September 16, 2009

Former NFL player scores with message on marriage counseling

By Rachel Brown

Ten years ago, Paul and Anna Joseph’s marriage fell apart, and the two almost divorced.

Only through “good Christian counseling” were they able to get it back on track again, the couple said. Now they’ve been married for 27 years. The two were among about 65 people who attended Marriage Bowl III, a football-themed evening out that marriage counseling organization Family Frameworks organizes.

Buddy Curry, a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons from 1980-87, was the featured speaker. Curry, 51, told the crowd at Heritage Point Park how his own marriage almost ended just four years after he wed. Curry said he had always been a “man’s man” who was good at being tough, leading others, and not showing his feelings. He said he wasn’t as good at being a friend to his wife, was often critical and didn’t know how to express his love.

When she told him she was leaving, he begged her to stay, and she initially refused. Curry began taking Xanax — two each night — and still barely slept. Through months of prayer and study and after losing about 50 pounds, Curry said he was finally able to turn his life around through God’s help. His wife, Dawn, accepted him back, and they now have four children.

Curry said he left the NFL after a minor knee injury that put him on the disabled list for the rest of the season. Rather than return, he decided to get married. Curry said that between 65 and 85 percent of football players are divorced and in debt within two years of exiting the NFL.

“If God can change me, he can change anybody,” he said.

Curry is co-founder of Kids and Pros, an organization that hosts football camps for children with professional football players. He also speaks regularly at various events.

Paul Joseph said Curry’s message was exactly what they needed to hear.

“The details were different, but the end result was the same (as for our marriage),” he said.

“I really appreciated that they stuck with it,” said Anna Joseph. “I really appreciated that he was honest about how hard it was.”

Dalton resident Judy Bird, who attended the Marriage Bowl with her boyfriend W.L. Hammontree, said she was divorced decades ago after being married for 11 years. She was married to a man eight years older, and the marriage didn’t work out, she said.

Yet Bird said she devoted her life to her son, who has Down’s syndrome, after the divorce. Curry and a couple of other Atlanta Falcons players visited Whitfield County for Special Olympics events in the 1980s, she said, and this is the first time she’s seen him since then.

“I was so pleased to get to talk to Buddy,” she said. “I think everything he said was right out of the book of life.”

Dalton residents Martin and Maribel Quinonez will be married four years in March. Maribel Quinonez said finding time to spend with each other is one of the most difficult parts of being married. She said the two make a point to have a date night at least once a week. Sometimes they take their 3-year-old daughter to stay with a relative.

Kathy Schleier, executive director of Family Frameworks, said the point of events like Marriage Bowl is to give couples time to spend with each other and invest in their marriage.

“I think we accomplished it,” she said. “It was fun for everybody, and when the marriage is fun, you tend to stay in it.”

In 2008, there were 365 marriages in Whitfield County and 462 divorces, according to the organization’s Web site, www.marriageisforever.org. In Murray County, there were 142 marriages and 275 divorces.