Melani who? Mrs. Melani Ismail is more than a cast member from VH1′s Football Wives. She is a woman rooted in faith, a supportive wife, a proud mother, a compassionate philanthropist, a talented musician, and most recently an inspiring author. Melani is the worthy recipient of this honor because despite living a life in the “industry” and in NFL limelight, she is beyond humble. Melani is a faithful woman of wisdom who just seems to have an extraordinarily rare spirit of giving.
This woman of distinction has put in the work and laid a foundation that enables her to use her gifts to touch others. Her personal stories of letting go, overcoming fear, and walking by faith, are just a few of the things Melani shares in her recent book. Whether is producing a song or publishing her own book, Melani’s journey has become one that women can look to for strength and inspiration.
This woman of distinction is the epitome of Off the Field Players’ Wives Association (OTFPWA) and Pro Player Insiders dynamic NFL Woman of the Month honoree.
Pro Player Insiders was able to catch up with this OTFPWA’s NFL Woman of the Month, Melani Ismail from her home in Dallas.
Pro Player Insiders: Where are you from? What was your upbringing like?
Melani Ismail: I grew up in Rockford, Illinois. My parents were divorced when I was four so I moved around a lot and split time between Illinois and Los Angeles. Living in Los Angeles, I got involved in the entertainment business. Actually at 17, I got involved in cutting hair in the entertainment industry.
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PPI: Wow, a celebrity hair dresser at 17? How did that unfold? Was there someone you met in LA that opened the door for you?
MI: My cousin was a song writer in the industry and he introduced me to a singer/actor by the name of Christopher Williams. People started talking about my cuts in his circles. One night I was at a comedy club and I ran into Jamie Foxx. Jamie asked if I was the barber who cut the hair of a friend of his. God opened up a lot of doors just like that one and I learned a lot about the business.
PPI: So did you and your husband, Rocket, meet in LA?
MI: Yes, when I was in Los Angeles. Another client of mine was Raiders’ quarterback Vince Evans. He set us up and introduced us. I was married when I was 23 years old and have been married for 17 years now.
PPI: What teams did your husband play for besides the Raiders?
MI: My husband played college ball at Notre Dame. He went on to play in the Canadian Football League and for the Panthers, Raiders and finally the Dallas Cowboys.
PPI: How did your husband get his nick name?
MI: He got the nick name from a coach in high school who said he shot out of the blocks like a rocket and the name has stuck with him ever since.
PPI: Where are you living now? In the transient NFL lifestyle, what made you and your husband settle there?
MI: We are living in Dallas. We have such a strong support group here. My husband could have gone to another team but our family decided to retire and stay in Dallas. The strong core of friends we have here was definitely a motivation to stay.
PPI: Since your husband played for a couple teams, is there a team or player you guys root for?
MI: I root for any team my husband played for. We are definitely Cowboys fans. They treat our family well and still show my husband love and respect, which is big for me.
PPI: The NFL players and families truly support each other, especially the wives. They form a sisterhood. Who are your closest NFL wife friends?
MI: I have been blessed to have found many friends including friends that just happen to have had husbands that played in the NFL. Pat Smith (wife of Emmitt Smith) really has been very supportive. We support each other. When our husbands were playing for the Cowboys, Pat reached out and always made our family feel special. She has a knack for that. Sherice Brown (wife of Tim Brown, former player and ESPN analyst) is also a good friend. Tim and my husband actually played together in college and in the pros, so that is a bond we have always had. There are a few other wives I keep in touch with and support here in the city and it’s always nice to meet new ones.
MI (continues): Off the Field Players’ Wives Association in general has always been supportive. One of my favorite performances was at an NFL wives conference in Washington DC. It was in 2009 (first year Obama was in office) and I had no backup singers or dancers but wives made up for that! They all got out of their seats to dance and showed their love. It is a great feeling when your peers support you. I can remember Nicki McKnight (James McKnight’s wife) came up on the stage and danced with me (chuckles). Grant Hill’s mom, Janet Hill, who is also an NFL wife came to support me and she had a blast! That show will always be one of my favorites. That event was also where I met Chanita Foster, who later asked me to do VH1 Football Wives. Shout out to Off the Field, who really made that show memorable. That is a great example of the support and sisterhood.
PPI: Who has been your husband Rocket’s mentor in the NFL?
MI : As for a mentor to my husband, I can’t say he has had one. We sometimes believe that things would have been a lot easier if we had one. He has learned a lot of things through trial and error which isn’t always the best way. But from those learning experiences we have been put in the position to counsel others, if they are willing to listen. We can definitely speak on some what not to do’s.
Melani and Her FAMILY
I have four children. “Little Rocket” is 16 years old and he is a character. He is like his dad and is very athletic. He plays sports, especially basketball, and hopes to play professionally, but we stress education and push him to use all of his gifts. He plays several instruments.
Imani is 14 years old. She is a lot like me because she is creative and artistic, but much better at it.
Kianna (12 years old) is our singer. You could also call her the ultimate fashionista. She is a bit shy but I have no doubt in the right situation she would wreck a stage.
Lastly, there is Judah who is 9 years old. He has the biggest personality and keeps us laughing. Judahis very personable and extremely funny and tells the best but also the longest most detailed stories just like his Dad.
PPI: Tell me about a day in the life in the Ismail household. Living, working, your children? Is it less crazy post football?
MI: Actually it is more busy post football with all that we have going on. My husband and I split the duties of raising four kids, so the days start and build around the kids. We are the “taxi service,” picking up and dropping off our children and their friends for all kinds of activities.
PPI: Who does all the cooking in this active household?
MI: Well, we eat out a lot which is probably not the best. But we are very health conscious about what we eat. When there is cooking to be done, I cook. I learned a lot of my cooking skills from my mom. As long as I have some garlic and butter I can pull off a great meal. My mother, who is also a personal chef will cook stuff for our family when she is in town and freeze it so we can have meals for three or four months.
PPI: Speaking of cooking I just remembered one of our Player Insiders is Chef Yolanda Banks and she lives in Dallas! Have you ever taken one of her cooking classes or tried her dishes?
My husband and I just went to one of her cooking demo events. The food was fantastic. Yolanda lives nearby and we go biking occasionally. Her food is the BIZ-NESS!
PPI: Career wise you seem to dabble in many creative fields: hair dressing, music and writing. Most recently you have come out with a book. Tell us a little about your book, “The Freedom of Letting Go, Overcoming Fear and Apprehending Faith.”
MI: It is about overcoming fear. I have been called a super woman more than once but I always had a spirit of fear I had to come to terms with. That spirit of fear I had to face head on. It is my testimony of faith which plays a leading role in my life. I have always been an author because of writing songs, so this book gave me a chance to write in a different format.
The climax of the book is when I lost my father. The bike on the front cover of the book symbolizes an important part of my life. If you read it you will understand why.
MI: I have self-published the book so one of the ways people have been getting a
chance to understand it and read it is through book parties. It has been such a blessing. My girlfriends threw a book party and a lot of people came out to support me. After that people just started throwing me book parties all over. It has been such an amazing experience because not one of them has been alike. They take on the spirit of the people who attend and it has been better than I could have imagined. The book parties are an amazing way to present a book versus just sitting at a table where no one gets to speak to you. I have found that I am using the book to share my testimony and interact in person with people from all walks of life, faiths and backgrounds.
Melani and MUSIC Career
PPI: You are not just an author but a musician. Word on the street is you went to school for music production. How did your passion for music lead you to produce your own music.
MI: I took music classes in college but I truly got my music education from the industry. I have been blessed to have sat with and watched some of the best artists in the world. I cut hair on video shoots, late night shows, and got to see behind the scenes situations with artists like Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, MC Hammer and many more. My music education came from just being around the artists.
I just had lunch today with my longtime friend Tamia (R&B singer and wife of NBA Player Grant Hill). Tamia and I have known each other since she first came to the states from Canada. I have learned a lot from her and it has been interesting how our lives have kind of paralleled. As for my music, I was educated by being around it and it motivated me to start my own label, write, and produce my own songs. I also attended Berklee College of Music online and added to my hands on experience. Basically I just love being around music and I am always learning and taking in the musical landscape.
PPI: Currently, what music you are working on?
MI: I am finishing up an EP that goes with my book. My new songs represent my story and various chapters in the book. For example, Chapter 5 in the book is all about grace and the song that goes with it is called Take the Grace. We all need to take the grace God has given us. Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves not recognizing that God has made provisions for our mistakes.
PPI: Who is your favorite current artist? What song are you rockin’to on your iPod?
MI: I like artists that dig deep and are different. I’m kinda old school. I like Motown stuff and 90′s R&B. I love Tamia, she is releasing her new album in August. I always support her. I like Nas, who just dropped an album, Life is Good, and Maroon 5 is very talented and creative. I am diggingFlorence and The Machine right now. Trey Songz is also an artist I enjoy and people might be shocked but artist like he and Chris Brown are impressive to me because I can see the hard work and talent they present. I like artists who do what they do with precision.
Melani in the COMMUNITY
PPI: Tell me a little bit about your heart for helping others. Which charity do you support nationally or in the Dallas community?
MI: I support an organization founded by Debra Nixon Bowles, called Women Called Moses. The cause helps improve the socioeconomic status of women and children and provides a secure shelter for battered women and families. It supports women that have been beaten, threatened, or abused. Debra is really committed to increase awareness about the growing problem of domestic violence in the Dallas/Ft Worth Metroplex.
I met Debra and saw the way she fights for woman. She will go downtown in the heart of Dallas and pick up families suffering from abuse and give them money, food, and shelter. (For more information visit www.http://www.womencalledmoses.org or Follow them @WCMorg.)
I can’t forget Pat and Emmitt Smith Charities. They are big with supporting education and providing unique opportunities for underserved children. (For more information visit http://www.emmittsmith.com/pat-and-emmitt-smith-charities or Follow them @SmithCharities.)
Pat Smith has another charity called “Treasure You” to inspire woman to pursue their passions and achieve things despite obstacles ( Follow @TreasureYou).
PPI: Your family is truly committed to serving others.
MI: Life is about serving others and I enjoy giving back to families in an
immediate way. Those that I can immediately see a need in, I help. God put it innately in me to give. I find joy in giving. Even when only had $10 to give it in return for the fellowship and helping others.
I think it’s about showing people where the “water” is. Whether its financial, immediate, mentorship, or physical support we need to show and help them find their water to live. I just want to share the source of where my joy comes from with others. I look for moments where I can do that especially for people in my life and friends. I want to add to people’s lives and so they feel touched, blessed, God filled and ultimately like they can overcome.
PPI: Sounds like you found a man with a big heart too.
MI: Yes he does. My husband works with the boys that my oldest son plays ball with. He mentors a lot of the young guys because they are on the team with my son. Rocket’s dad died when he was 10, so the community in which he lived really stepped up and supported him. He used that support to become successful. At any given time you will find 9 or 10 boys piled in the backs of our cars. We take them to eat, help them stay accountable in school and in the community and often times my husband is the taxi service. This is another way we serve.
MI: First love God and your neighbor. Start with the foot of love and your walk will be a whole lot easier. As for advice living in the football lifestyle, it comes with ups and downs, from being at the top of your game to being cut or traded. One of the keys in my opinion is to find validation in more than just the game. People must ignore all the cheers and ignore all the jeers at the same time. Look to value the real things that don’t come with a cheering section…like picking your kids up from school or spending time with your family. Those are the lasting things you get no applause for. Treat people the way you want to be treated because you never know how they will come into your life.
PPI: I am glad I am writing these things down because I want to make a “Ismail Inspirational Quote Book” for my coffee table.
MI: (chuckles) I get a lot of them from my mother and grandmother and other times they just drop into my head at that moment. My Mom always gives me inspiration.
I do want to just remind people to be in the moment, because football, as well as other moments in life will come and go fast. Remember to take care of the people that will be there for you when it’s all over. There is much more to these players and their wives then what you see on the field. Put stock in meaningful relationships, that is really where the riches lie.
PPI: Well again congratulations on your book. The Pro Player Insider team plans on reading it! Where can we find your book?
MI: You can find my book, “The Freedom of Letting Go, Overcoming Fear and Apprehending Faith” on, iBooks, and Amazon.com. You can order a signed copy from my website at www.melaniismail.com and if you want to throw one of those book parties, you better believe I am there! Also make sure to stay tuned for my CD (that compliments the meaningful stories in my life) that will be out in August/September just in time for the football season.
To find Melani’s book, music and creative endeavors go to www.melaniismail.com
Find ” Melani WHO?” on twitter @Melaniismail
Stay tuned because each month Off The Field Players Wives Association, Erika Lassiter (OTFPWA President) and Pro Player Insiders nominates an amazingly talented, ambitious, and giving NFL wife. We recognize the supportive NFL women for their entrepreneurial accomplishments and contributions to their communities off the field.
By Theresa Villano
Follow Theresa on Twitter at @Theresa_PPI