Gena James Pitts
Felix Gillette: Why start a magazine for the wives of professional athletes?
Gena James Pitts: The purpose of the magazine is to provide resources to all of the wives of active and retired professional athletes, coaches, and sports executives. This has never been done before. So it’s history.
We called the American Statistical Association, and they didn’t have a clue as to who we were. We weren’t even a part of their census. It was so funny because that’s indicative of what’s going on around the country. We had to do our own research. We have 17 professional sports. We tallied over 474,000 wives. It’s more than that. But officially it is close to half a million wives. And then there are about 200,000, we assume, girlfriends and fiancés.
Traditionally people think of sports wives as being women who just shop and do lunch and they have the brain the size of a pea. No one has ever thought of the wives as being the true silent partners that they are. Unless you’re on the inside you don’t see that the wives are the ones who really hold the families together. The husbands are gone nine or ten months of the year; the wife is really the one who advises the husband what to do. People would be surprised that the wife does play an integral part of the negotiations and the whole landscape of the player’s career.
FG: You mention in the mission statement that one of the resources you’re going to track is information about scams targeting players. How are you reporting on that?
GJP: It’s always a big concern. There are always unscrupulous people trying to target players in the sports and entertainment industry. The teams and leagues have security officials who investigate people. There’s a resource for that. But what we are going to do is give that information out to our readers so that they can be aware of it before it’s too late. Often times they target certain players and teams and the other people don’t find out about it. We kind of link all the wives together — almost like a sorority of sorts.
FG: In the last couple of years there’s been a proliferation of Web sites and blogs dedicated to documenting the bad behavior of athletes. I’d imagine that’s a big issue for the wives of pro athletes. Is that something you will address in the magazine?
GJP: We’re going to leave the bad publicity to the media outlets who choose to talk about that. We know behind the scenes. We’re not the judge and the jury. Our publication is going to be positive but not naive. We’re going to try to give the resources on how to get though the muck and the mire, and we’re going to aid the families that are effected, the wives, the girlfriends, and the fiancés. People are interested in gossip and horror stories just by curiosity. But once the story dies down, they don’t see how it affects the families. They have to live with the pain and suffering. We’re going to give nurse-like aid to the families and say, “Listen, this is how you can overcome this and forgive and go on.” So we’re positive but we’re not naive.
FG: With something like the so-called Love Boat scandal involving the Minnesota Vikings — in which a group of players allegedly took a yacht full of strippers on an illicit cruise around Lake Minnetonka — is that something you will cover? Will you specifically reach out to those families? Or will you let them come to you?
GJP: We’re not going to get involved in the specific team management. We’ll leave those situations to the team and to the league. Our job is not to get involved in that type of officiating. But we’re also letting the wives know we’re here. You’re not alone. Because nobody has ever thought of the wives as being the ones who are humiliated with some of these things that go on. We have experts who can give you the information you need to keep your family together. We’re not trying to cover the news, like the major newspapers, and the magazines. We’re trying to comfort our peers and bring a support system for them.
FG: Do you focus on the wives of pro athletes in specific sports? Or is it more general?
GJP: We’re growing. A NASCAR owner and his wife and their team just joined us as writers and contributors. We have a diverse group of sports. The PBA, the professional bowlers association. Bowlers are athletes too. The professional rodeo — that’s a sport that’s growing. Bill fishing. People don’t even know what that is.
FG: What is bill fishing?
GJP: You’ve seen marlins and sports fish … fish with beaks. That’s why it’s called bill fishing, because they have a bill. So that’s kind of a hidden sport.
FG: Who will be on the cover of the next issue?
GJP: Marty and Kelly Turco. He’s the goalie for the Dallas Stars. We’re not just trying to get the people in the news. We’re trying to think of the people that are interesting. Hockey took a big hit being off for a year.
FG: Will that story get into some of the issues wives grapple with when their husbands are on a lockout or a strike? I’d imagine that’s not a lot of fun for the family.
GJP: Oh, my God. It’s terrible to be at home with a player who is on strike. It’s terrible. We went through that in the NFL. Your career and your life are on hold. They’re just grumpy, grumpy men. They want to get out there and play their sport, and they’re stuck at home. What I tell some women … they need to go find the wife of a retired athlete. They’ve been there, done that. They can tell you how to get through. Go find the wife of a young retired athlete. She’ll tell you some stories. I’m one of them. I’ve been married for twenty years and my husband and I have weathered all the storms that couples go through. We’ve been very fortunate and very blessed to be able to still be together and to provide resources to the young wives … There’s an 80 percent divorce rate. Nobody talks about that. There’s an 80 percent divorce rate among professional athletes. No one provides resources on how these athletes can keep their families.
FG: So how will you cover that?
GJP: We are pulling in all kinds of experts to contribute to the magazine, to give their best advice on what to do. For our non-profit, the Professional Sports Wives Association, we’re going to have conferences where the wives can get together biannually and have these marriage counselors and ministers and sports psychologists talk to them. The divorce rate is a dark side that people don’t think about. Because you know people are enjoying the sport. They don’t think about these guys being gone from their families and having to go through those issues of a long distance relationship, and being a single parent. It’s not as glamorous as people think.
FG: In the first issue, you mentioned that Feb. 11, 2006 will be the first annual Pro Sports Wives Day. How will you celebrate?
GJP: We’re still working on the whole celebration of it. We’re very fortunate that an editor at McGraw-Hill recognized us and awarded us a national holiday. We’re getting the word out. We’re going to have the wives in specially designed shirts. We’re letting people know — we’re silent partners, and we’re coming out of the closet.