This week's WAG Feature is on Yonka Clark, wife of Ryan Clark, and mother of three. I first heard about Yonka from my friend Sara, another NFL wife who stated that Yonka taught her a lot during their time with the Steelers. Sara raved about Ryan and Yonka's relationship and parenting skills, so I had to learn more about this supportive and inspiring woman. One conversation with Yonka and I can see why so many are drawn to her. She has this warmth about her and wisdom for days. Read my interview with Mrs. Clark below...
- Name: Yonka Clark
- Husband: Ryan Clark
- Anniversary: July 9, 2005
- Husband's Tenure and Teams: Ryan was undrafted but ultimately played 13 seasons in the NFL. He started with the New York Giants on practice squad his 1st season. His 2nd season he was released from the team and Tom Coughlin told him he should probably try out the Canadian League. Ryan returned to LSU to work with the Tiger Athletic Foundation before he got a call from the Washington Redskins. He played two seasons with Washington, eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and ended up back in Washington for his final season.
- Children: Daughter Jaden (17), son Jordan (14), and daughter Loghan (11)
- Cities You've Lived in with NFL: visited NY and NJ, married after 2nd year in New York; Northern Virginia, and Pittsburgh
- Current City you call Home: Baton Rouge, LA
- Favorite place to visit: I love Puerto Rico. I would visit once a month if I could. The food, music, colors, vibrancy…there's something about the spirit of Puerto Rico that just does it for me.
- Your first car: 1998 white Dodge Neon
- Music on your playlist: Adele "Hello", Tamar Braxton and Future "Let Me Know" (those two songs are on rotation)
- Hobbies: I absolutely love skincare. My 11 year-old owns her own business so I am also her momager.
Money is not some sort of elixir that masks you from all the normal troubles that come with being a human being. - Yonka Clark
LM: Where are you from originally and how did you get to where you are now?
I am from a really tiny town called Ama, Louisiana. It is so small that we don't even have a traffic light. It's funny because the Landry brothers (Dawan and LaRon Landry) who both play in the NFL and Pokie Chatman (WNBA head coach) are from the same town. We're all related in some way.
LM: How did you and Ryan meet? What's your love story?
Ryan and I met at my cousin's high school graduation picnic. He was friends with my cousin, Haven. We knew of each other, and when we first met we did not like each other. I just felt like he was this arrogant football player and all the girls were falling all over him; I was not interested. He thought I was the snootiest, meanest girl he'd ever met. We both attended college at LSU but Ryan was a year older than me. LSU is huge so seeing a familiar face as a freshman in college was comforting…it changed the way we perceived one another. The rest is history, and this year, we celebrate 12 years of marriage.
ON THE NFL:
LM: What are some of the challenges of being married to an NFL player and what do you like about it?
My approach was a bit different than most women. I did not like the title "NFL wife" because I was not married to the NFL; I am married to Ryan. The NFL wasn't my identity and it wasn't what made me me. Having that mentality helped when it came to retirement as well because there wasn't this attachment to the league. I just wanted to be a good wife and mother.
Whatever energy I had left, I wanted to help other people.
What I liked most about the NFL was getting to know like-minded women who just wanted to support their husbands. The NFL life is an exclusive, yet shared experience. Those women became a network of people to support you through certain things that family and other people won't understand. Not to seem like we're better than anyone but there are things that others outside the life just won't understand.
LM: What is one piece of advice you can give to other women that you wish you would have known prior to your husband entering the NFL?
You're enough. You, as you, are enough. You don't have to wear this label, or look like this, or talk like that, or sit in here, or drive that car. You are perfect as you are. Another thing I would say, especially to new wives, fiancés and girlfriends: care more about the commitment that comes with your ring than the carats that are in your ring. I've seen women discussing rings and ring sizes. Rings don't keep you warm at night. They don't roll over in the middle of the night and bear hug you. They just don't.
LM: Do you believe there are any misconceptions of NFL WAGS? If so, what is your view?
Oh my gosh! There's a million of them and you don't have enough time. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that having a large income fixes everything! Your husband making a lot of money fixes everything. Since my husband makes a lot of money, I shouldn't complain about anything. I shouldn't have any issues. I'm sorry, but that's not real life. I think if there's anything I wish would go away, it's that. Money is not some sort of elixir that masks you from all the normal troubles that come with being a human being. That's major for me.
LM: Talk about what the transition has been like since Ryan retired?
We've been out an entire season now. It's great because he's been working for ESPN so he's still plugged in and he's part-owner in a training facility here in Baton Rouge: Traction. His job with ESPN helped to ease the withdrawal symptoms that some guys feel when they have to step away from the game. Ryan was very smart about setting up his post-NFL life while still playing the game.
NFL players always have some sort of extra requirement besides playing on the field, such as interviews. On a call to ESPN, Ryan said, "I'd love to come in and do an internship." He started to forge those relationships around year 8 or 9. His commitment to work in the offseason, unpaid for ESPN, really set him up for what he's doing now. He has a 75-day contract. He flies there and then he's home the rest of the time. He still sits on the executive board for NFLPA and holds a position with the organization's Mentorship Program. This year will be his final year on the executive board. He is still trying to make a connection between high schoolers, the NFL, and NFL union. His goal is to effect those who are eventually going to be at the NFL at an earlier point.
We never vacationed during the offseason. There was really no time as he worked at ESPN and rehabbed and trained for the next season. There were times we missed him, but I supported him through that. Looking back on it, I'm so glad I did because he walked straight out of football and into not one, not two, but three jobs! I just wish I could stress that the NFL is temporary to the women in this position. Even if you have a 13, 14, or 15-year career, there is going to be life after football. I think it's important the guys and their wives talk about life after football while he's still active and plan accordingly. The NFLPA (
) has these amazing off-season career building programs for our guys. Unfortunately, most of the time the NFLPA resources are not taken advantage of.
LM: What are you able to do now as a family that you weren't able to when Ryan played for the NFL?
Definitely having Ryan present for a lot of the kids' events and award ceremonies has been special. Ryan was in the NFL for 13 years so that was a large portion of our kids' lives and they understood what came with his job. When you're in the NFL, football comes first. It just is what it is. There are no holidays, sick days, etc. They [kids] also understood that even during the offseason, he probably still wouldn't be able to be there. Our family has dinner once a week where we go out and hang; He's just more accessible to us now. For us, that's a big deal! That's Disney world to us. We call ourselves the Clark 5. We were away from extended family for all those years so we became our own little unit.
LM: I've noticed that many people, in and out of the NFL, seem to adore the relationship you have with your husband and also admire how you both are raising your children. What do you think has been the key to your success? Talk about your family values.
When coming into the NFL, you see a lot of different set ups of what the family can look like. We kind of did them all. The first three years Ryan was in the league, the kids and I were home in Louisiana and he was in New York and Virginia. When we were with the Steelers, some seasons we stayed in Pittsburgh year round. Other seasons we started school in Pittsburgh and spent the other half of the year at the home base [in Louisiana]. Our biggest priority was always that we stayed together. Ryan didn't have to parent long distance and I didn't have to parent as a single mom without him. We're from the South so family is extremely important to us. We wanted our kids to first and foremost be kids, even though they were in extraordinary environments. We're hard on them. We teach "Yes ma'am. No ma'am" in our household; there's discipline. Our children understand that there are boundaries for them but they're for good reasons.
LM: Is there any advice you would like to give NFL families regarding life in the NFL or after?
The first thing I'll say is there is no handbook or guidelines. You have to do what works best for your family. You have to decide what's right and what's perfect for your situation. It can be tough talking to women because I don't want to influence them: "Oh, we've been married all these years and we've done it this way so that's the best way." It's just not true. As a family, you do have to make a commitment at the very beginning to put aside any selfishness. The commitment needs to be there far after the warm and fuzzy feelings leave. Trust me, the warm and fuzzy feelings will leave sometimes. It gets rough. No matter how good it is, it's going to get rough. You have to make the commitment to be there. It really is about constant adjustment. You have to be flexible.
LM: What would you like people to know about you?
Well, that's kind of hard because I never really want people to know anything about me. My children are the only perfect thing that I've ever done in life. If I can create three little people who are productive and healthy human beings, then I feel like I've done my job as their mother.
It's difficult for me to see life beyond them, though I'm transitioning now. I am in the process of developing a tween skincare line. My Lolo (daughter Loghan) is starting to have facial issues and I'm unsure of what to use. My two passions are children and skincare so now that my own kids are getting older, I am pursuing that avenue. I'm big on organics and natural products. I actually have a girlfriend who has her own skincare company: Andrelle's by KCJ. She and I are collaborating on this line.
LM: You mentioned that your youngest daughter Loghan has her own business. What's it like as her momager?
Loghan has always had a passion for cooking. She was tiny and standing on a chair helping me in the kitchen. When we finally let her get an Instagram about a year ago, she started following all these bakers. She said "Mommy, can I try this or try that?" Over time, her desire to try out new recipes developed into a baking business, Yummy Desserts by Lolo, LLC. Loghan is running her business on her own.
She's a one-woman marketing tool. She will talk to people and hand out her business cards. All of her desserts are custom and hand made. She's dedicated and cares about what people think about her craft. She wants to do right by her customers. She'll say, "Well mom, they're paying for this so it needs to be right!" I don't know where she gets it from. It's not like my 10-year-old has gone to business school. People are amazed when they see it's not me doing it! It's her.
It's a difficult situation as a 35-year-old woman taking orders from a 10 year-old but we want to support her dreams. She'll make a list of things she needs and I'll go get them! Although she's running a successful business, she still plays volleyball and plays with dolls.
Our oldest daughter is in fashion design and my son is into sports. I think the NFL environment has matured them. They are comfortable in every situation. They're comfortable being kids and they're comfortable being in a room full of adults. That's rare. I'm learning everyday that that's rare.
I need them to be okay so when the world says that they're not okay, they'll respond with "No, that's not what my mom says." You can make your own way.
LM: What are your goals?
The biggest thing for me is finding my place outside of Ryan and the kids but still striking a balance. I still want to be able to maintain being his support system and being there for our children. Ryan travels a lot for work and when he comes home, it's important to me that he returns to a clean home, happy kids, a fresh dinner; the comforts of home. Home is where he relaxes. I don't want to drop that because he still needs that. That is my role as his wife. I want to maintain being a support system to my family, but I also want to step out being Yonka. This is where I say, "To be continued." This is a new year and it's fresh and I'm approaching things I haven't before.
It's scary and exciting.