If you were going through a difficult time, Denise Wayne seems like the type of person who would grab your hand, look you in the eye, and say, “We’re going to get through this together.”
That is why it makes complete sense that she’s the president of the Professional Football Players Mothers’ Association (PFPMA).
With a son in his 14th year in the NFL (yes, I’m talking about the Colts’ Reggie Wayne, currently seventh all-time in NFL receptions), Denise has veteran status amongst the mothers of the league. Add that to her background in charity work and her willingness to help others, and she’s a natural fit as the leader of the PFPMA.
I experienced her generosity firsthand, as she graciously took time out of her day to speak with me and give me some insight into the group.
The PFPMA began in 1997 when 12 mothers of professional football players met to discuss the possibility of creating an official organization that would serve to support NFL mothers and their sons. It’s hard to believe, but prior to this time, there was no organization in place to serve this type of role.
Their first meeting was held in March of 1998 and the group has grown exponentially since then. The current PFPMA member list reads as a Who’s Who of the NFL, including representation from each team and from both active and retired players’ families. It’s really quite impressive.
“Our membership is very diverse. We have mothers that are working actively with their sons that are living the dream or that have lived the dream,” Denise explained.
According to Denise, recruiting is primarily done through two mechanisms.
The first is the Rookie Symposium. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the event, the Rookie Symposium is held every spring for drafted rookies to give them a crash course in the NFL – health and safety, finances, decision making, policies, and more. Rookies supply information about their mothers/guardians and then the PFPMA subsequently mails these family members to let them know about the existence of the group.
The other way new members are added to the group is through good old-fashioned mother-to-mother networking at games.
According to Denise, there are two mandatory events each year – an annual business meeting in March and a preseason conference in July. Group members often gather for the Super Bowl and the draft as well. Additionally, local events are hosted by each of the five regional groups making up the PFPMA.
The preseason conference in July often serves as the introductory event for the mothers of rookies. It’s their first opportunity to meet the other members and learn about the resources available to them through the group.
“I always tell them, my door is always open, no matter what time it is, because there might be sisters in need. We’re there for each other,” says Denise.
The veteran mothers act as mentors for the newer group members. Part of the purpose of the group is to educate and inform mothers about the business of professional football which they do through “yearly educational seminars and programs designed to inform and assist players and their mothers in their transition to the NFL.”
Support is also provided through weekly prayers sent out every Wednesday by the group’s chaplain, Minister Christina Lee, mother of free agent wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. Lee also holds a prayer service for members to call into every Sunday prior to games.
Chatting with Denise, the unique position of these women really stuck out to me. There’s no guide book (that I’m aware of) explaining how to handle the roller-coaster ride that is being a professional athlete. What happens if your son gets traded or injured? What should you expect his rookie year? How do you help your son set up his charity? These women aren’t playing the game, but they have so much invested in it and want to provide the best support system possible for their sons, something the PFPMA supplies the resources for them to do. Being the mother of a professional player is a distinctive experience with many challenges, some that only someone who has “been there” can really give you the guidance to get through, which is why it makes sense that the bonds between the women in this group are strong.
“We have created a bond with each other because we have that sisterhood that provides valuable information. We are their support system. Where there’s a need, we reach out. It’s a sisterhood.”
As the group is a 501(c) nonprofit organization, much of their energy and resources go towards giving back to the community. This Thanksgiving season, each of the regions donated turkeys to families in need. Other causes the group has supported in the past include Habitat for Humanity, Read Across America, American Heart Association, Feed the Children, the United Athletes Foundation, Pop Warner Youth Football, and numerous others with a focus on at-risk youth and disadvantaged communities. They’ve also teamed up with the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players for fundraising events. According to Denise, their next endeavor will be donating to Toys for Tots this holiday season.
When I asked Denise about her proudest accomplishment with the group, the Louisiana native referred back to 2005, when the PFPMA helped to raise over $350,000 and assisted 55 families with temporary housing after Hurricane Katrina.
As noted in their vision statement, the organization also support players in their charitable efforts. Currently, the PFPMA homepage features an upcoming event in Philadelphia to benefit the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation and a contest to join Jenkins on the field before the Eagles-Cowboys game in December. (Malcolm Jenkins is an Eagles safety and his mother Gwendolyn Jenkins is a PFPMA member.)
Obviously it’s smart to use a network of mothers to support their sons causes to publicize events, but it also assists with their mission to enhance the public image of professional football players.
“We want to make sure we keep our children’s public image as football players as respected,” said Denise, a comment that seems especially relevant considering the abuse and domestic violence headlines within the last few months.
From listening to Denise, it’s apparent that the group really achieves everything in its vision statement: educating and informing mothers about the business of football, enhancing the public image of players, promoting respect and fair play on and off the field, assisting their sons in their charitable efforts in the communities from which they came and in which they work, and supporting each other.
“What we have is a blessing. To be a part of such an elite group is such a blessing and we cherish every moment of it.”
For more information about the PFPMA and its charitable efforts, visit http://www.pfpma.org/.
All photos in this post are courtesy of the PFPMA.