NFL WAGs are challenging gold digger stereotypes on TikTok: 'There's misconceptions'

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NFL WAGs open up about loneliness, anxiety, community and football. (Illustration by Danie Drankwalter)
NFL WAGs open up about loneliness, anxiety, community and football. (Illustration by Danie Drankwalter)

On the outside, NFL WAG life seems picture-perfect: from blinged-out game-day outfits and glam flaunted in "get ready with me" videos to travel diaries jetsetting around the country from week to week. But the reality of being the wife or girlfriend of a professional football player is a lot different than what the public sees.

"You're kind of holding your breath the whole game, and then you can breathe after when you know that everything's OK," Jordan Lovato, wife to Eagles long snapper Rick Lovato, tells Yahoo Life of her experience as a supporter in the stands. "To do that for six plus months is a lot."

The 29-year-old has been by her husband's side through his six seasons with the Philadelphia team, noting that his very first with the Eagles ended in a Super Bowl victory in 2018. Despite the high highs that come with moments like that, Jordan shares that an NFL lifestyle also comes with ongoing fears and complications — although people like to think differently.

Rick and Jordan celebrate the Eagles's Super Bowl LII victory in 2018. (Photo: Getty Images)
Rick and Jordan celebrate the Eagles's Super Bowl LII victory in 2018. (Photo: Getty Images) (Patrick Smith via Getty Images)

"There's misconceptions," she states plainly, pointing to the way that women and girlfriends of elite athletes aka "WAGs" have been portrayed in the media as glamorous gold-diggers.

Even when it comes to the content that Jordan creates on her social media where she shares some of the behind-the-scenes, it's the more tinseled moments that get the most attention. Most recently, a video of her and other Eagles wives getting ready for the NFC Championship game garnered 1.7 million views on TikTok.

The video showed Jordan getting her hair and makeup professionally done for the NFC Championship game with other wives from the Eagles organization. The women documented the experience with ring lights placed around the private room and also popped champagne as a pregame drink.

"People are like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe they get ready like this,'" Jordan says of the video's comments. "That was the first and only time we've ever done that. It’s not like a regular occurrence. It was just fun and I think we just wanted to celebrate the fact that we've made it this far and be together."

What is a WAG?

The term WAG first appeared in British tabloids in 2002, referring to the wives and girlfriends of professional soccer players, like Victoria Beckham. It was allegedly used by the staff at the Jumeirah Beach Club in Dubai where a group of players and their significant others vacationed prior to the World Cup in South Korea.

Media began to pull inspiration from what seemed to be the unbelievably lavish lives that these women were living with the creation of the ITV drama series Footballers' Wives that same year. In 2008, Kanye West rapped about WAGs on Estelle's song "American Boy" with the lyrics "But I still talk that ca-ah-ash, 'Cause a lot wags wanna hear it." The E! network later debuted the reality television series WAGS in the U.S. in 2015, featuring various women in relationships with sports players including former NFL player Larry English's wife Nicole English. The show lasted three seasons and followed couples in Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta.

Jordan says she's aware that there was "a lot of drama" amongst the women portrayed in the show, although she never watched it. The reality of the community of wives and girlfriends is very different.

"There's a lot of heavy stuff that happens in the NFL, as far as the men and their job positions and the lack of job security and injuries, whatever it is," Kymberlynn Jackson, wife to Jets wide receiver Jeff Smith II, says. "To just have other women that understand what you're going through without belittling your problems because of the stigma that comes with being in the NFL is really, really important."

Relocation and isolation

Jackson, a California-native, met Smith when she was a junior in college. The two had a long-distance relationship while his NFL dreams were coming to fruition in New Jersey. As they became more serious, she made the decision to move away from family and friends to join him on the east coast.

"The community that you have to build when you're part of the NFL is so important because you know nobody. You're in a place that you probably would never be in if it wasn't because of football," she says of living in New Jersey during the season. "That can be really lonely and really hard to navigate."

Chanen Johnson, who's married to New Orleans Saints tight end Juwan Johnson, tells Yahoo Life that moving to a new city with her husband while his schedule was filled with football left her in dire need of that community.

"When we were rookies, gosh, the girls were amazing," she says of the women within the Saints organization. "I remember being new, and fresh and embarrassed and scared and nervous and all of the above. ... It's very scary to jump into a new place and have to just act like it's home now. It takes a while to get established somewhere, so having these girls reach out to me and invite me to coffee, or to a girl's dinner or Bible study was huge to me."

It's even those women, who have become family, that she shared her pregnancy news with before the rest of the world.

Sydney Warner, wife to San Francisco 49ers' middle linebacker Fred Warner, points out that without those women, the majority of her days are spent alone.

"Our families aren't here, my family doesn't live here, his family doesn't either. So it's really just him and I," she says. "He leaves at 6 a.m., he gets home at 7 p.m. I’m at home, I work from home, so I'm home the whole time alone. I don't have any other interaction with humans, just my dogs."

Challenging "gold digger" stereotypes and identity crisis

Loneliness is just a part of the battle that these women face, as so many find themselves struggling with identity and purpose after having to leave their own jobs while venturing to join their significant others. Chanen, formerly a teacher, explains that she had hoped to get a new teaching job when she arrived in New Orleans.

"With the lifestyle and the scheduling and barely being able to see him, it just did not work out," she says, noting that while Juwan is currently a free agent, they can't even be sure that they'll be staying in Louisiana until a new contract is signed. "It was really hard for me just to quit what I was doing and that I loved and then put his dreams on the top of the priority list."

Chanen says the sort of "identity crisis" that comes with that is a growing conversation amongst NFL women who are often put in the position of having to adjust their lives according to the organization's demands. "Your life's kind of just thrown around and you don't really get a say in it," Chanen says. "But honestly, neither does he. So we're in it together."

Jordan also views it as a privilege, saying that she feels "super lucky" to have the freedom to figure out what it is that she likes to do. She is among a handful of women who have made a living on social media.

Chanen and her husband have gained a following of 2.7 million on a joint account that she manages. "I get a lot of hate for not working. I mean, I do work. People don't understand that social media is work," she says.

Allison Kuch, married to defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders Isaac Rochell, also has a personal TikTok page with a following of 2.2 million. Her content has long poked fun at the idea that people believe she's with her husband for his money, although she and Rochell have made her position as provider of income clear as they've spoken about her work as an Airbnb decorator and host, as well a prominent social media personality.

"Last year people were calling me a gold digger and now here I am working with the NFL," she said in a recent video announcing her own partnership with the league, which has her traveling to the Super Bowl for the purpose of creating content.

Kuch was not available to speak with Yahoo Life, however, both she and Jackson participated in the web series Women of the League where they spoke about their success working in social media.

Some people still refuse to acknowledge that as work.

"She's with you for the money," and "she needs to get a job," are some of the comments Chanen still comes across on her page. "It's been three years now and people's opinions still haven't changed," she says. "I've gotten over that hump of letting people's opinions get to me."

Navigating other unique circumstances

At the end of the day, while the men are praised for the tackles and touchdowns that they make on the field, the women supporting them are many times the unsung heroes maintaining their homes, managing their lifestyles and more.

"We're the people getting them up and out the door, we're scheduling things, we're making sure they're OK you know, supporting them mentally, physically, emotionally, all of those things, making sure they're fed," Jordan says.

And the reality of the risks that their husbands are taking on the field are always on their minds, too.

"A lot of people watch football, obviously, as entertainment. It's exciting and fun. To be honest, when I watch football, I am stressed," Chanen says. "I am usually having anxiety and very scared. Not about wanting him to do good, but more so making sure he is good."

"Every time Fred gets tackled or makes a tackle, and he's on the ground for more than five seconds and doesn't pop up, I'm not OK," adds Sydney, mentioning that the recent injury of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin caused upset throughout the NFL. "It really puts in perspective what he's doing. He’s putting his body and his life on the line every single time he goes out there."

And by using social media to share the real impact of what takes place on the field, these women have been praised for humanizing the game.

"It's really important that [the athletes themselves] also always understand that they’re people before they're a player," Jackson explains. "Some of the outside pressures can get in the way of that as far as not even physical injuries, but the mental injuries. ... I always make sure that Jeffrey and I are on the same page that if this is too much, we can call it quits. It's never worth more than your life or your well-being mentally or physically."

For that, it's important to recognize the value that these partners provide to their husbands and the hardships they'd face alone if it weren't for the larger community of WAGs.

"There's a few things that we experience that only us as women understand and experience and go through," Chanen says. "If you don't have that community, you are going to feel very, very alone. And it can be a very dark place."

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