Married To The Game: The Wives of Professional Athletes

Divorce between regular people is ugly… add cameras and millions of dollars and it gets downright disgusting. Tiger Woods finalized his divorce from Ellen Nordegren this week and it made me think about the marriages and divorces of professional athletes and other celebrities/high profile individuals. I don’t want to get into the debate about whether we hold athletes & public figures to a higher standard, there is no question that we do, but as a woman who has experienced divorce, I understand how love can transform into extreme dislike, how material goods become symbolic ornaments on the fallen tree of a broken relationship and how children become pawns in the never ending quest of mate checking.

While there are certainly perks of being married to a “baller,” (someone who plays professional sports), there are also drawbacks. Pre-Tiger, Ellen was a nanny and “model,” and because of that, the public is quick to throw the “gold-digger” title on her. That is the first drawback of being married to an extremely wealthy man. Many people assume that the relationship is not based on real love, whether that is because (A) the woman is labeled a gold-digger or (B) the man is accused of wanting a “trophy wife.”

  • Tiger Woods & Ellen Nordegren
  • Married: 5 years
  • Children: 2 (3 years old & 18 months)
  • Tiger’s Net Worth: $900 million (with an annual salary of $85 million)
  • Divorce: Due to infidelity (over 10 women publicly admitted having an affair with Woods)
  • Divorce Settlement: an estimated $100 million and the two will share custody of their children (neither Tiger nor Ellen will confirm this)

Ellen enrolled in school and plans to earn a Master’s Degree in Psychology in order to work with children in broken families.

  • Michael Jordan and Juanita Vanoy
  • Married: 17 years
  • Children: 3 (one teenager and the others young adults)
  • Michael’s Net Worth: $500 million
  • Divorce: Irreconcilable differences (including infidelity).
  • Divorce Settlement: $168 million (largest ever divorce settlement publicly recorded)

  • Mike Tyson & Robin Givens
  • Married: 1 year
  • Children: None
  • Mike’s Net Worth: $50 million (at the time he & Givens wed)
  • Divorce: Irreconcilable differences (including infidelity).
  • Divorce Settlement: $8 million

  • Mike Tyson & Dr. Monica Turner (sister of Michael Steele – of Republican fame)
  • Married: 5 years
  • Children: 2
  • Mike’s Net Worth: $50 million (made over $300 million as a boxer)
  • Divorce: Irreconcilable differences (including infidelity).
  • Divorce Settlement: $6.5 million (+ $4.8 million home & custody of the kids)

Mike remarried in June of 2009 and is still married to Lakiha Spicer (the two have a child together and lost a child together). Publicly, he is very appreciative of his wife and has filed bankruptcy.

From the outside looking in, there are many perks to being married to a pro-athlete including: being able to travel, having the money to live a good lifestyle which provides free time for the wife to be able to pursue her own interests.

Steven Ortiz, who has interviewed over 40 pro-athlete wives for his project discussed some of the drawbacks which include:

  • Having to be guarded about emotions and personal lives (no privacy)
  • Having to relocate at any moment (no real stability)
  • Single parenting while husband works
  • Infidelity (many wives discussed not being able to “control” husband while away from home)
  • People don’t take them seriously (often labeled gold diggers or not considered intelligent)
  • Can have trouble transitioning to life after husband retires (many pro athletes have health issues and deal with depression once they are no longer in the spotlight)

Rita Ewing (Patrick Ewing’s ex wife) who wrote a novel called Homecourt Advantage said in an interview “the sporting world is conducive to infidelity… the mentality of the teams and the management condone infidelity. There are team rules that prevent wives from traveling on the road…” She goes on to discuss that many teams hold family workshops/classes encouraging the married couples to have “safe sex” and she remembers walking away from one session with a “condom on a keychain,” as a visual reminder to have protected sex with her husband. Several wives also discussed the “public persona” that the husbands have and while they get to know all intimate aspects of their husbands, the public is mostly exposed to “1/100th” of who they are as people.

I have incredible sympathy for Ellen and other professional athlete’s wives because they have to go through the pain and embarrassment of divorce in the public eye. While most women can walk away from a failed relationship, these women are forever “tagged” to their high-profile husbands and the divorce is like an open wound that is constantly exposed. I agree with Rita Ewing, who says the best thing that we can do is “give them the space” to work out their personal problems. Being married to the game has it’s perks, but it also has it drawbacks. While it is “cheaper to keep her” in many cases like Ellen says, “without trust and love” a relationship is doomed to fail.

There are support groups for these women as well including “Behind the Bench: The National Basketball Wives Association” that helps the women cope.

4 thoughts on “Married To The Game: The Wives of Professional Athletes

  1. You nailed it!

    Your blog is the first I have read that gives the correct perspective on the highs and lows of being married to a pro athlete. Many people think money and fame is a cure-all, and that all the wives are gold-diggers, and have a brain the size of a pea.

    Many people never see the hurt, shame, domestic violence, and the emotional hell that wives and families of pro athletes and celebrties go through, and the toll that instant fame and fortune brings. It’s not as glamourous as you think.

    Even though you know what to expect when you marry a ‘baller’, you are never fully prepared for the drama when it happens to you and destroys your family; and ultimately innocent children are the victims who suffer for years.

    ‘Money pay the bills, but it doesn’t buy happiness’

    – Professional Sports Wives Association, a support organization that provides resources to all wives and families of pro athletes.

  2. G Pitts! Thanks so much for reading & taking the time to stop by & leave a comment. For the last year or so, I’ve been fascinated by the wives of not only professional athletes, but the wives of high profile men in general. While we exalt wealthy & powerful men, very little attention is spent looking at the wives who I’d argue sustain and propel these men. Your site is an awesome resource & I hope you’ll continue reading my work!

  3. I am engaged to a NFL prospect, and I really
    Really want to call it off because I
    DO NOT have time for the drama. He hasn’t
    Cheated so far, but I know how money
    Can change people. I will expect the
    Worst, and hope for the best. I love
    Him not the money he will be making. I
    Will take it one day at a time, and keep
    Praying. I will do my part and stand
    By him..

    1. Hey Tselane! Thanks for stopping by. Congrats on the engagement! As long as love and friendship is the foundation of your relationship, then I believe that you can conquer anything! Be sure to help him stay grounded, keep the lines of communication and deal with your challenges proactively, not reactively 🙂

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