Athletes, their wives, and infidelity

In a world seemingly full of athletes who are cheating on their wives, people wonder how this happens. A sociologist who has been studying this for years sums up some of his research:

None of this surprises Steven Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State who has spent nearly 20 years studying the wives of professional athletes and what he calls “husband-oriented” sports marriages. In one study, Ortiz interviewed 47 wives married to men in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

He chalks up the pattern of behavior to a patriarchal society and what he calls “spoiled-athlete syndrome.” Since childhood, he says, athletes are enabled because of their obvious talent. And in the same way the culture of celebrity is celebrated, athletic heroes are worshipped.

Ortiz says he observed three ways in which the issue of infidelity is handled in these marriages: one, with humor, and two, avoidance of the subject. The third, he says, typically occurs when the wife searches for evidence in laundry, e-mail messages or phone calls.

“A major stressor is the fear of infidelity,” Ortiz says. “[The wives] have no control over the situation.”

According to the rest of the ESPN story, a number of wives know this is a possibility while they are married. It sounds like others had no idea that athletes behaved like this before getting married. Could there be some sort of athlete’s wives support group that would help those who are currently married and counsel those who are about to get married?

A few other questions I had after reading this:

1. How much do teams support, overtly or covertly, this behavior on the parts of male athletes?

2. Does this sort of behavior occur among female athletes? If not, why not?

3. Why do some male athletes not fall into these traps? What factors influence the decisions of male athletes to cheat or not to cheat?

4. How common in this behavior? Are the stories we see in the news, such as those about Tiger Woods or Brett Favre, the norm or are they outliers? Would fans pay less attention to sports if they knew all about this area of life?

5. How does this all affect athlete’s children?

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