“Do Marriage and Pro Athletes Mix?” This was the title of an article posted on ABC’s 20/20 News site in August 2010. The article gained its foothold in the 2003 sexual assault charges against Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. The piece does not target one specific individual, however; rather, it grasps at an overall attitude held on the subject. When it comes to Hollywood and the world of professional sports, are committed relationships and marriages a reality?
Turn on ESPN, and it seems that, at almost any given time, there is news of another collapse in the personal lives of athletes. Stories such as the “Vikings Love Boat” in 2005 spin a tune that athletes are interested only in partying and debauchery. Recent headlines—including Tiger Woods’ infidelity and Brett Favre’s alleged “sexting” scandal—suggest that even those athletes in long-term marriage relationships are not really “happy.”
Some may call me jaded, but I’ve always been someone who chooses to believe that one cannot lump society—or in this case, a sector of society—into one giant, negative statistic; I am convinced there are professional athletes today who refuse to let their relationships and loved ones become that statistic.
When I was working as an intern with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I witnessed several situations and behind-the-scenes moments that shed light on the players’ character, personality and overall lifestyle. During that time, I was given the opportunity on several occasions to witness forward Ryan Gomes interacting with his wife Danielle and their young daughter. The image both intrigued and inspired me, and I was fortunate enough to have each of them agree to interview with me.
When Danielle was 16, she transferred to Wilby High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. It was there that she met Ryan, a junior at the time. The two have been together ever since.
Although Ryan was always an athlete and successful on the court, Danielle found him way before the NBA did. Rather than attending a major university following graduation, Ryan enrolled at Providence, where he was to be red-shirted his freshmen year. Or so he thought. Unexpectedly, two teammates at his position suffered injuries, and Ryan was tossed in mid-game. From that point on, he never left the starting lineup.
During Ryan’s junior year, the couple realized that the NBA was a viable option. Instead of attempting the league at that point, though, he committed himself to finishing school and receiving a college degree. While Ryan finished up school and looked forward to the draft, Danielle supported him 100 percent in the pursuit of his dream. She had moved to Rhode Island when he started school, and she faithfully held down an apartment and two jobs. “I was with him when he had zero. I paid for everything. [If] we went out, it was on me,” she remembered, smiling.
Like any young couple beginning as high school sweethearts, Danielle and Ryan’s relationship wasn’t without its detours and challenges—especially during their time in school. “It wasn’t always a fairy tale,” Danielle admitted. “It was a long road with a lot of work.”
Each of them made mistakes and poor decisions that affected their relationship at times, but they always ended up back together—knowing that was how it should be. “That time during high school and college would either make us or break us,” Danielle said, “and it made us.”
Although difficult at times, Ryan sees the early years—before he was suiting up in NBA locker rooms—as an important stage of their relationship. “Cherish the one you have,” he advises, “and respect, honor and know the one who was by your side before you became who you are as an athlete.”
It was Danielle’s encouragement and belief in Ryan that helped him succeed in college. Ryan left Providence as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,138 points) and was drafted 50th overall by the Boston Celtics, starting a new chapter in the couple’s lives.
Danielle acknowledges the positive aspects of an NBA lifestyle, but she doesn’t focus on the extravagances. “Ryan keeps it pretty simple,” she said. “We don’t live this super glam life.”
And although feeling incredibly blessed by the financial stability and exciting atmosphere that accompanies her husband’s career, she concedes the situation isn’t without its challenges.
The number one obstacle?
“The traveling is probably the worst part,” Danielle admitted. “He’s gone basically six months out of the year.”
When it was just the two of them, it was easier to watch Ryan play on the road—especially while he was in Boston. The Celtics organization allowed wives and fiancés to fly on the team plane, and Danielle made the trips often.
“If Ryan packed a bag, I packed a bag.”
Since the couple’s daughter Ryelle was born in 2008, however, Danielle stays home to fulfill a role she loves—mother. Although the traveling has lessened, Ryan’s girls love to watch him on television and attend his games at home.
Ryelle loves to watch her daddy play basketball, but when one sees the two of them interact, it’s clear that the hardwood doesn’t take the No. 1 spot in Ryan’s heart.
“When I see my daughter Ryelle and look into her eyes, I see that I’m everything,” said Ryan. “No matter what type of day I’m having, she’s always going to put a smile on my face—without saying a word. There is no better feeling than looking at a human being that you helped create and knowing that everything you do is for him or her.”
In addition to road games, NBA players and their families find themselves always prepared to receive news of a trade that will relocate them without much notice. When asked how difficult this was for her, Danielle stated that she didn’t mind the moving so much. Because Ryelle is so young, moving or transferring schools is not yet an issue, and Danielle enjoys the element of adventure that comes with picking up and starting over somewhere new. After being traded by the Timberwolves after last season, Ryan is part of a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“But in the end,” she admitted, “you never really know.”
In Danielle’s mind, moving is a small sacrifice she’s perfectly willing to make. “As long as he’s getting to do what he loves to do, he’ll play anywhere—and with a smile on his face […] it’s amazing to see him getting to live his dream.”
It’s a sacrifice and commitment that Ryan doesn’t ignore. He expresses mutual admiration and love for Danielle, and he commented on the support and advice she gives of his time on the court as well. “After the game, she’ll tell me the truth—not just what I want to hear. As my wife, friend and fan of basketball, I value and trust her outlook on my performance. The support has been remarkable, and I know I’ll get an honest response.” This type of respect has worked to keep the couple on track in their relationship and off-court commitments.
So then, what about the stereotype? What about the generalization that—as implied in ABC’s 20/20 piece—marriage and pro athletes aren’t compatible? Well, one thing is true: Ryan and Danielle Gomes defy the odds. In talking with Danielle, she bore all and acknowledged that the trend definitely exists.
“Unfortunately, there are women that just want these guys for what they have in their pockets,” she said. “It’s hard for guys with all that money and that kind of life around them to find a woman who’s genuine about why she wants to be with them.”
Danielle emphasized that while, yes, there are professional athletes who get caught up in the lifestyle and seem unable to be faithful in committed relationships, there are all types of men in the NBA. One cannot over-generalize in response to an unfortunate problem. “[Ryan]’s been in the NBA for six years, and we’ve been together for 12. In those six years he’s been in the NBA, I have not had one single problem with another female,” confided Danielle. “I’ve never heard anything, never seen a phone call. Nothing crazy at all.” The most important ingredient here: trust.
To anyone observing it’s clear that, after12 years, the relationship is genuine and thriving. Last season, Danielle’s 28th birthday landed on a game night for Ryan. That didn’t stop him from making the night memorable and important to his wife. At one point during the game, a video came up on the JumboTron that showed Ryan serenading Danielle with “Happy Birthday.”
When asked about the night during our interview, Danielle didn’t hesitate: “That was amazing—best birthday gift I think he’s ever gotten me.” Good job, Ryan.
So what’s the secret? I asked Danielle and Ryan each separately what they would tell other couples who shared the “limelight lifestyle” about keeping a relationship successful. Both emphasized the importance of setting aside time to spend with one another and not letting anything inhibit that. Danielle specified setting aside one day a week. Ryan touched again on the number of days spent on the road and consequential value of those times at home.
“Having a day revolving around your family—doing things like a movie, going to the park with your kid(s), a show, dinner, something that you planned—shows your commitment and love.”
“If it wasn’t as good as it was, I wouldn’t act like it was,” said Danielle. “A lot of people think, ‘oh, it can’t be that good.’ But why not? It is! It really is. Obviously Ryan’s not perfect; our marriage isn’t perfect, and we all deal with problems. But we work through it.” One only needs five minutes with Danielle to see how genuinely happy she is as Mrs. Gomes. Her favorite conversation topic: getting to brag about her hubby.
And on the problem of balancing life on and off the court? For Ryan Gomes, the answer is simple:
“Basketball is my job, what I love to do,” he said. “[But] my daughter is my world, what I live for. My wife is my Everything, and I need her in my life forever.”
Just For Fun…
L: What is your favorite team to watch Ryan play against?
D: I like to watch him play against Carmelo Anthony, LeBron, Paul Pierce… I like to watch him play against those ‘big-time’ players, because he’s the one defending them. I love when he locks them up. It gives me a rush. I love it, I love it, I love it.
L: Is there another NBA couple you like to spend time with?
D: Desiree Rodriguez and Tony Allen. They’ve been together a long time. We actually met when [Ryan and Tony] played for the Celtics. We go on vacations with them, and she was in my wedding. Also, the house that we bought in New York is extremely close to Sebastian and Samantha Telfair; they live right around the corner. We loved the neighborhood, and now we live a five-minute walk away from them.
L: Do you have favorite date spots?
D: We do movies, we do restaurants. One day a week we’ll look at our schedules and say 'okay, this day is just our day.' We’ll get a sitter and do something. We do everything. We go to amusement parks (Magic Mountain, Six Flags). We make sure we make time for each other—whether it’s the movies or having my mom take my daughter out of the house for five hours so he and I just stay in.