Divorce in Professional Athletics: Why Is It Such an Epidemic?

It seems like every week you turn around and another professional athlete is getting divorced. Statistics are vague, but most report that the divorce rate in professional athletics is much higher than the average divorce rate in the U.S. Supposedly the NFL runs a divorce rate of 60-80% and other sports run a similar rate. That means when you are looking at the starting 5 of a basketball team, only 1 or 2 of their marriages may actually last.

So what in the world is going on with divorce in professional athletics? That is a topic I am going to take a few posts to look at over the next couple of days. I don’t have much research to go by or studies I have conducted, so all I am going to give you are my thoughts from someone who has been married to a professional athlete for almost 9 years and seen the sports world from a few different angles.

First I am going to take a look at WHY there are so many divorces among professional athletes. ESPN had a good article on the topic, which I will reiterate some of the points from, but I hope to look at a few additional issues.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. Marriage Itself is Taking a Hit
It shouldn’t be a shock to any of us that professional athletes are getting divorced at a greater rate because our cultural in general is getting divorced more these days. Marriage is simply not viewed the same as it used to be. Socially it used to be  frowned upon to divorce, but these days it has become much more “normal”.  So with the whole of society with a rising divorce rate, it should be no surprise that a sub-group with a higher incidence should have a rising rate as well.

2. No Foundation For the Purpose of Marriage
Many people marry for a feeling of “being in love”. That usually means their spouse makes them “feel good”. So when that feeling is gone, there is no other reason to stay married. If you truly step back and think about “why” you are married, the reason will probably tell you if you are going to get through tough times or not. And in marriage there will be tough times…guaranteed. Even many well-meaning reasons for marriage are based upon one or both of the spouses performances (ie. I want to serve this person, this is the person who makes me complete, etc.). The reason that will not hold up over time is because both you and your spouse are going mess up somehow. So if your marriage is based upon performance it will slowly disintegrate.

3. Increased Media Coverage
It seems like more and more athletes are getting divorced not only because they are, but because it is exaggerated even more by media coverage. We not only have news, radio and television to report on it, but there are now tons of gossip websites, Twitter, Facebook, etc. to keep us on top of all the comings and goings of celebrities, including professional athletes. There are even a new crop of television shows (both acted and reality) based upon professional athletes lives. These shows are not helping us as a community to stand up for our marriages as they make infidelity, lying, addiction and financial problems look like the norm. They are a huge part of many professional athletes lives, but they shouldn’t be glammed up.  Unfortunately, the world we live in wants to hear the “dirt”. A show about an athlete’s marriage that was happy and free from infidelity, cheating and lying would not be interesting to most people.  When was the last time you heard about a successful marriage?  You don’t because those marriages either choose to stay out of th spotlight or aren’t interesting enough for media coverage.

4. Marrying for the Wrong Reasons
Many athletes marry for the wrong reasons. Some have high school sweethearts that they feel like have been around for the “long haul” and so they feel like they “owe” it to them to get married. Others avoid marrying too early in order to concentrate on their career, but then it can be really hard to decipher through who is actually interested in you as a person and not merely as an athlete. Other athletes may just look for the woman who will look good on their arm.

5. Co-habitating
Living together before marriage is something that has increased over the last decade as well and is extremely common in professional sports. Because of the nature of the job taking you to other parts of the country or world, many couples choose for the girlfriend to simply move as well. Many studies have shown that co-habitating before marriage leads to a higher divorce rate.

6. More Opportunity for Infidelity
When you have more money, time and opportunity for infidelity, the rate is going to rise. And that is what athletes have. The money that is at many of the top tier athletes disposal makes them more attractive to those who are seeking money and makes covering up infidelity easier. The time spent on the road for many athletes offers opportunity (as does many businessmen), but their notoriety increases that opportunity all the more. Infidelity in any capacity is wrong, but until we have stood in their shoes and experienced the pressures, we should be slow to pass judgment on the pressures almost all of us would cave under but by the grace of God.

7. Luxuries of Being an Athlete Becoming Outrageous
I am married to a professional athlete, and although he is on a much smaller scale than many of the well-known of the world, I see the little perks athletes get. People want to give them things for free, they want to be seen with them or simply get their autograph, they follow them on Twitter, Facebook, etc., they buy and wear their jersey and start fan clubs, etc. All these are luxuries that most of us never experience. And all these luxuries can create spoiled, self-righteous people if the heart is not guarded very carefully. When you start to think you are “all that” it is hard to live in harmony with another in a marriage relationship.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but just some basic thoughts as to why we are seeing more and more athletes getting divorced. Tomorrow I will share a couple of thoughts on how we can fight to keep our marriages together, whether athletes or not.