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Women married to NFL Mormons do best to keep things normal at home

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 2:04 a.m. MDT

John and Barbara Beck with their boys at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. (Family Photo) John and Barbara Beck with their boys at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. (Family Photo)

Related list: All-time list of returned LDS missionaries in professional sports

They are married to men who play a physically brutal game, always one fluke, misstep or jarring hit away from a career-ending injury.

Their husbands have constant demands on their time, from practice to meetings to autograph seekers to charity appearances.

The ups-and-downs of a season can be excruciating. There is both praise and criticism, and it all depends on whether you win or lose.

For at least 16 weeks of the year, their husbands are away on Sundays. Their job performance is the talk of the town. The spotlight is always present.

Yet, life for these Latter-day Saint families can also be surprisingly normal.

John Beck, former BYU quarterback, finds time to be father to his three boys, Ty, left, Grady and Preston. (Family Photo) John Beck, former BYU quarterback, finds time to be father to his three boys, Ty, left, Grady and Preston. (Family Photo)

They have callings in the church, ranging from early-morning seminary teacher to ward mission leader. They are raising young children. They have temple marriages.

For years now, Mormon Times has been following the careers of Mormons in professional football. This week, we take a look at their home life by speaking with their spouses.

How do they maintain normalcy and balance in their lives? And what kind of special opportunities do their careers afford them, especially when it comes to sharing the gospel?

Barbara Beck

For a girl who grew up 40 miles south of Price, Utah, the NFL life has been an adventure.

Since her husband was drafted in 2007, Barbara and John Beck have lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Baltimore; San Diego; and now outside Washington, D.C., where John currently plays quarterback for the Redskins.

Spencer Larsen, starting fullback for the Denver Broncos, enjoys a walk through mountain leaves with his family. (Family Photo) Spencer Larsen, starting fullback for the Denver Broncos, enjoys a walk through mountain leaves with his family. (Family Photo)

"We've had some of the most memorable times," Barbara said. "With all the different people you meet, the different cultures, moving around has definitely been interesting for me."

They had a multitude of Mormon friends in Baltimore, including Todd Heap, David Hale, Haloti Ngata, and Dennis Pitta. They also developed friendships with Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice and others.

"There was great tradition and camaraderie on that team," Barbara said. "It was one of the most enjoyable years of my life."

The Becks have three boys: Ty, age 4; Preston, 2; and Grady, about 7 months. The boys consume much of Barbara's time and energy, but she gets a lot of help from her husband and friends in their LDS ward.

She and the boys don't attend games, but John takes the kids to camps and practices, then stays after to play with them and give them Gatorade. Barbara says John is fantastic about letting her have personal time for exercise or spending time with girlfriends. One night a week, they get a babysitter and escape to dinner and a movie.

Danie and Ryon Bingham hold their daughter, Kayla. Ryon played on the defensive line for the San Diego Chargers. (Family Photo) Danie and Ryon Bingham hold their daughter, Kayla. Ryon played on the defensive line for the San Diego Chargers. (Family Photo)

"We are each other's greatest support," Barbara said.

While John is away on Sundays, Barbara sits with a friend at church.

Is there a downside to being an NFL wife? Barbara doesn't think so.

"I don't know if there is one," she said. "It's like other jobs. You have to make adjustments and be flexible, always on your toes. Every day is different for us but we know it won't last very long, so we want to enjoy it while it lasts."

Danie Bingham

Danie Bingham's husband, Ryon, played for the San Diego Chargers for seven seasons (2004-10). While his career provided many thrilling experiences, it was also full of painful injuries. The hulking defensive lineman tore both biceps off the bone at different times, blew out both knees and had shoulder problems. The worst injury, however, came when he had heart problems during a game and the medicine wasn't working.

Chanel Weddle, left, and Danie Bingham spent time together in London while their husbands, Eric Weddle and Ryon Bingham, played with the San Diego Chargers in a special NFL regular season game in England. (Family Photo) Chanel Weddle, left, and Danie Bingham spent time together in London while their husbands, Eric Weddle and Ryon Bingham, played with the San Diego Chargers in a special NFL regular season game in England. (Family Photo)

"They were ready to hook him up to a defibrillator. He was 28," Danie said. "It really put it all in perspective. Is this game really worth it? He was our life, my husband, the father of my children. Now when someone doesn't get up (off the football field), my heart sinks instantly."

Incredibly, Ryon recovered from all those injuries and has since retired. The Binghams and their two young children recently moved to Utah to be closer to family.

During Ryon's run in the NFL, the couple enjoyed memorable trips to Costa Rica and Europe, as well as other opportunities afforded by the NFL lifestyle.

As she became acquainted with other wives and girlfriends, Danie found it odd that many hired nannies to raise their children.

"Motherhood is our calling," Danie said. "It's important to raise children ourselves."

Eric Weddle, his wife Chanel, son Gaige, daughter Brooklyn and baby Silver, live in Escondido, Calif. Eric plays for the San Diego Chargers.  (Bernie Bonar Photo) Eric Weddle, his wife Chanel, son Gaige, daughter Brooklyn and baby Silver, live in Escondido, Calif. Eric plays for the San Diego Chargers. (Bernie Bonar Photo)

When their daughter, Kayla, was young, Danie routinely attended sacrament meeting before going to San Diego home games. But as Kayla grew older, Danie noticed her daughter began to resist going to church. At that point the Binghams made an important decision.

"Ryon and I decided church came first. Even though he was playing, I went to the full block of meetings to be an example to Kayla," Danie said. "It was more challenging, but we realized it was our duty."

Looking back, living under a high-profile microscope provided opportunities for personal growth, Danie said.

"Some people idolized you a little, so we became examples in things we said and did. People wanted to get to know us and hear our stories. Ryon spoke at a lot of firesides to young people," she said. "I grew up sheltered in Utah, but learned to share the gospel in subtle ways and love others unconditionally. I learned that there is beauty in being different."

Bryan and Jessica Kehl (left) at charity event hosted by former Jazz guard, Deron Williams. (Family Photo) Bryan and Jessica Kehl (left) at charity event hosted by former Jazz guard, Deron Williams. (Family Photo)

Christy Denney

People are definitely intrigued by what her husband, John, does for work, says Christy Denney, who is married to the long snapper for the Miami Dolphins.

The high school kids who showed up at their house for early-morning seminary were the same way. They were pretty excited that an NFL player was their teacher.

"After a week, that goes away and it's just seminary," Christy said. "They got over it real quick."

Christy and John met in Provo. She was a student at BYU, and John, who would eventually go on to play for the Cougars, was at Ricks College.

John, who played defensive end in college, has carved out a career for himself as a specialist in the NFL. The job of a long snapper is not as high-contact as other positions, and it's one where it's best to keep a low profile. John tells Christy, "If people do know who I am, I've done a bad job."

Jessica Kehl, right, joins friends and wives of other players of the St. Louis Rams football team during an NFL  game. (Family Photo) Jessica Kehl, right, joins friends and wives of other players of the St. Louis Rams football team during an NFL game. (Family Photo)

John, whose older brother Ryan spent several years playing for the Buffalo Bills, is grateful for his opportunities and tries to keep an "even keel" for his family, despite the instability of an NFL career.

"He keeps it in perspective," Christy said. "He's just happy to have a job."

The couple has three boys, ages 6, 4 and 2, with a little girl on the way. They live in Weston, Fla., where Christy has been serving as the stake Relief Society secretary for three years.

John is in his second year of teaching early-morning seminary, which begins at their house at 5:45 a.m.

Christy says being married to an NFL player is not as hectic as everyone thinks, though there's more time to be together as a family during the offseason.

John and Christy Denney have been in Florida seven years. (Family Photo) John and Christy Denney have been in Florida seven years. (Family Photo)

"It's a lifestyle," Christy said. "It's our life."

She's always followed football and says "it's definitely been part of my life for a long time." The game has taken the Denneys to Florida for the past seven years, where Christy says they are often people's first impression of what a Mormon is.

"They definitely ask a lot of questions, and I like to give solid answers," she said.

Jessica Kehl

Life as an NFL wife has provided Jessica Kehl with a variety of new experiences and opportunities.

After she married Bryan Kehl in July 2009, the couple has lived in three locations: New Jersey, while Bryan played for the New York Giants; St. Louis, where he currently plays for the Rams; and they have stayed at times with family in the Salt Lake City area. Since the couple doesn't have children yet, Jessica enjoys attending charity events, mingling with other wives and girlfriends, operating her own photo business (Jessicafayephotography.com) and spending time with Bryan, who few recognize in public.

Bryan and Jessica Kehl. (Family Photo) Bryan and Jessica Kehl. (Family Photo)

"Overall, it's pretty fun," Jessica said. "A lot of people don't know what the players look like under helmets, so we're not bothered very much; we're still low-key. More recognize him in Utah than in St. Louis."

The couple is frequently invited to participate in charity work, and one of Jessica's favorite events involves taking baskets of goodies to sick children at local hospitals.

The season is always a roller coaster of emotions, more for Jessica than Bryan. She says her husband is happy and confident, despite what happens with the team. Sometimes after games she doesn't know what to say, so she doesn't say anything.

"I get more into it than he does. If a coach says something, I hold a vendetta, but he is over it the next day," Jessica said. "Sometimes they lose and still feel good, or win and not feel good, so I never know what to say; I just avoid it and he deals with it on his own."

Danie Bingham, left, Breanna Clary, Chanel Weddle and Crystal Scott, wives of football players, stand near Big Ben. (Family Photo) Danie Bingham, left, Breanna Clary, Chanel Weddle and Crystal Scott, wives of football players, stand near Big Ben. (Family Photo)

On Sundays, it's important that Jessica represents the couple at their LDS Church ward. She attends some home games and records road games to watch after church meetings. She doesn't currently have a calling, but Bryan serves as the ward mission leader. When the couple lived in New Jersey, Bryan was the Scoutmaster.

Ann Larsen

On Sunday mornings during the NFL season, Ann Larsen wakes up, puts on religious music and gets her three children ready for church.

Once she gets to the meetinghouse, she's "a nervous wreck."

Her husband, Spencer, is a starting fullback for the Denver Broncos. Ann has always loved football. But when the game becomes a profession, and the pressure to win is as intense as it is in the NFL, the ups and downs of a season can be, in her words, "awful."

Brady and Brooke Poppinga with their children. (Family photo) Brady and Brooke Poppinga with their children. (Family photo)

"Nothing can be better than winning a game in the NFL," Ann said. "And in contrast, nothing can be worse than losing a game."

Ann and Spencer grew up together in Gilbert, Ariz. They started dating after Spencer returned from his full-time Mormon mission. He was a star player at the University of Arizona. Ann was attending Arizona State, a bitter rival.

"It was tough, but love prevaileth," said Ann, who actually cheers for Arizona over her alma mater.

The couple lives in Parker, Colo., with their three kids, ages 4, 3 and 1. Ann works with the Activity Days program in their ward, while Spencer, who is in his fourth season with the Broncos, serves as a ward missionary.

For the most part, Ann considers her husband's job fairly normal. He's usually gone from 8 to 5 during the week. She says the family is busy but not overwhelmed.

"It has its ups and downs, just like any job does," Ann said.

The friends the Larsens have made at church try to keep the football talk to a minimum. But the Broncos — especially in the football-crazed Denver market — are never completely out of the conversation.

"It just doesn't ever seem to end, because it's the talk of the town and the talk of the house," Ann said.

Still, she's grateful for the opportunities that have come from being the wife of an NFL player, especially when it comes to educating other players and their wives about the LDS faith.

The Larsens have several friends on the team who are strong in their Christian faith and with whom they've shared some positive experiences. They've had teammates over to dinner and prayed together.

When friends watch their children, the Larsen kids make sure their babysitters read the Book of Mormon to them.

"They won't go to bed without it," Ann said.

Ann doesn't worry too much about her husband's safety in the violent world of professional football. She says he's an intelligent player who's worked hard to get where he is.

"He has good form and he's smart with where he's throwing his body," Ann said. "I'm just so proud of him. He's so competitive and he's so tough.

"He's a good person and he helps people around him."

Brooke Poppinga

There's a lot more to life than football for Brooke and Brady Poppinga.

The couple runs a nonprofit called the Poppinga Play It Forward Fund, which has taken them to Africa, the Dominican Republic and Romania on humanitarian projects. Brooke writes a regular article for a family magazine in Wisconsin, while Brady is working on his first book. On top of being a seven-year NFL linebacker and a current starter for the St. Louis Rams, Brady also studied entrepreneurial business at the prestigious Wharton School and will start studying broadcasting this offseason.

The Poppingas have a busy travel schedule but often end up being substitute teachers in their home ward. The couple has three children. When they have time together, they love to play chess.

Brooke says that an NFL career is challenging, but the gospel keeps the Poppingas focused on what is most important.

"You have to be committed to your marriage and be independent at the same time," she said via email. "There are a lot of stresses that no one can understand unless they are a part of an active NFL career. … The NFL has a huge divorce rate. Having a temple marriage is a vital symbol to our family of the greatest good in life; an unbreakable, eternal familial bond based on God at the center of everything."

Brooke and Brady both come from families where their mother was a first-generation convert. Brady's father eventually joined the church, while Brooke's father, who has passed away, was a nondenominational Christian pastor. Both Brady and Brooke served full-time missions in the Uruguay Montevideo West Mission.

Time is the family's scarcest commodity. The months during the season are lived at "rocket speed," she says. In addition to practices, meetings and games, there are obligations like autograph signings, marketing appearances, football camps for kids and school visits.

The Poppingas try to make sure whatever they do has the purpose of drawing themselves and others to God "because that's where joy is experienced.

"In our hearts, Brady and I will always be missionaries and disciples of Christ," she said. "… It's important to always be aware of the needs of others in every place you find yourself and to remember that everyone needs the pure love of Christ in their lives. We believe that God answers people's prayers through others, so we try to tune in and be sensitive to how we can help our fellow man and woman."

Chanel Weddle

Since San Diego free safety Eric Weddle signed a $40 million contract last summer, more fans recognize him in public. They ask for pictures and autographs. Women hold up signs that say, "Marry me Eric." His wife, Chanel, is the first to say it comes with a job they chose to pursue.

"This is how he supports us," she said. "I try not to ask a lot of him during the season, but I still expect him to help at home with the kids, to be a father, a husband and the head of our household."

The first time the couple went to dinner after Eric signed his new contract with the Chargers, at least seven people approached him for autographs.

"I am supportive of it. He owes it to the fans. They make him who he is," Chanel said. "People have rarely been rude. It's only hard when we have the kids and they want him to sign a lot of things."

Taking time for fans almost caused major heartache last June when the Weddles were at the circus and a fan asked Eric to stand in a picture. "Our 2-year-old son Gaige wandered off. Eric asked if I had him and I thought he was joking," she said. "We found him 15 minutes later, but it was scary."

Chanel currently serves in her ward's Young Women presidency and takes their three young children to church while Eric, sometimes in street clothes, attends an early sacrament service near whatever stadium he is playing in that day. He currently serves in the Sunday School presidency.

Ward members are sensitive when discussing Sabbath Day observance around the Weddles.

"The ward is supportive, but it's a struggle," Chanel said. "It's a choice we made. We try really hard to do our best."

Chanel draws support from ward members and a monthly trip to the San Diego LDS Temple. Like their friends, the Becks, the Weddles hope to enjoy the NFL opportunity as long as they can.

"The battle continues to be putting the family first and supporting the job," Chanel said.

Related list: All-time list of returned LDS missionaries in professional sports

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