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Shannon O’Toole Author of Wedded to The Game & Wife of a NFL Player and Coach Interviewed
Author: Shannon O’Toole
Good afternoon Shannon and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Thanks for the invite!
Shannon, tell our readers about your personal and professional background.
I have a master’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University. My master’s thesis was titled “Attitudes of professional soccer players regarding women and violence.” When I was 19 and playing softball at Western Michigan University, I met John Morton. John has been playing professional football for the past 14 years. He played for 5 years and is now a coach. (In February 2006, he signed a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints as their “Passing Assistant”). My academic background combined with my personal experience made me very interested in the topic of NFL women.
How did your master’s degree in sociology help you in researching and writing the book?
That helped immensely. It is an excellent discipline for examining social issues and dynamics. In the book, I deal with sexism and racism in the context of professional football. Sociology opened my eyes to social inequalities and injustices and shaped me into the woman I am today.
What is the underlying message or theme of the book Wedded to the Game: The Real Lives of NFL Women?
The message is clear: these women are not stereotypical shallow gold-digging Barbie dolls. They are sharp, strong-willed and persistent. They are talented women who multitask and overcome the challenges that NFL life throws at them. In fact, they are as tough, if not tougher than the men who play and coach the game. The percentage of women who fit the negative stereotype is probably less than ten percent – and these types of women never last long. Those who learn to cope with the NFL’s enormous rigors become tough, resilient and wise survivors.
Do you feel that the sampling of interviews was sufficient to reach any of your conclusions?
Yes, mostly because I was very careful to choose women whose experiences spanned the spectrum of NFL life. While I spoke with Jackie Rice who is married to All-Everything Jerry Rice, I also interviewed the girlfriend of a new player who was hoping her boyfriend would be on the roster so they would have health insurance when their baby was born. Finally, I knew there was an adequate sample when I started hearing the same answers to my many questions. We are truly a sisterhood with shared experiences unique to professional sports life.
Why did you feel compelled to write this book?
To quote the preface:
When I started researching this book, I had an ulterior motive. Even though I’ve been in the NFL for twelve years and know what this life is like, I also sought the advice and hard-earned wisdom of women who had already found solutions to my many concerns. I’m still struggling with the life I’ve chosen, so I wanted to know: How do other women deal with the NFL? How do they manage and survive? What are their experiences?
I knew these women didn’t fit the stereotype. I wanted other people to know that too.
Can you explain some of your research techniques and how you found the sources for your book? I notice that there is no selected bibliography at the end of the book. Is there a reason for this omission?
To quote the preface:
I sent out an anonymous survey to over 150 women and got a whopping 75 responses. From those 75 responses, I selected 30 women for an in-depth interview. Their stores form the heart of this book. About half were willing to go on the record and allow their names to be used, and about half wanted to remain anonymous. In the initial anonymous survey, I asked respondents to “strongly agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, or strongly disagree” with a myriad of statements regarding NFL life. These answers form the basis of some of my general statements and conclusions about what life is like for women off the field. Then, during my thirty one-on-one interviews, I got full, detailed answers to these often difficult, complex questions.
Given the absence of a bibliography, the current literature on professional sports spouses is minimal. Most published works are polite, snarky novels that simply serve to perpetuate unfair stereotypes. My book is the only book on the market (that I am aware of) that is part insider and part sociological study.
What obstacles did you face in writing and researching your book?
There were very few obstacles during the research process. I was surprised by the readiness and desire of women who are ready to talk about their experiences. They wanted to talk, not only about the good times, but also about some of their scariest and most excruciating experiences. NFL women are almost universally overlooked by the public and the media, and what I’ve found is that they have something to say and want to be heard.
My difficulties arose during the writing process. Before I started this book, I was completely naive about the art of writing. I had no idea how difficult a task it was to write well. Writing well is a real skill and I didn’t have the necessary training. I’ve lost count of the major revisions. But I had a goal to see my name on the cover of a book, and I was totally and thoroughly determined to achieve that goal. (I also have a coach for a husband and he knew all the right motivational buttons to push!) Like millions of writers, my proposal was rejected over and over before it finally found a home at the University of Nebraska Press. Even then, I needed the skills of a fantastic outside development editor, Jeff Campbell in San Francisco. I am forever indebted to him for the beautiful things he has done with my manuscript.
It took me 5 years from the beginning of the research to the final finished product. That’s a long time. But the sense of self-fulfillment I have right now makes every day of these 5 years worth it.
What has the feedback been like so far? What are your hopes for this book?
Both inside and outside the world of football, the positive feedback has been overwhelming. Andrew Yardley of The Washington Post called Married to Play “an intelligent, thoughtful book.” Feedback from NFL Women includes phrases like, “great insight into what life is like for us” and “invaluable information for women/girls starting out.” The central theme, according to a woman married to a player, “It was comforting to know that while the stories may differ, many of our experiences are the same.”
Even women who aren’t fans of the game can relate to many of the issues in the book, such as moving frequently or dealing with a partner’s long work hours—both common occurrences in today’s American work culture.
I am currently talking to two television producers who are interested in the topic of NFL Wives. Check my website for updates on these projects.
Of course, I hope that this book will continue to grow in popularity and that one day it will hit the bestseller list. . . with Oprah’s help. (a smile)
What’s next for Shannon O’Toole, is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?
My dream is to implement and lead the NFL Women’s Mentoring Program. The mission of this program is to reduce the stress and uncertainty, and therefore increase the life satisfaction of women new to the league by formally connecting them with experienced veteran spouses/significant others. In these relationships, veteran NFL women offer advice, answer questions, and guide their mentors in developing skills and methods to replicate the myriad circumstances unique to NFL life. I am currently in discussions with the league office along with the NFLPA about offering this program league-wide.
In the near future, John and I look forward to helping people and animals affected by Hurricane Katrina. “Recover, renew, be reborn” and GO HOLY!
*Note: Hurricane Katrina dogs and cats still need loving homes. Go to: http://www.petfinder.com to adopt one of these deserving animals.
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