as parents and as a family?
Dawn: Will developed normally as an infant and started presenting some developmental delays shortly after he turned one (and after a round of vaccines – but we won’t go into that, too controversial). I had him evaluated when he was around 18 months old, and by 19 months he was in all kinds of therapy.
It has been very difficult. I never took Will to football games because the stadium was always too loud – he was very sensitive to sound. Autism can be very isolating because you never know what might set your kid off, and because he doesn’t look sick, people may not realize he has a disability. We always get “the stare.” You know, the side-eye people give you when your kid is throwing a tantrum or acting up. The constant judgment is exhausting. And I think about how difficult it must be for Ryan – having a son and knowing that he will probably never follow in his footsteps. That has to be tough. But we’ve learned that when you have a kid with a disability, you really have to go with the flow and learn to appreciate the small things.
TSZ: How has Will’s condition helped you grow as a mother and woman?
Dawn: My motto in life is simple – “perspective.” Things can always be worse. When I’m having difficulties with Will, I let myself have an “autism mommy moment,” then I wipe away the tears and keep it moving. That’s pretty much how I function in life – when things get tough, let yourself have a moment, then get it together and keep going.
TSZ: Does religion play a major part in your life? If so, how has your faith sustained you?
Dawn: Absolutely. I’m a Christian and rely on my faith heavily to get me through the day. My worship playlist is always nearby when I need some inspiration. I believe my relationship with Christ is a personal one though, and I don’t wear it on my sleeve like other people I know.
In a pre-game family Bible study in Buffalo, former Bills’ quarterback Frank Reich, who orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, said “As Christians, we are either in a storm, just got out of one, or one is on the way.” That truly resonated with me. So I try to stay prayed up and prepared for whatever God’s plans are for me. I read Linda Dillow’s “Calm My Anxious Heart” years ago. The team chaplain’s wife recommended it to me. It changed my life. Worry and stress are probably my biggest foes, and I’m always able to find peace when I let go and let God.
TSZ: What are your future plans?
Dawn: Honestly, I’m not sure. My bucket list keeps getting longer, so maybe it’s time I start tackling some of those dreams. In the meantime, I hope to continue to try to live in the moment and continue to pay forward the opportunities and blessings we’ve received.
Neufeld always has special projects going on. On October 29, she will host the first annual Heels 2 Heal Awareness Gala fundraiser for Women Called Moses Coalition & Outreach (WCM), a Dallas-based non-profit organization that provides secure shelter and support services to battered women and their children.
For details on Dawn’s upcoming appearances and events, follow her on Twitter @DawnNeufeld or on Facebook.