Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Should the Modern Jock Save Marriage for Retirement?

Michael JeeCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2010

Common belief states that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.

While relatively true, this statistic’s interpretation deserves consideration of various specific conditions that apply to each marriage, according to the State of Our Unions—a joint report released annually by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values.  

For example, compatible work schedules and the amount of time spouses spend together can significantly alter the divorce probability.

Based on such factors, many marriages of high-profile athletes unsurprisingly appear to end dismally, with infidelity by the man often cited as the primary cause.  Consequently, polls, studies, and anecdotal evidence suggest that the divorce rate in the sports industry is 10-30 percent higher than in other professions.

Tiger Woods suffered a failed marriage after going through a messy divorce marked by sensational and salacious details.  The repercussions still linger and will probably remain well into the future, as shown by an alleged mistress having just reportedly sold a certain tape.

David Beckham recently joined the strained marriage rumor mill with accusations of cheating with multiple women, á la Woods.  

Beckham’s colleague and soccer star Wayne Rooney is also embroiled in a sex scandal that has already affected a major sponsorship deal.

Not too long ago, the public—spurred on by a melodramatic and obtuse media—took turns gawking at the not-so-private lives of Alex Rodriguez, John Smoltz, Jason Kidd, Michael Strahan, Tom Brady, Andre Agassi and Lance Armstrong, just to name a few.  

The list grows much longer, but the revealing similarity boils down to divorce.

Another significant point to note is that the reported stories of failed marriages overwhelmingly concern male athletes and adultery.  Only a few female athlete divorcees come to mind—Chris Evert, Annika Sörenstam, Tonya Harding, Mia Hamm—but none of their cases involved the level of lurid details as their male counterparts.

This demographic imbalance may be attributed to the fact that the sports industry is still heavily skewed towards men in terms of profitability, public exposure, and consumer demand.  Still, when divorce cases of public figures in other career fields are considered, the fact remains: the majority of failed marriages involve men as the instigators rather then women.

Perhaps, men are just biologically wired to cheat.  After all, common assumption says that men are sexual beings who can’t go 30 seconds without thinking of coitus.  Or maybe human beings are genetically predisposed for promiscuity.  Monogamy may be a social construct simply accepted and replicated.

Arguments and reasons behind infidelity are a debate saved for another day and forum.

What is certain is the fact that the breakdown of a marriage is a dreadful, painful experience.  

Even in the hyper-masculine, testosterone-driven world of male sports, athletes who undergo such an event under a judgmental public microscope feel an added dose of psychological and emotional duress.  

What should remain a private matter is broadcasted to the world so that excessively nosy people can conveniently pry into details that should be reserved for a party of two.  This openness undeniably neither eases any possible tensions or misunderstandings nor helps to bring about reconciliation or closure.

Further ramifications include the loss of sponsorships, tarnished reputation, fan backlash, constant rumors, and professional ostracization from multiple groups.

Instead of fame and accolades for achievements, these athletes now serve as icons of infidelity, character flaws, and personal failure.  Humiliation replaces admiration.

Moreover, a jock’s life is full of temptation.  Fame and fortune attract hoards of womenfolk, many with an underdeveloped sense of self-respect and an overdeveloped sense of attraction.  

Stories conducted by the likes of the New York Times and ESPN Magazine have revealed such groupies who follow specific leagues and target certain athletes.  They have also discovered that many athletes’ wives know of their husbands’ infidelity but either condone or ignore it in return for the glamorously lavish lifestyle.

To them, loneliness and pseudo-marriage does not trump financial stability.

Add in the fact that a lot of time is spent on the road—away from the wife and with an entourage that prevents intimacy—and a recipe for infidelity quickly materializes.  Numerous cases exist where a single athlete father pays child support to multiple women.

Sometimes, child support does not suffice.  Affairs that began merely as a physical tryst can evolve into a more complicated web of emotions, desires, and demands.  In the most extreme cases, the an extramarital conundrum may end tragically, as was the case for Steve McNair.

Simply put, an athlete’s lifestyle is not conducive to a monogamous relationship.  In fact, there is an unspoken culture of adultery that permeates the pro athletes’ world, based on research by the American Sociological Association.

Judging from the myriad obstacles, marriage may be best saved for retirement.

Retirement offers a situation where jocks no longer live the aforementioned lifestyle, with all the consistent pressures and lure that accompany the A-list athlete.  Liberation from such influences allows for more time to focus on marriage and spend it with the wife.

Should divorce ensue post-retirement, the proceedings and resolution would not be as detrimental to the marketability and public image of a jock compared to the prime of his career.

Yes, the public will still scrutinize marital privacy with fascination, and some financial and image-based ramifications will undoubtedly suffer negative consequences.  However, it will be far easier to deal with those issues in retirement than during a jock’s active years.

Postponing marriage for retirement may come across as a bit unrealistic and drastic, but what alternative is there when so many marriages of top athletes end up in shambles?

Thus, walking down the aisle after the final horn has sounded may generally be the best play a jock can make to save himself, his spouse, and his children from the doom and gloom that follow divorce.