The trophy wife: understanding women's role in modern professional sports| Jun 16, 2015
A trophy wife.
It’s a notion both archaic and shockingly sexist. It reduces a woman from human being to a possession, a glittery object a man can tote around for all to see. It’s a notion permeates our society — women married to men of much money or influence are often dubbed “trophy wives.”
Not many industries play up the idea of a trophy wife more than the world of professional sports. For example, Bleacher Report, one of the most popular sports websites, has an entire section devoted to ogling the wives and girlfriends of various athletes.
This issue has come to affect the Princeton community directly as well. Mallory Edens ’18 was the focus of such ogling in an article by venerated NBA writer Chris Sheridan. Edens briefly became an Internet sensation last May after attending the NBA Draft Lottery, the event that determines the order in which NBA teams pick players in the draft itself. Edens, there for the Milwaukee Bucks (the team owned by her father, Wesley Edens), received attention across Twitter and Instagram as many viewers were captivated by her looks.
Due to a change in NBA rules, only team personnel (such as front office executives and players) are now allowed to represent the teams in the lottery. Sheridan, noting this, lamented the lack of attractive women in the draft, in particular focusing on Edens and the wife of the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Becky Taylor (née Mulvihill).
In theory, Sheridan’s article was supposed to cover the difficult choices NBA teams had to make when determining which NCAA players to draft in June. However, his article seemed more of a testament to his disturbing obsession with Edens and Taylor. The opening says it all:
“One year after Mallory Edens captivated us all at the NBA draft lottery, a new NBA rule deprived us of a close-up look at the trophy wife Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.Her name is Becky, she is fantastic looking, and she was supposed to have been onstage instead of the 74-year-old Mr. Taylor as the T-Wolves won the top pick in the 2015 NBA draft.”
The comments he makes throughout the article just as disgusting. For example, he references Becky Taylor’s “sleeping alongside Glen Taylor, which is the price the former Mulvihill must pay for marrying into all that money ($1.8 billion is Taylor’s net worth) eight years ago."
Sheridan very bluntly shows that he sees these women as objects only, saying “[Glen] Taylor already has his trophy wife. Edens will one day be somebody’s trophy GF.”
Ironically, at the beginning of the article, he says he wants to focus more on basketball and not on the women, saying, “The lottery is not about trophy wives or trophy daughters.”
Trophy daughters.Trophy daughters. In coining this term, Sheridan seems to claim that a woman’s sole role, no matter what her age, is be the arm candy of a man, be it her husband or her father.
Remarkably, when speaking with Edens herself, one can see she doesn’t take what Sheridan wrote to heart.
“Obviously I found it off-putting, [but] I’m comfortable enough with what I’m doing … that I’m putting myself in a position to pursue my own ambitions that don’t amount to ending up [as] the arm accessory of some older, wealthy man,” Edens said.
Despite her feelings toward the article, Edens didn’t just let the grossly inappropriate article slide. She called Sheridan out via Twitter, receiving much praise for highlighting his sexism and placed enough pressure on him that he had to remove the article from his website.
Edens said that, because of the egregious nature of the article itself, she felt required to speak out on it.
“At a certain point, language can become broadly destructive enough that you are responsible to say something about it,” Edens said. “It’s wrong on so many levels. [A trophy wife is] a status symbol.”
There is zero doubt Sheridan is in the wrong. But his comments are just a small part of a larger issue: how exactly do women fit into the world of athletics as a whole, if not as trophy wives (or trophy daughters)? Edens herself points out that Sheridan’s article, while terrible in itself, “is symptomatic of a larger issue.”
As she recounted her own experiences as a Yankees fan, Edens indicated that the women’s status as second-class citizens in the sports world begins at an early age.
“[We create] gender precision in sports in a lot of ways. I was a huge Yankees fan growing up, and one of the things that always bothered me was that a lot of the girls’ merchandise is all baby powder pink and has nothing to do with the Yankees.” Edens said. “I think about what we’re saying to girls if that’s the avenue of participation that we offer to them. It’s more meaningful than is typically given credit for being.”
Edens also explained how gender issues are also prevalent when young girls try to compete in sports as well. In particular, the notion of a “tomboy” particularly affected her while growing up.
“It’s interesting to think about the word ‘tomboy’ because it’s an attribute we typically assign to girls that are interested in sports, and that’s the only thing that would mark them as a ‘boy,’ ” Edens said. “Gendering that belonging in a way creates barriers because it’s something you can’t own.”
Gender barriers are perhaps even more striking when one looks at the sports world from a front office level. Across all of the major U.S. professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL), there are only two women holding executive roles: Gillian Zucker, president of business operations for the NBA’s L.A. Clippers, and Jeanie Buss, president of the NBA’s L.A. Lakers. At Princeton as well, Mollie Marcoux ’91, is the first female athletic director and took her position only last year.
With this in mind, Edens noted that Sheridan’s article raised an interesting point. Given the lack of family members at the NBA Draft Lottery, there are no women present in the event, and the male domination of NBA front offices becomes all the more apparent.
Edens herself says that one cannot simply attack Sheridan without losing sight of the fact that women in the sports world still have difficulties earning respect.
“In a larger context I think it’s really positive that it’s a discussion people are having, but I don’t think it really solves the issue. I don’t know it’s always constructive to correct piece by piece [or] person by person.” Edens said. “I think it’s positive, but at the same time there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”