I requested this from NetGalley some months ago because the premise of the book is interesting. The wives and girlfriends (WAGs) of professional athletes aren’t unknown in entertainment. They’re featured in reality shows, fiction shows, and it’s an entire genre of kissing book. In all of these arenas, the focus is on the entertainment value of their lives.
In Sport Marriage, Ortiz takes a more anthropological approach to the reality of WAG life. He interviews two cohorts of spouses across the more marquee US sports (football and baseball) about what it’s like to be married and raise a family with a professional athlete. While I wasn’t surprised by what he found there, I have to say the weight of having it all laid out in his text made me appalled on behalf of many of the women. Reading what athlete wives actually experience did take a little of the shine off my favorite sport-genre romances.
Ortiz is an empathetic narrator of what he hears from his subjects. One aspect of a sport marriage I had not considered previously is how difficult the spouse’s position is. WAGs are bound by almost arbitrary rules due to their partners’s occupation, and yet, are unpaid and possibly underappreciated. Being urged to keep the peace at home in order not to upset any upcoming games? We can make pointed barbs about a partner being like another child, but in these marriages, this seems to be an accepted matter of course. He cannot make his own travel arrangements or take out the garbage because his head must always be in the game. Couldn’t be me. (Also, being unsubtly pressured by other WAGs to buy a new outfit for every home game as a football wife? Hard. Pass.)
One might argue that these women knew what they were getting into, but Ortiz is very clear that the depth of the sacrifices made by the wives is not widely understood. Ortiz makes much of describing the sport marriage as a “two-person career”. He absolutely gives WAGs their flowers for the amount of work that they do.
She attends his games, makes appearances at various civic events (with or without her husband), participates in community fundraisers and philanthropic activities on behalf of him and his employer, runs important errands for him when he’s traveling, manages the relocation process with little support or completely on her own, […]
‘I would describe it as being very supportive in the marriage, but that’s what you do when you have a growing business,’ Nora said. ‘You support that business to grow and do what it takes…. I really believed that it was a team effort. He was the product and I was selling it.’
Ortiz doesn’t shy away from the infidelity that is assumed to figure into many, if not most, sport marriages. He discusses the way the organizational cultures not only encourages infidelity, but also cover for them. The ways WAGs make peace with this, or don’t, is difficult to read.
Ortiz has done beautiful work here. The criticisms I have for the book are mild: I would have liked to have seen more exploration of the male side of the partnership and also would have liked to have learned more about partnerships where the woman is the athlete. However, it’s clear why those would have made the study much more challenging. In the former case, access would almost certainly be a concern. In the latter, the differences in pay between professional athletes of both genders might make it difficult to sketch a cohesive story.
Despite my general positive impression of the book, I don’t know to whom I would recommend it. It’s conversational, yet academic. I don’t know that I think it’s a casual read. But if you are curious about the reality of being involved with a professional athlete, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than this.
I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley in order to facilitate this review.