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Author: Shannon O’Toole

ISBN: 0803286252

Good day Shannon and thanks for agreeing to participate in our interview.

Thank you for the invitation!

Norm:

Shannon, please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.

Shannon:

I received my master’s degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. My master’s thesis was entitled “Professional Football Players’ Attitudes Relating Toward Women and Violence.” When I was 19 years old and playing softball at Western Michigan University I met John Morton. For the past 14 years, John has been involved with professional football. He played for 5 years and now he is a coach. (In February 2006, he signed a 2-year contract with the New Orleans Saints as their “Passing Game Assistant”). My academic background combined with my personal experience made me very interested in the topic of NFL Women.

Norm:

How did your Masters degree in sociology help you with your research and in the writing of your book?

Shannon:

It helped immensely. It is an excellent discipline for examining social issues and dynamics. In the book I delve into sexism and racism in context to professional football. Sociology has opened my eyes to societal inequities and injustice and it has molded me into the woman I am today.

Norm:

What is the underlying message or theme of Wedded to the Game: The Real Lives of NFL Women?

Shannon:

The message is clear: these women are not the stereotypical shallow, gold-digging, Barbie dolls. They are sharp, strong-willed and opinionated. They are multi-tasking, talented women who take on and conquer the challenges that NFL life throws at them. In fact, they are 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 for long. Those who learn to cope with the NFL’s immense difficulties become stubborn, resilient and wise survivors.

Norm:

Do you believe that the sampling of interviews was sufficient to come to some of your conclusions?

Shannon:

I do, mainly because I was very careful to select women whose experiences ran the gamut of NFL life. While I spoke with Jackie Rice who is married to All-Everything Jerry Rice, I also interviewed the girlfriend of a rookie free agent who was simply hoping her boyfriend would be on the roster so they would have health insurance at the time of their baby’s birth. Ultimately, I knew there was an adequate sample when I began to hear the same answers to my numerous questions. We really are a sisterhood with shared experiences unique to professional sports life.

Norm:

Why did you feel compelled to write this book?

Shannon:

To quote the preface:

When I began my research for this book I had an ulterior motive. Although I have been in the NFL for twelve years now and I know very well what this life is like, I was also seeking the advice and hard-earned wisdom of women who had already found solutions to my numerous concerns. I still struggle with the life I’ve chosen, and so I wanted to know: How do other women deal with the NFL? How do they cope and survive? What are their experiences?

I knew these women did not fit the stereotype. I wanted other people to know it too.

Norm:

Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book? I notice there is an absence at the end of the book of a selected bibliography. Any reason for this omission?

Shannon:

To quote the preface:

I sent an anonymous survey to over 150 women and got back an amazing 75 responses. Out of those 75 responses, I chose 30 women to interview in depth. Their stores make up the heart of this book. About half were willing to go on record and let their names be used, and about half wanted to remain anonymous. In the initial anonymous survey, I asked respondents to either “agree strongly, agree mildly, disagree mildly, or disagree strongly” to a myriad of statements regarding NFL life. These responses form the basis of some of my general statements and conclusions about what off-the-field life is like for women. Then, over the course of my thirty one-on-one interviews, I received full, in-depth answers to these often difficult, complex questions.

Regarding the absence of a bibliography, the current literature on professional sports spouses is minimal. Most of the published works are salacious, racy novels that simply serve to perpetuate the unfair stereotypes. My book is the only book on the market (that I am aware of) that is part insiders tell-all and part sociological study.

Norm:

What obstacles did you have in writing and researching your book?

Shannon:

There were very few obstacles during the research process. I was surprised by the willingness and the eagerness of the women willing to speak about their experiences. They wanted to talk, not just about the good times, but about some of their most dreadful and unbearable experiences. NFL Women are almost universally overlooked by the public and the media, and what I discovered is that they have things to say and they want to be heard.

My difficulties arose during the writing process. Before I began this book I was completely naïve regarding the art of writing. I had NO IDEA how difficult a task it is to write well. Writing well is a true skill and I did not have the needed training. I lost count of the number of major revisions. But I did have a goal to see my name on a book cover, and I was completely and thoroughly determined to reach 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 again and again before it finally found a home at the University of Nebraska Press. And even then, I needed the skill of a fantastic outside developmental editor, Jeff Campbell in San Francisco. I am forever in his debt for the beautiful things he did with my manuscript.

It took me 5 years from start of research to the final finished product. That is a long time. But the feeling of self-fulfillment that I have right now, makes every day of those 5 years well worth it.

Norm:

How has the feedback been so far? What are your hopes for this book?

Shannon:

From both within and outside of the football world, the favorable feedback has been tremendous. Andrew Yardley of the Washington Post called Wedded to the Game an “intelligent, thoughtful book.” Feedback from NFL Women includes phrases like, “great insight as to what life is really like for us” and “invaluable information for rookie wives/girlfriends.” The central theme, according to a woman married to a player, “It was comforting to know that while the stories may vary many of our experiences are the same.”

Even women who are not fans of the game can relate to many of the book’s issues, such as frequent relocation or dealing with a partner’s long hours – both common occurrences in today’s American work culture.

Currently, I am speaking with two television producers who are interested in the topic of NFL Wives. Check my website for updates on these projects.

Of course, I hope this book continues to grow in popularity and one day reaches the Best Seller List . . . with Oprah’s help. (smile)

Norm:

What is next for Shannon O’Toole is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Shannon:

It is my dream to implement and facilitate an NFL Women Mentoring Program. The mission of this program is to lessen the strain and uncertainty, and thereby increase the life satisfaction of women new to the league by formally connecting them with experienced veteran wives/significant others. In these relationships, veteran NFL Women offer advice, answer questions, and guide their mentees in developing skills and methods for copy with the myriad of circumstances unique to NFL life. I am currently speaking with the league office along with the NFLPA about offering this program on a league-wide basis.

In the immediate future, John and I look forward to helping the people and the animals affected by Hurricane Katrina. “Recover, Rebuild, Rebirth” and GO SAINTS!

*Note: Hurricane Katrina dogs and cats continue to need loving homes. Please go to: http://www.petfinder.com to adopt one of these deserving animals.

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