Nord University, Bodø, Norway
In his book The Sport Marriage: Women who make it work, author Steven M. Ortiz examines, in detail, what the stakes are for women who decide to marry a professional athlete in the USA. Ortiz does this through extensive fieldwork and ethnography of women who are married to professional baseball players. Ortiz is an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University and has done longitudinal qualitative research on the heteronormative sports marriages that primarily featured interviews with women married to male professional athletes (see for instance Ortiz, 2021; 2010; 2004, in addition to this book).
At first glance, the subtitle of the book, “women who make it work”, may cause some initial resistance from any feminist reader (is it women’s responsibility to make a marriage work, sporting or otherwise?). However, reading the book it becomes apparent that the sporting marriages analysed by Ortiz actually works largely due to the efforts of the women who organize their life (and their children’s lives) around the career of their superstar athlete husbands. Hence, “women who make it work” is a suitable subtitle for this book.
The book consists of an introduction, seven thematic chapters, and a conclusion. Each of the chapters begins with a vignette, a woman’s story from her marriage to a professional baseball player that is particularly relevant to the analysis presented in that chapter. These vignettes provide an excellent entry into each of the chapter themes. Chapter 1, titled “Influences on the sport marriage”, examines some of the personal and occupational realities that influence the lived experiences of the wives in Ortiz’s study. Chapter 2, “In the public eye”, shows how these women confront the challenges of public life in their attempts to avoid damaging their husbands’ public image and that of their husbands’ employers’. In Chapter 3, “Traveling with the team”, Ortiz focuses on the experiences of the wives who travel with their husbands during the Major League Baseball (MLB) season. In this chapter, Ortiz does an excellent job of identifying the unspoken code of conduct that dictates how the wives are expected to behave. Here, Ortiz also shows how these social norms (the code of conduct) also establish the wives’ subordinate status by ensuring their social invisibility.
The use of vignettes throughout the chapters gives the reader a lively and rich description of the lives of women married to professional baseball players.
Chapter 4, “Star power”, serves to provide the reader with insights into the use of power and control in the sport marriage. In this chapter Ortiz introduces the idea of control work and uses this idea to discuss the differences in the partners’ motivations for and styles of using it. For instance, how the husbands rely on different aspects of their occupational lives to try to control their domestic lives and vice versa, how the wives rely on aspects of their domestic lives in their attempts to control their marriage and families, while simultaneously coping with what they cannot control about their husbands’ sporting careers. Chapter 5, “The In-Laws”, examines power and control issues that emerge in the marriage as the result of the relationship between the wives and their mothers-in-law, and how the husband, wife, and mother-in-law use control work in various types of power struggles.
In Chapter 6, “A World of Groupies”, Ortiz offers greater awareness about an under-researched area of sports. Namely, the complex world of groupies that inhabit the occupational worlds of professional athletes. Here, Ortiz uses the wives’ explicit and rich narratives detailing their experiences with individuals they define as groupies. Ortiz uses these narratives to present a typology of groupies, and further introduces the idea of groupieism, as Ortiz explores how the wives use boundary work in public interaction with various groupies and demonstrates how they cope with these women, as they negatively impact the marital relationship and emotional lives of the wives. Finally, Chapter 7, “A Closer Look at the Culture of Infidelity”, takes a closer look at infidelity and investigates how it affects the wives and their universal fear that their husbands will be unfaithful.
Reading Ortiz’s analysis of the lives of women who are married to professional baseball players in the USA was a true delight. The use of vignettes throughout the chapters gives the reader a lively and rich description of the lives of women married to professional baseball players. It is clear that Ortiz has done a great piece of longitudinal qualitative work in sociology of sport in his study of sporting marriages. The result of this labor is this book which gives the reader a realistic, nuanced, unromanticized depiction of what it means to be a woman who is married to an American baseball superstar. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in professional sports and family life, as well as gender and sports.
Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2022
Ortiz, S. M. (2021). Women Caring for Retired Men: A Continuation of Inequality in the Sport Marriage, Sociology of Sport Journal, 38(3), 293-301. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ssj/38/3/article-p293.xml
Ortiz, S.M. (2010). Competing with her mother-in-law: the intersection of control management and emotion management in sport families, In Denzin, N.K. (Ed.) Studies in Symbolic Interaction (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 35), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 319-344. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0163-2396(2010)0000035021
Ortiz, S.M. (2004). Leaving the Private World of Wives of Professional Athletes: A Male Sociologist’s Reflections. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 33(4):466-487. DOI: 10.1177/0891241604265980