Being the wife of a professional NFL player can be a wonderful experience thanks to the resources and opportunities it offers. But even the true violence of sport fills with fear every Sunday. A serious injury is possible at any game, as football fans witnessed during the Week 16 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills.
Damar Hamlin’s heart attack on the field reminded everyone how traumatic football can be for players and their families. Kelly Stafford, wife of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, offered words of support to other women who are struggling to see their partner’s chosen career.
Matthew and Kelly got together in the late 2000s while attending the University of Georgia. He was the star quarterback on the football team and she was a cheerleader. They stayed together after Stafford was drafted into the NFL by the Detroit Lions in 2009. The couple married in 2015.
Matthew and Kelly became parents in 2017 with the birth of twin daughters Sawyer and Chandler. They have since had two more daughters, Hunter in 2018 and Tyler in 2020.
Both parties have dealt with difficult circumstances during their marriage. Matthew suffered several serious injuries, including a severed shoulder, a broken tailbone and multiple concussions, reports Draft Sharks. During his 12 years with the Detroit Lions, the QB struggled to find post-season success.
Kelly was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor called acoustic neuroma in 2019. Luckily, the tumor was successfully removed and she eventually made a full recovery.
Despite everything, their love remained strong. When Matthew won the Super Bowl with the Rams last year, Kelly and her kids were there to celebrate.
On January 2nd, Monday night’s football game between the Bengals and Bills should be an exciting contest in the AFC. However, the playoff impact faded into insignificance after Hamlin collapsed on the field midway through the first quarter. Cruel injuries are part of sport. But to be afraid of seeing someone die is another matter entirely.
Medics gave Buffalo safety CPR for 10 long minutes. Players, analysts and fans were in tears in fear for Hamlin’s condition. Luckily, he’s making a remarkable recovery. After nine days in the hospital, Hamlin was discharged and allowed to return home.
Still, the incident prompted people to reconsider the risks of football and whether players are being properly rewarded for their work. (Most money in NFL contracts isn’t guaranteed, and their salaries are cut if they’re placed on injured reserve.)
The discourse understandably focuses on the athletes on the field. But the strain of seeing someone you care about put their mind and body on the line every week is also a complicated space to live in. After Hamlin’s emergency, Kelly Stafford took to Instagram to express her concerns and other NFL partners players have to work through from the sidelines:
After the NFL was threatened with legal action for mishandling concussions and negative PR cycles, she eventually began making changes to make players safer. But football is like a cigarette. There is no version of the product that is safe, wholesome, or satisfactory to the consumer.
Soccer is based on increasingly athletic and muscular men hitting each other hundreds of times in every game. While the appetite for big hits is less than it used to be, the violence is part of the appeal. But that doesn’t mean the league is responsible enough for player welfare.
Matthew Stafford went on the concussion log twice this season in the same month. Kelly, who has been a registered nurse since 2014, vented her frustration at the NFL’s process in an Instagram story from her podcast’s account The morning after.
“The head is no joke… and I hope that as this sport develops, so does the concern for head health and the research surrounding it,” she said. “I have all emotions running through me. Worried, angry, sad, tired… all of them.”
She also urged the league to remove turf from fields. Artificial turf is cheaper to maintain but has been shown to increase the likelihood of serious injury for players. “Not just her limbs, but especially her head health. There is a big difference when a helmet hits grass than when it hits turf.”