Wives of Professional Athletes, Part One

As I mentioned yesterday, I found a professor from Oregon State University named Steven Ortiz who has done numerous studies on wives of professional athletes.  Although most of his articles are found in a professional journals, I did find a few I could read for free online.  The one entitled “Constructing dependency in coping with stressful occupational events: At what cost for wives of professional athletes?” I found particularly interesting. So I thought I would go through the study, a part or two at a time, and pull out some quotes that struck me and weigh in on what it looks like in my life. I hope the other basket wives reading can give some comments as well to how they can relate to the specific quotes I pull out, or the article on a whole.

1. In this article, which is drawn from a larger ethnographic study on wives of professional athletes (Ortiz, 1994a), I explore the nature of coping, control, dependent, and adjustment processes among a group of wives as they respond to the stressful occupational events in the careers of their husbands. First, I describe the research background of the data. Second, I discuss the control management perspective in the context of the sport marriage. Third, I analyze the social construction of dependency among the wives. Fourth, I identify social isolation and absence of support as contributors to dependency among the wives. Fifth, I examine how the wives manage stressful occupational events. Finally, I conclude by discussing the consequences and implications of developing the kinds of survival skills that make family management possible for these women as their husbands pursue their careers.

Just a brief overview of the article and what the author was looking for.

2. Stress is a fact of life for wives of professional athletes.

Everybody’s life is stressful.  But when you examine a scale like the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, you find that a professional athlete and his wife have stresses built into their life every year due to a life style job.  So for a player who changes jobs every year, there are automatically the following stresses: dismissal from work or spouse stops/starts work, changing residence, changing financial state, changing business responsibilities, changing working hours and conditions, changing social activities, changing recreation activities, changing church activities, changing school (for their children), changing sleep habits (due to different cultures) and changing eating habits.  This already gives a score of around 309-350.  A score of +300 puts you at risk for illness.  The number sky rockets when you add in things that often happen as a professional athlete like marital separation, personal injury or loss, retirement, trouble with in-laws (I will hit this topic for professional athletes’ wives in a later post), outstanding personal achievement and trouble.  I quickly did Joe’s and my numbers for the past year and the numbers were scary.  Joe had a score of 479, while I punched in at a 521 (my grandfather dying last summer, pushed my number up over his).  So our lives and our husbands’ come with stress.

3. These wives are on their own in managing family life and they often have a great deal of control in this area. Thus, it is typical that striving for control is a common coping strategy for these women in response to the unpredictable nature of the husband’s career. This coping process often involves what I call control work.

This was one of the biggest areas that I knew God was working on in me when I first became a basket wife.  I was a BIG time planner.  I liked to plan things a year in advance.  I had my neat little calendar and to-do lists and everything always worked out just as I had planned it.  Then Joe and I got married and my world was flipped upside down.  In the first year of marriage, Joe had 3 different jobs.  We lived in 3 different states and a foreign country.  I suddenly realized that my planning was going to have to have a BIG Lord-willing over it.  And the planning was going to be much less in advance.  I had to learn to become more go-with-the flow.  As mentioned above, some women take the lack of control in their lives and try to find whatever it is that they can control.  I have seen myself do this in areas of my life, but have found it wise to recognize what I am doing.  In reality, I am fighting to take control back from God.  None of us are in control of our lives, but I see it as a blessing that in living the life of a wife of a professional athlete, that is more concrete to me.  I can see it in my every day life and that makes it easier for me to attack the pride in my heart that wants things to go my way.  I am constantly saying to myself: It is a good thing not to be in control of my life.

4. A wife also feels disillusioned because she is often taken for granted and neglected, receiving very little in return for the sacrifices she makes for her husband and his career. It is not uncommon for a wife to feel betrayed by her husband’s team when a stressful occupational event occurs, and by her husband because he fails to acknowledge and appreciate her coping skills, family management skills, and sacrifices during a stressful occupational event. On the contrary, he expects these survival skills. In fact, such skills are some of the reasons he was attracted to her in courtship, and perhaps why he married her. Because stress and coping processes involve emotional processes (Thoits, 1984), in addition to her control work, a wife will also do emotion work to suppress such emotions as anger, frustration, or resentment, as she performs her supportive role (Hochschild, 1979, 1983). This effort to gain family and personal stability in the face of a stressful occupational event and the strain it induces is a formidable challenge not only for wives of professional athletes, but also wives of politicians, military personnel, physicians, corporate executives, police officers, academics, clergymen, diplomats, movie stars, rock stars, and other career-dominated wives.

I have never known another basket wife who has not in some way hinted at the feeling of being taken for granted.  It is a tough battle to fight.  We live lives where our husbands are the stars and we sit in the background and do much of the dirty work.  I don’t say that to complain, but that is a reality.  Our husbands do indeed work hard, but their hard work is often more recognized than ours is.  What I have come to realize though is that if you are doing your work for recognition, you are never going to be satisfied.  Our hearts are wicked, and we will never feel like we have received all the credit for what we feel we have done.  When you approach this life in light of the gospel, your pride must take a back seat.  You realize that everything you are able to do is because of God’s grace at work in your life.  You realize that it is a joy to forget yourself and pour yourself out for others.  This isn’t to say you neglect yourself, but the “What about me?” attitude slowly fades away.  I am a work in progress in this area.  I also admit I have it easier because I have a fabulous husband who has sound theology to constantly remind me that those who are applauded here on earth have received their reward.  Those who do their work with only God as their audience will receive a greater reward in heaven.  Joe is wonderful to remind me that he believes in heaven he will be the one in the crowd clapping for me receiving my reward.

Dealing with your husband’s team can be interesting as well.  Thankfully for the past two season here in Turkey, Joe has played for a club that is very family oriented.  I have only really had one situation in which a comment was made about Joe leaving his family behind, and needless to say that job was not taken.  It is easy to become embittered against your husband’s employer though for the many stresses it causes your husband and in turn, your home.    I have tried to battle the stress of the work place by doing the best I can to make our home a haven of rest.  When Joe is home, I try to have other things to talk about than basketball, teach the kids to thank their Daddy for the hard work he does and look for ways I can serve him to make his time at home more relaxing and refreshing.  Instead of just complaining about the work environment, we can work as wives to make the home environment one that is a joy and blessing.

This can lead to suppressing my own emotions, as the author mentioned above.  I often do not share a lot of burdens I have at home with Joe because of the stress I know he is going through.  If I am going to share them, I try to wait for a good time (ie. not the second he walks through the door exhausted from practice).  And burdens that he may not understand, I share more with other women who are prayer and accountability partners to me.  Having like-minded women that I meet or e-mail with once a week that I know are praying for me, challenging me and encouraging me, is vital for me living abroad as a basket wife.

Stay tuned for part two on Monday…