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Relationships
January 9, 2024

Life Two Gether

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As the quintessential power couple, Troy and Tommi A. Vincent know how to make things happen. From his Executive Vice President of Football Operations role with the NFL to her work as a life coach, celebrity chef and domestic violence activist, their high-profile careers keep them in the public eye.

The five-time Pro Bowl star whose 15 years as a cornerback saw him suit up for the Miami Dolphins, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Redskins describes his job as “growing the game of football,” from working with the clubs, players and officials to encouraging fandom.

Troy has long been concerned for football players after they hang up their cleats; while playing for the Bills, he came up with an idea that is now the NFL’s Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. He makes a point of reminding players that “there is an expiration date for your body that will happen,” but there’s a lot more life to be enjoyed when they retire.

Some people may quip that NFL means “Not for Long,” a nod to the brevity of the typical playing career, but he prefers to pitch it as “Notice for Life.” In other words: make the most of the time you have. “You just have to plan properly and commit yourself to the process,” he says. The decisions players make at 21 and 22 will impact them at 40, he cautions them.

While supporting her husband, Tommi has carved out her own career, adding podcaster and author to her other varied activities that include serving on the board of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. She is also the prime mover behind VincentCountry.com, a lifestyle website with recipes from their kitchen and articles about relationships whose subtitle—Faith. Family. Food.—tells what fuels their busy lives.

Given all her own accomplishments, it would be easy to see Tommi as an example of the woman who can have it all, but she doesn’t accept the label. “I don’t take that posture in life, because while it’s possible for me to have everything, I don’t want everything,” she explains. “I want to make sure that the life that I’m living is filled with the things that are necessary, that are going to get me to where I desire to be in life.

“I’m not a capable woman; I am a woman who is capable of doing many things and I have my focus on doing the things that matter, that are purposeful for me so that I can be the woman [I am] and also in a position to support Troy and the things that he’s been called to do.”

The secret isn’t having balance, she says, but knowing what you need to prioritize and when. “There’s an intentionality that comes with making sure that you’re in a position to do those things,” she says. It’s about evaluating what pours into your life and when you’re pouring out, gauging whether it’s “to a place that is fruitful, where I’m able to retrieve from that to nourish myself in the process. Or is it just something where I’m pouring out and nothing is coming back to me?

“When you’re able to evaluate life in that way, you can begin to prune away the things that don’t serve you well.”

FIRM FOUNDATION

The Vincents’ successes aren’t only due to their different skills and abilities, but to the way they support each other in them. When Troy discusses some of the challenges of his role in an organization that has found itself caught up in the racial tensions of the last few years, for example, Tommi jumps into the conversation.

“WE KNOW HOW TO SPEAK EACH OTHER’S LANGUAGE TO ENSURE THAT WE DON’T STOP DOING… WHAT WE ARE COMMISSIONED TO DO.”

People who want change to come more quickly don’t know all the work those that are closely involved in issues are doing, “how they’re up all night long,” she says. “So, I want to go on the record and say how extremely proud I am of the work that Troy Darnell Vincent Sr. does in this space.”

She makes sure to remind him “of who he is, because when you hear people telling you something’s not happening, that progress is not being made, you will begin to believe that. And when you have people walking heavy in the earth, carrying the mantle of this type of work, you have to remind them why they’re there… if he says anything that does not sound like who I know him to be, I shut it down immediately.

“I know my husband, he knows me, and we know how to speak each other’s language to ensure that we don’t stop doing what it is we believe that we are commissioned to do in the earth.”

Tommi also speaks of Troy as her primary waymaker, recalling how he came into her life “at a time when many people had counted me out and didn’t have much of a vision for me. Troy saw something in me before I was able to see it for myself. I made a decision, just because I was so wide-open and in love with him, that I was going to grab ahold of his coattails and go along on that journey. Once I was able to see who I was, I was able to release that and really begin to grow and flourish on my own.”

Through their near-30 years of marriage they have had to be each other’s waymaker in turn, she adds: “Because life does life and because we’re partners in this, we have to be flexible and know when each of us needs each other to pull each other along to make sure that we keep moving in the right direction.”

For Troy, supporting his wife is about being “available and present” when Tommi needs him. He describes her as “the engine of our family” behind “everything that we do, from a success standpoint.”

The Vincents let each other play to their own strengths, but that individuality of expression is built on a bedrock-shared foundation of faith. There’s “one area where we don’t disagree,” explains Troy. “We have a lot of disagreements on different topics—whether it’s the kids, work, traveling, whatever it may be—but the one area that there’s no conflict and it’s always the center that we come to is being centered around faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“WE SURROUND OURSELVES WITH WINNERS. THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT THEY’RE NOT HAVING CHALLENGES…. BUT WINNING IS A MENTALITY.”

Tommi agrees “100%.” Alluding to the connection problems that bedevil this WayMaker Journal video-link interview, she notes that “while we’re working through the technical difficulties in life, when we’re working on the technical difficulties in our relationship, we are constantly making sure that we’re prayerful in all things and trusting that all things are going to work together for our good.”

That last reference to things working out is based on a verse in the Bible (Romans 8:28), which talks elsewhere about couples being “equally yoked.” What does that mean to them as a couple seeking to follow scriptural direction?

“When you think of the yoking of oxen, the yokes are around the neck. The best direction for anyone to move in life is forward because everything is in front of you, it’s not behind you. It’s not to the right or to the left,” Tommi answers. “So, in order to be equally yoked, doing things that are filling us individually, we have to be moving at a pace that’s going to allow us to move in stride with one another. That way, we’re growing, or if someone is in a place where they’re not growing how they need to be growing, we’re still moving together.”

FAMILY TIME

The Vincents have “come into agreement that we are going to do life together, whatever that looks like,” Tommi says. “We are going to stick together doing that and our yoking together is our commitment that we will continue to move forward together.”

Troy agrees and adds that it’s not about being perfect. “We have our differences, but I think that’s what makes the relationship special… Where I may have a deficit, this is where Tommi complements me and vice versa… It means flexibility in the relationship, the ability to resolve conflict without running, being a friend… ”

Troy offers some thoughts on what makes for a strong relationship. “We have success in areas where we spend most of our time,” he observes. “You have to constantly extend empathy. It’s constant negotiation, a little bit of tough love there. Resolving conflict is an art. You deal with it.”

Like Tommi, he’s not big on the idea of balance. “It’s about integration,” he says. “You’ll never find the right balance because something will always over-index something else. But finding that right integration for time with your children, time with your partner, is critical and being intentional about your relationship.”

Tommi echoes the importance of intentionality. “We have been extremely deliberate and intentional about the people who we give access to our children, the people who we give access to ourselves,” she says. “We surround ourselves with winners. That doesn’t mean that they’re not having challenges in life and they have a perfect life, but winning is a mentality. All of our time together and in all of the time of our children growing up, they watched and witnessed people who understood what it took to win this game of life.”

As parents of five, and grandparents, family time is important to both of them. Troy loves Thanksgiving and July 4, two “life-changing” holidays when there’s lots of togetherness, fun and food. He remembers Thanksgiving conversations with the kids when they were younger, about their dreams and goals “and what God had in store”; he and Tommi would write those things down to remind the children of what they had said. Independence Day means barbecue and games and a firework display contest with folks “we don’t know” who live across the water. “We put on a whole show.”

Tommi savors those “pockets of time” too. “It’s like food all day, every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we sit around and we laugh and we talk and we play games… When we get together and our family is just hair down, sweats and just chilling out, those are the times when we come together the greatest. And it’s always, always around food.”

FAIR PLAY: THE NFL’S RACIAL EFFORTS
It’s been almost 20 years since the NFL established the Rooney Rule requiring clubs to consider at least two external minority candidates for significant positions, in an effort to improve representation. Has it made a difference? Troy Vincent believes so.

“When it was established, it was because of the lack of, at that particular time, Black head coaches,” says the league’s Vice President of Football Operations. “We still have that same challenge today. But when you look at the growth over the last 20 years of men of color, in particular Black men, when you look at the coordinator positions, both offense, defense and special teams, you look at front office personnel (we have more black [General Managers] today than ever before), the Rooney Rule has become a model, even outside of the National Football League.

“That requirement of having two external candidates interview, it allows club membership to see different people that they probably normally wouldn’t see. But the Rooney Rule has come under great scrutiny: I’ve scrutinized it, because when we see today going into the 2022 season there’s still only two Black head coaches in the National Football League, we have got work to do there. But when we look at all of the other areas—coordinators, GMs, personnel—we’ve made substantial gains.”

What about the NFL’s broader response to racial issues? Vincent points to the league’s focus on four areas: police and community relations, education, criminal justice reform and equity (“that wealth gap”). “People say, well, why those areas?” he acknowledges. “Because those were areas that were determined by the players, both current and our legends, along with club ownership. We always have to remind ourselves we’re a sports entertainment property; we’re not a social justice organization,” he says.

“We have to find areas of commonality that we can work together in the 30 cities [where we have teams] and do common good… we make sure that we don’t use the catchall ‘people of color’ or ‘minorities,’ so we can be specific around the Black agenda and things that we’re doing around and in the Black community.”

TOMMI A. VINCENT’S HEALING TABLE
Unlike many classically trained chefs, Tommi A. Vincent doesn’t have a signature “go-to” dish. “I have a go-to experience,” says the founder of Tommi V: Feels Like Comforts, Tastes Like Home. “When you come into my kitchen or I’m blessed to be in your kitchen (because I’m a private chef) I make sure that what I’m doing is going to be received and valued. When I’m creating an experience for you, it needs to speak your language.”

Going to a culinary arts school gave language to what she had learned intuitively as a child growing up in a family “that knew how to throw down,” she says. “I never considered it to be a gift because it came naturally; it was just easy for me to do.” But in returning to the studies she had given up on when she left school at 19 to get married, “what I recognized about what I was learning is that I actually did learn that from my grandmother. I didn’t have the terminology associated with the sauces and all of the different things in the techniques, but I knew how to do it with my eyes closed.”

Becoming a professional chef has allowed her to “just take the gift that’s inside of me and utilize it in my practice as a certified life coach to be able to heal and nurture other people when I get them to take a seat at my table because I believe if I can get you to my table, I can change your life.”

OUR WAYMAKER
Troy Vincent: They start with my grandfather, Jefferson Vincent, who raised me. He was the model: calm, cool, collected. A fine gentleman. My pastors throughout the years, my coaches… I was born in the family of sport… men that I just gleaned from. I drink from a well which I did not dig. I stand on the shoulders of those individuals who came before me.

Tommi A. Vincent: There are the women in my family who I watched just kind of sling life over their shoulders and make it happen. I learned a lot watching them and understanding that I have the ability to drop the bag and move through life differently, but I appreciate that example because it taught me a lesson. I’m also grateful for my third grade teacher, Ms. Conti; my eighth grade teacher, Ms. Cooley and then also Ms. Austin in high school. All three of those teachers sowed a seed that blossomed in me at the right time.

From an interview with Louis Carr

This article was originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of WayMaker Journal.