Meet Danielle Herzlich, an American Soldier, a fearlesss champion for domestic violence, a fitness aficionado, the wife of NY Giants Mark Herzlich and as gorgeous on the inside as she is on the outside! Danielle's philanthropic work in the community along with her brave service to our country are the epitome of a redefined WAG.
Name: Danielle Herzlich
Husband: Mark Herzlich
League/Team(s): NFL/New York Giants
Who is Danielle? Where are you originally from and how did you get to where are now?
I was born and raised in Boston in a crazy big, Italian family (We have a 53-person Christmas dinner)! I went to high school and college in Boston. I attended Boston College, which is literally 3 miles from the home I grew up in. I was the 11th person in my family to attend BC so that is definitely a part of who I am. While there, I decided to join the military so I enlisted in the Massachusetts National Guard, and enrolled in BC’s ROTC program. I am currently serving in the New Jersey National Guard as the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate for the State of New Jersey. *Editor’s note: that is amazing Danielle, thank you for your service!
To sum me up in one short sentence: Boston is in my blood, Jesus is in my heart, and strong women run in my family.
How did you meet your husband?
I met Mark my Junior year of college and we’ve been together ever since. After my graduation, he moved to New Jersey as an undrafted free agent to tryout for the New York Giants. I moved to Fort Jackson, SC, with the Army for about a year, then did a short deployment in Germany. After my active duty tour, I moved to New Jersey with Mark and have been there for five years. Mark is now headed into his seventh season with the New York Giants which is insane!
Mark’s story is nothing short of a miracle! Tell us a little about his journey.
Yes, it is truly a miracle. He was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a very rare form of bone cancer, his senior year of college. We had just started dating so I was dating someone who I honestly didn’t know if he was going to live or die. We’ve had a roller coaster of a journey together to say the least, but to go from that to now entering his 7th season with the NFL? I can’t even express what that feels like. Looking back on the last seven years, it’s so apparent where God laid His hand. To look back as a couple, even at the horrible things and wonder why? Why did it happen? I can now say I know exactly why. If the bad had not happened then we wouldn't be where we are now. We definitely realize and absolutely embrace the fact that we wouldn’t be here without God and that we are placed in this position of life to do something much bigger than football.
You and Mark are both committed to your philanthropic work in the community. How does this impact your lives?
We have really taken advantage of a few platforms that we are very passionate about though football to do something bigger. Mark sits on the board of Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, which is childhood cancer focused, as well as The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, which is the charity that works with the ESPY’s.
During the last three years, we have really taken on a cause together, and have truly put our hearts and souls into ending domestic violence and sexual assault.
How did you begin your work with actress, Mariska Hargitay, The Joyful Heart Foundation, and the “No More” campaign?
For about 15 years of my life, I was raised in an extremely violent home, as well as in an abusive dating relationship. I spent a majority of my life hiding this part of myself from everyone; I never spoke about it, and held so much anger in my heart. Eight years ago, when I met my husband, he was the first man that I exposed this part of myself to. He helped me stop looking at myself as a victim, and helped me to embrace being a survivor. Flash forward to about four years ago; it was Mark’s rookie year and we were asked to attend a domestic violence event by chance. I sat in the audience and listened to a woman stand up and share her story of domestic violence. Almost every detail of her story was like my own. Something in me really changed in that moment and I turned to Mark and I said, “I want to do something.” This stranger impacted me so much in that five minutes that I instantly wanted to do that for someone. Mark was on board, knowing how far I had come just to get to that point.
The very next week, we went to a gala in NYC and met actress, Mariska Hargitay. A couple of months after that, Mark was asked to be the first NFL player to appear in Joyful Heart’s NO MORE PSA Campaign. Shortly after that, I met with the CEO of Joyful Heart Foundation, and she lit a fire inside of me that can never be burned out.
Over the past two years, Mark and I have traveled across the country, sharing my story to thousands of people. Mark has spoken to hundreds of men in regards to healthy manhood, changing the culture of “what it means to be a man,” and about respecting and protecting women and children.
1 in 4 women fall victim to some type of sexual violence in their lifetime.
That means that 3 out of 4 men are not violent. That’s a big number! Mark and I have tried to flip this statistic on its head, with the help of Joyful Heart Foundation and A Call to Men (a domestic violence and sexual assault charity geared towards men). Our call to action and what Mark speaks about is the 75% of men who are not abusers holding that 25% of violent men accountable. Men need to come together and fix this MEN’S issue.
After spearheading the very first NFL Domestic Violence Awareness game in October 2015, Mark and I were asked to join the National Board of Directors for Joyful Heart Foundation. Since then, we have spent our off seasons in Hawaii, where Joyful Heart was founded by Mariska working to change the way this culture we live in treats these issues.
Mark often says during his speeches on domestic violence:
I am a cancer survivor. I can donate money to hospitals and doctors who are trained to find cures, treat patients, and encourage others to do the same. But I am not a doctor myself, and I cannot directly affect change by creating a cure. But with the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault, I can directly affect change that will end domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Every person on this earth can do something.
MORE On Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault:
One of the things I’ve put my efforts into when I go out and speak to girls or groups of people is the way that we as a culture treat survivors. When I was going through what I was going through ten years ago, I was crying out for help to anyone who would listen. But it fell on deaf ears: Number one, they didn’t believe me, and number two, they didn’t have the tools—or thought they didn’t have the tools— to do anything about it.
What I preach is that the #1 thing you can do as a human being when someone is disclosing to you about what is happening to them (domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse, rape, etc) is BELIEVE THEM. It sounds so crazy to have to say that but it’s true! The first and best thing you can do is believe them. The second thing you can do is reaffirm that belief by saying “I’m so sorry this happened to you and it is not your fault.”
What has been your experience with how our culture treats survivors?
Being involved in this work the last five to seven years, I have seen a shift for the better. I don’t necessarily know that in my lifetime I will see an end to these issues, but I do believe that we’re headed in the right direction. As a culture, instances in the media or elections have caused an uproar of these issues to be brought to the forefront. Now, they’re being talked about and people are pissed off! That’s a good thing because that’s what’s going to spark change.
Mark and I have traveled to fortune 500 companies, sports teams, the military, and high schools nationwide because we’re being asked to come speak about domestic violence and sexual assault. Five years ago? That wouldn’t have happened. Curriculums are now being built around what it means to be a man and how men should treat women. A Call To Men gives a curriculum now to all 32 teams in the NFL on what it means to be a man and how to treat women. This kind of preventative education is what we need, not just with the NFL but in general.
What do you think is the best way for a woman to get involved and become a game changer for ending Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault like yourself?
It’s going to sound kind of silly but the women’s movement years and years ago started in living rooms, at fireside chats or brunch. Get together and talk about these issues. Move this message forward, raise funds, and be engaged with the topic. That’s something that we at A Joyful Heart Foundation pride ourselves in because we’re still doing that. Sometimes it’s as simple as men and women getting together and talking about/hashing out these issues. Sometimes it’s with a guest speaker and sometimes it’s with a gift exchange around the holidays. The biggest hindrance for ending domestic violence and sexual assault is that no one talks about these issues. To be a change maker or champion for this issue—START TALKING!
On THE NFL:
What are some of your fondest WAGS moments?
Super Bowl XLVI.
Some guys play their entire career and never make it to the Super Bowl. After being told that Mark may never walk again -- then two years later he's able to walk off a plane to play in the biggest game of his life-- words cannot describe how unbelievable that moment was! Just being there was enough, and then to win…. AMAZING!
Also, I have lifelong friends I made through the NFL; some of my best friends are from football and I wouldn't have met them if it wasn't for this game.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a NFL wife?
That’s funny because out of all of the questions I am asked, the one I get asked the most is about the other wives. People ask me if we get along, if we hang out all of the time. What I always tell people is NFL wives in general are probably the strongest group of women I have ever encountered in my lifetime.
Share what you admire most about your husband?
He continues to awe me every single time he gets up on a stage and tells a room full of people that I am what makes him a man and that I am his hero. He not only applauds my strength and independence, but he encourages it. He has loved me into my best self. He has shown me how to turn pain and darkness into a calling, and I continue to learn from him more every day. He lifts me up always, and has made it his life work to make sure that no other woman has to go through what i went through in my past. He is absolutely a culture changer, and it is absolutely INCREDIBLE to be able to have a front row seat to how God is using him as an agent of change. We are truly better together, and I just cannot wait to see what is in store for us going forward.
On Goals, Dreams, Ambitions:
What are you passionate about?
The people I love, fitness and changing the way the world looks at domestic violence.
It’s 2021, how do you visualize your life?
This life we live leaves little time to plan. No matter what happens, wherever I am, whatever I am doing, as long as I’m surrounded by the people I love and doing what God has called me to do, I will consider that a win.
TO learn more or donate to The Joyful Heart Foundation:
Facebook: The Joyful Heart Foundation
Upcoming Event: The Joyful Heart Foundation Gala - May 22, 2017
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NO MORE:
Hawaii Says NO MORE insta: @HawaiisaysNOMORE
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT A CALL TO MEN:
A Call To Men: http://www.acalltomen.org
Upcoming Event: A Call To Men Gala - May 25, 2017
(To buy Tickets: https://actm2017gala.eventbrite.com)
Interview and article conducted by: Joy Davis and LeShonda Martin