Jaguars give Aaron Ross a forward pass
As an NFL rookie, cornerback Aaron Ross joked with then-girlfriend Sanya Richards-Ross, an elite sprinter, that he'd try to get the flexibility to watch her compete in the Olympics worked into his next contract.
Ross didn't really think it would happen. Not because he doubted Richards-Ross' ability to get to the Olympics -- she'd already been -- but because the NFL doesn't exactly offer flex days.
"I was joking that I'd try to get it into my contract," Ross said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "I thought I had about a 40 percent chance."
Fast-forward a few years. Ross and Richards-Ross are married. He leaves the Giants after winning a Super Bowl and signs with Jacksonville. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have been upfront about a new philosophy when evaluating free agents: Family, and the stability it brings, is a plus.
Still, it might not have gotten Ross closer to London this summer if the Jaguars' idea of a football wife was less Olympic athlete, and more of a supportive partner who does laundry, cleans the house, takes care of the bills and provides day care.
So Ross approached the Jags cautiously with his time-off request, and general manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey thought it over. Ultimately, the front office decided they were all in with family first, even husbands supporting wives.
Which is kinda huge.
Truth is, a lot of NFL wives work outside the home -- as lawyers, emergency room nurses, even for the league itself. You might not see them in the news as much. There are no reality shows showing them grabbing a business lunch, on their way to a meeting or dressed in the latest operating-room fashions.
But now they count. The Jaguars aren't just asking what families can do for their team, but what they can do for those families. If the Jaguars win a championship with this philosophy, every team in the NFL will be eyeballing the ring finger in addition to checking recent stats.
"For them to say all that, and then honor my request about going to the Olympics, says a lot," Ross said.
It really does. Mularkey gave Ross permission to fly to London during what will be his first training camp with a new team. Ross will miss all the sweating, punt returning and bonding and could easily return jet-lagged just before the preseason starts. You'd think his free pass out of a grueling part of the NFL calendar might bring Ross some grief from his new teammates. But Ross says it's just the opposite: They're impressed.
"Not many football players have a wife in the Olympics," Ross said.
The Jags' decision shows marriage isn't just about a wife standing by her man, but about both spouses supporting each other. Ross said his wife screamed in excitement when he told her he would be there to cheer her on. Richards-Ross said that's in part because all the things that benefit NFL players when they compete, she gets from her husband when she's training.
Richards-Ross then took to Twitter.
"The best news ever. …Now all I have to do is get there!!!!" she posted.
These two are the ultimate sports power couple. They met in college at the University of Texas. She won Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008 in the 4x400 relay and an individual bronze in '08. Ross, a cornerback, was drafted by the Giants in 2007.
Richards-Ross was able to adjust her training schedule to watch Ross and the Giants win in the Super Bowl in February.
"It's such a great feeling," she said. "I can't wait for him to have that experience."
In training camp of his second season, Ross was a Giant and Richards-Ross, then his fiancee, competed in Beijing. Asked if he approached coach Tom Coughlin for a leave of absence then, Ross laughs: "Yeah, it just wasn't going to happen."
Ross said Coughlin wasn't being unfair; as a young player you don't get a lot of special requests granted. That said, sports is one of the few places where a man can be publicly criticized for taking a day off to be by his wife's side for the birth of a child. Thankfully, that happens less now.
By allowing Ross to travel, Jacksonville is showing it values wives who have credentials of their own and are more than docile helpmeets.
And the Jaguars' new policy is likely to strengthen at least one young family.