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Keeping Score: The Cost of Being an Athlete’s Wife

The life of a professional athlete is a dream for many little boys out there who have aspirations for million dollar contracts, a house with an infinity pool and a lady on his arm that dazzles like championship hardware. We start out playing cowboys and Indians – we end up wanting to play for the Cowboys and Indians. When the typical athlete enters the professional ranks at 20-years-old, and items are purchased to satiate those initial boyish desires, that only leaves the matter of the heart to attend to like a hiccup or a hitch in a jump shot. Finding themselves rich, young and handsome – all certainly attributes that lends itself to tugging on a woman’s heartstrings, it’s only natural that wedding bells beckon just as that rookie contract is running out and free agency looms like holy matrimony. With the final announcement of “I now pronounce you man and wife,” both parties seem wholly unaware that an athlete is married to his sport and simply shares his life with his spouse. Perhaps if more people were keen to this staggering trend, the divorce rate for professional athletes wouldn’t be teetering at 80 percent – and 78 percent of those “unlucky” individuals in love wouldn’t end up bankrupt after playing days were over. True, these ladies weren’t there when those individuals were shooting in the gym as youngsters – but they were present when that perennial all-star took it to the hole. That’s all that matters on the scoreboard.

With drivel like Basketball Wives invading pop culture – where there are more pumps thrown than pump fakes executed, even members of the non-sports embracing community are becoming aware that a certain type of woman chases men with their surname on their backs. If marrying a professional athlete almost always ends up in divorce, then are women doing it because they think they can change these men? Or rather, are they entering into what was once a holy union because they know the insecurity related to the longevity of the relationship directly leads to a financial base when things blow up like a pitch out on a suicide squeeze? The latter seems to suggest that going “ofer“ with cupid only benefits the women involved in the long run.

Let’s get one thing clear – look no further than the person who steps inside the lines for fault when the marriage falters. As a society, we’ve built these individuals to be above the law. If we’re unwilling to send athletes to prison for offenses that would land normal folks in the pokey for year stretches, it’s highly unlikely we’d hold them to the same morale code when it comes to fidelity. The basic makeup of professional athletics lends itself to traveling – where you’re loathed by fans in opposing stadiums but loved like a hometown hero when the nightlife comes beckoning. Cheating is such a regular and accepted occurrence on the road that player wives have come to accept it and move on like their husbands were solely guilty of sampling too many items at a buffet. While this approach may work for some, it sets a dangerous precedent to other players and their wives. It becomes more taboo in a locker room for a player to remain faithful, because much like criminal activity, individuals partaking in the misdeed feel more comfortable when everyone is accountable and equally guilty for scoring on the road. Wives don’t accept the cheating, they accept the consequences that follow.

What follows is the public meltdown where said “woman” is accused of being a gold digging, jersey chasing groupie who had a specialized role – much like a baseball closer, only it’s offered that she “opened” up way too much. Houses, kids and possessions are split using Hammurabi’s Code until all that’s left is hatred and a season that has to be played. If people view gay marriage as a slap in the face of the sacred act of matrimony, then the whole dog and pony show between athlete and ex-Ms. Right Now should be considered a flagrant foul. In any other arena, batting .200, shooting 20 percent from the field, or completing 20 percent of your passes would get you cut.

The idea of “standing by your man” is something unheard of in professional sports. Suppose a couple was lucky enough to stay together after a lengthy 10 year career through a combination of luck, spiked Gatorade and regular visits with Phil Jackson’s spiritual guru . Even after millions of dollars and a life that surely had some redeeming qualities, there’s the issue of post-playing career. According to the University of Michigan, 55 percent of all those marriages that lasted 5 + years after retirement ended in divorce. Even the marriages that made it through the “rough patch” failed at a higher rate than the general public who split at a 50 percent clips. It seems time away and time together is a vicious mix for teammates in the sport of love.

In pro sports, the athletes demand a certain caliber of girl – who just so happens to insist on a certain lifestyle for their company. It’s taken to the nth degree when those doing the chasing have millions of dollars and the ability to knock socks off and incinerate panties with the sweeping gesture of their John Hancock on a car note. The entire notion of love in that world is based upon exploitation of one another. As fans, our loyalties rely on performance, so why should it come as a shock when those we idolize and the women who win their heart are intent on using each other for personal gain? The athletes may be dogs. The women might be chickenheads. But we’re the suckers for caring.

Every Thursday HYPEBEAST’s Keeping Score will span the world of sports, ranging from thoughts about the state of the NBA to whether or not the United States National Soccer Team will ever challenge for a World Cup. Handled with words from Senior Editor L. Ruano and North American Staff Writer Alec Banks, both life-long sports enthusiasts and dedicated writers, no sport will go unrepresented.

Alec Banks is a Los-Angeles based writer by way of Chicago which means he doesn’t put ketchup on his prose. He currently serves as the North American staff writer for HYPEBEAST and contributes regularly for the likes of Complex, Playboy and Maxim. He was a 2x Quarterfinalist for the prestigious Academy of Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting. You can read more of his work at alecbanks.com or @smart_alec_.

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