When I sat down to watch the first episode of VH1's Football Wives and learned that she is a practicing attorney, I knew that there was more to Dawn Neufeld than "football wife." Dawn Neufeld talked with me about who she is and who she is not, about how being a football wife has affected her life, and about her relationships with the other football wives.
Tamara: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about you, your life, and your participation in VH1's Football Wives. Since the season premiere of Football Wives, the world has had the opportunity to meet you, Dawn, wife of NFL Tight End Ryan Neufeld. "Wife of" oftentimes only gives people a glimpse of who a person is. Tell me. Who is Dawn Neufeld?
Dawn: I can start by telling you who 'Dawn Neufeld' is not. I am not a groupie or a gold-digger. I didn't marry my husband Ryan because he played football. And I am certainly more than a trophy wife who sits around looking pretty doing nothing all day. I am an actively-practicing lawyer licensed in two states – California and Texas. Passing two bar exams on my first try each time might certainly suggest that I've got some brains. I'm a mom who enjoys giving back – I do a lot of charity work. Like most wives I know, I've got a little bit of Superwoman in me.
Tamara: Did you always aspire to be a lawyer?
Dawn: I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. I remember reading a biography about Thurgood Marshall when I was in elementary school and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer like him.
Tamara: What type of law do you practice?
Dawn: I'm in corporate law and estate planning. I work for a small firm in Dallas that deals with everything but baby-mama drama (family law) and criminal law. If you need help in those areas, I can refer you to someone in those practice areas.
Tamara: Tell me how you and Ryan met.
Dawn: Ryan and I met in college as undergrads at UCLA. We're college sweethearts.
Tamara: Ryan has played with the Cowboys, Jaguars, and Bills. I know that there is so much uncertainty involved with an NFL career because of team cuts and trades and injuries. How have you dealt with the NFL life? How has his career affected your career?
Dawn: NFL life can be hard, but you've got to just go with the flow. There is so much uncertainty. We've moved around a lot over the years and it was hard to know how long we'd be in a given city. So it did affect my career – I basically had to put practicing on hold to support Ryan. When I decided to return to work, it was tough. I was competing with young lawyers fresh out of law school for limited opportunities in this economy.
Tamara: On the show you mentioned that Ryan made the league minimum and that you all have not planned for life after the NFL, even though you both knew that it was inevitable. That really surprises me since you're a lawyer. I would expect that even if Ryan wasn't focused on it (I mean, who wants to focus on life after something that you love), I would think that the lawyer in you would have been planning from day one. Why didn't you all plan for it?
Dawn: I've probably contemplated Ryan's transition more than he has. The transition is tough and a lot of people can't comprehend it. I tell people this – I went to school to be a lawyer and I can do that for the rest of my life. Ryan went to school to play football, so what happens when it's over? He's played football for over two decades – it's hard to hang up the cleats and walk away when you don't feel like you've accomplished all your goals yet.
I think the most prepared families can fall victim to the transition. You can have a plan and think you're prepared and for one reason or another you just get caught up in it. Next thing you know it's been two years since you've had any real income coming in. It happens more often than you would think. We once read a statistic that 3 years after official retirement 80% of players are bankrupt and/or divorced. So we're not an isolated couple encountering problems – it's scary.
What I had to learn is that this is Ryan's transition. I had ideas for possible career options and suggestions that might help him transition, and every time I suggested something, he'd pull away. That's pretty typical though. Many wives get frustrated when we can't get on the same page as our spouses during the transition, and unfortunately, it's why so many pro-athlete couples' marriages don't survive. I had to learn to appreciate the process and instead of focusing on what Ryan wasn't doing, I got my stuff together and took the Texas bar exam so I could go back to work and do my part to support him through one of the most difficult times in his life.
Tamara: What is the "life after the NFL" plan as of today?
Dawn: Ryan is now working for a company called National Collegiate Scouting Association (www.ncsasports.org). He's got some things in the works.
Tamara: On the first episode you said that you work part-time as an attorney. I know that you're also a model and actress. Did you do any acting on Football Wives or is that all Dawn that we see?
Dawn: Football Wives isn't scripted and I certainly wasn't acting. I think my experience helps me because I'm not shy in front of a camera. But that's the extent of my acting experience coming into play on the show.
Tamara: What are some of the acting and modeling projects that you've worked on? What's next for you?
Dawn: I have an agent in Dallas and I've done a lot of commercial and industrial work. I shot a television show called The Bite for almost two years and I even shot my first SAG movie role last year. I don't have any plans to make acting my career – it's something I enjoy doing and I'm glad that I can.
Tamara: I also read that you are a host on D210TV. Tell me a little about that.
Dawn: D210 is a local entertainment and lifestyle show broadcast all over Texas on Time Warner Cable. I host the show and get to cover all sorts of exciting events in Dallas, from movie premieres to Mavericks games.
Tamara: Of all your jobs, which is your favorite?
Dawn: I don't have a favorite – each serves a purposes and fulfills a need. Practicing law allows me to exercise my brain and earn some money to pay some bills. Acting and hosting allow me to tap into my creative side. I have the best of both worlds.
Tamara: So we've learned that you're a wife, lawyer, model, TV host, and an actress, but you're also a mother. How do you juggle it all?
Dawn: Having a husband who supports me! I couldn't do this without Ryan's support and help. From watching the kids on the weekend so I can catch up on sleep to helping out around the house, he's always got my back. We're definitely a team.
Tamara: Are there any other projects that you're working on?
Dawn: Yes – my charity work. I'm currently a provisional member of the Junior League of Dallas so I'm doing a lot of community service these days. We also support a couple other charities – Teammates for Kids, the Layla Grace Foundation and the Tackle Cancer Foundation.
Tamara: With all of the titles that you have, I don't know where you find the time to do things simply for pleasure. What do you enjoy doing outside of work? What are some of your other interests?
Dawn: Sleeping! And I'm a big movie buff – I love going to the movies. I like working out too, especially if it's an outside activity like rollerblading or riding my bike. I'm seriously just a homebody though – I love kicking it around the house relaxing.
Check back next Wednesday for Part 2 of my interview with Dawn Neufeld where she discusses her participation in VH1's Football Wives and tells which of her castmates she doesn't really get along with.