Pros have problems, too

It’s inevitable. Kids who love sports can’t help but dream about becoming a professional athlete. Never mind that the dream is usually unrealistic. Hope springs eternal when you’re young.

I don’t think the ridiculous money paid to athletes is necessarily the primary motivation for someone 10 to 12 years old. It’s more about the fame and glory associated with playing a game before thousands of fans in the best stadiums in the world. What’s not to like about fame and fortune?

In reality, fantasy has a nasty habit of turning into reality. Of the athletes who make it to prime time on the stage of stardom, many find that stardom is nothing more than fools’ gold.

Elite athletes marry at about the same rate (73 percent) as everyone else, but their divorce rate is considerably higher. A common estimate of the divorce rate for pro athletes ranges from 60 to 80 percent.

Successful athletes fail at marriage every day. The list of elite athletes who have experienced divorce includes A-Rod, MJ, Lance Armstrong, Jeff Gordon, Andre Agassi, Greg Norman, Chris Evert and Tiger Woods.

It has been said that money doesn’t buy happiness. Fame doesn’t either, apparently.

According to some studies, about 40 to 50 percent of all marriages in America wind up in divorce, so clearly a successful marriage isn’t an easy proposition in the best of circumstances. Perhaps what surprises us, although it really shouldn’t, is that fame and fortune aren’t the best of circumstances for a happy marriage.

Consider that the best of the best athletes are living in an abnormal situation. Mark Kreidler writes: “Elite athletes fail at marriage all the time—and infidelity is only the most salacious of the many reasons why. Money issues, fame issues, travel issues, focus issues, time issues: It’s more difficult than you’d think, being a great athlete and being married at the same time.”

The best athletes, often drafted right out of college, are showered with attention, adoration and big-money contracts.

Elite athletes are away from a spouse for long periods of time, which can lead to separate lives. Joseph Geier writes, “Constant traveling away from family, the stress associated with intense competition in the industry and an identity crisis sustained in post-playing days are the true nemeses.

“The professional athlete can reach a point where they feel their identity is completely wrapped up in professional sports,” Geier said.

And the risks to marriage don’t end with a player’s career, writes Daniel Clement. “In fact, two years after retirement, 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt, jobless or divorced.”

Are we having fun yet?

Divorce seems to have taken a toll on Tiger Woods. Kreidler wrote, “In a piece written for Golf Digest almost 10 years ago, the redoubtable Dan Jenkins essentially labeled Woods as a greater shot-maker than Hogan and a greater winner than Nicklaus, but quickly added these words: ‘Two things can stop Tiger—injury or a bad marriage.’ Jenkins got it right on both.”

Is it really news when we hear about another divorce? Perhaps we should stop the presses when we learn of elite athletes who have a stable home life and successful marriage. After all, anyone can get divorced.

One time, decades ago, while my dad was employed and underpaid at Tabor College, I gave him a poster (in jest) that read, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor—rich is better.”

Fact is, being happily married is far, far better, as my parents’ 60-plus years of marriage would testify.

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