Janet Dorsett Reveals ‘the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat’ as the Wife of NFL Superstar Tony Dorsett
The city of Atlanta will host the National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl LIII on February 3, 2019. My husband, Pro Football Hall of Famer, Tony Dorsett, had the opportunity to play in two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, and they were the winners of Super Bowl XII. Although the 1977 game was not the worldwide spectacle that it has now become, it was an incredibly special time for Tony. This singular game is one that every player who ever puts on his uniform dreams of playing, and it is incredibly difficult to get there. All of the family sacrifices, hard work of training camp, the grind of a long season, and the intensity of the playoffs are worth it when that player and his team make it to the ultimate big game.
Our family had the rare experience of having a father and son play in multiple Super Bowls. Tony’s son, and my stepson, Anthony, Jr, played in Super Bowl XXXIV and XXXVII but was unable to come away with the coveted ring. Tony and I were not yet married when he played in his Super Bowl games, and there are times that I am thankful I did not have to watch him on the field as a wife. My nerves were always on edge for his son, so I cannot imagine how hard it would have been for me to watch Tony play in those games. As a family member of a player, I have found myself in constant prayer for safety and for his team to play to the best of their ability. There are so many details players have to contemplate while managing their nerves in a demanding environment, and the playoffs feel like a pressure cooker. Our family has definitely experienced the “thrill of victory and agony of defeat.” When we look back at how many men have played in the NFL relative to how many actually get the chance to suit up for the Super Bowl, we see how incredibly blessed our family has been to have two members share this experience.
Everything in life has good and bad aspects to it, and for our family, football was a means for Tony to acquire a college education at the University of Pittsburgh and to provide for his family. Unfortunately, he had several life-altering collisions and now lives with traumatic brain injury and dementia. During his playing career, the long-term effects of concussions, and the awareness of the necessity to protect players’ brains with more than just a helmet was nonexistent. Fortunately, Tony educated himself at a young age about vitamins and supplements, and in hindsight, I see this as divine intervention because we now know that many of those vitamins maintain brain health and his condition would probably be more difficult to manage if he had not done so. I am equally as proud of all that Tony accomplished on and off the football field as I am for his openness about the difficulties he and our family face with his dementia diagnosis. Mental challenges are still such a taboo subject in our society and it secretly changes family dynamics. In some cases, it is an evil that destroys families. Our hope is that by openly discussing some of our personal struggles through this maze of brain health, we can make some uncomfortable conversations happen. Communication is the key to understanding what so many former and current players are experiencing, and we all must work and help remove the stigma that comes with the admission of brain trauma and disorders of the brain.
We will travel to Atlanta this weekend to partake in some of the Super Bowl activities, catch up with friends, and enjoy the excitement surrounding the game. We love the game of football and we hope it continues to entertain many generations for years to come. The NFL will celebrate its 100th year of existence next year and we genuinely want to see the game continue to thrive. We also watch the ultimate big game differently now and say extra prayers for the players who sustain head injuries as we also hope that the good that playing football brings to their lives always far outweighs the bad.
Janet Dorsett is the wife of former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett.
This essay was featured in the Feb. 3rd edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.