Commentary

Not real, not housewives

In sports and political sex scandals, the problem isn't values; it's men

Updated: April 16, 2012, 2:07 PM ET
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

Men and women and work in the news.

Labor department unemployment figures show American women now bearing the brunt of our bad economy, as cable's chattering classes argue the right of a candidate's wife to express her opinion on the same subject. All as Arkansas philanthropist Bobby Petrino sees his popular "Putting Women to Work" program shut down.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBobby Petrino's game plan since getting fired has been to keep a low profile.

Tough week all around.

My heart goes out to Mrs. Petrino, who in the coming weeks and months will not only have to bear the private and public shame of her husband's fleshly halfwit indecency, but will be expected to respond to it somehow. Does she remain quiet? Does she take the microphone and divorce him? Or, like another Arkansas first lady, does she stand by her man on the long, slow road to becoming our Secretary of State?

The news cycle and the hyena press and conventions of soap opera and slapstick comedy will eventually demand an answer. Because this is all part of a game much older than football. Which, along with politics, remains our best-selling blood sport, and a great way to meet women. (Rock guitarist and Greek billionaire are still tied for a distant third.)

From Mike Price to Houston Nutt to Newt Gingrich to John Edwards, coaches' wives and politicians' wives are often expected to co-author the fictions they live. In the interest of vote totals, photo layouts, stability and the Wins column, the lies, the denials, the indiscretions and the serial humiliations are to be kept hidden in the family crawl space. So a kind of ethical and practical flexibility remains an essential clause in the marital contract of certain public moralizers and character builders and educators. Or "educators."

How far is too far? How much is too much? What can anyone anywhere do? Which side are you on in the Mommy Wars?

Won't someone think of the children?

"Family values!" cry the Republicans. And the Democrats. And the newspapers. And the churches. And Steve Harvey. "Family values" are not the problem. The problem is men.

[+] EnlargeJohn Edwards and Elizabeth
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThings were going so well for John Edwards up until he withdrew from the presidential race in 2008 and his private life overtook his public persona.

Men. Our biggest lie is of course that we're off doing something super-complex and important. Like running an SEC football program or building the Panama Canal. We are not. We are thinking about what to eat and which of you to sleep with.

Men are not complicated. We eat, we drink, we sleep, we produce waste and we [reproduce]. Again: Eat, drink, sleep, produce waste, [reproduce]. This explains everything in human history from the invention of beer ("drink"), to the creation of government and the Hollywood studio system ("produce waste").

If Bobby Petrino had spent as much time scheming conference defenses as he did scheming marital offenses, he'd be the King of Football. And if he'd put as much effort into being married as he put into committing adultery; if he'd spent just half the ingenuity and energy and money on his wife that he lavished on his mistress, he'd be the first man in history to do so. Rather, he's a punch line, a cliché, a red-faced midlife Electra Glide cautionary tale for every horny orthodontist who ever wandered the floor of his local Harley dealership looking to buy back his youth. And for this, deep down in his lightless heart, you know he blames his wife for not giving him what "he needs."

Which is kind of the story of the whole species.

The true genius of mankind is not that we manage to raise cathedrals, write symphonies, create philosophies, travel to the moon and the stars and perfect the liver transplant -- but that we do so entirely in our spare time. Mostly, by which I mean constantly, we're figuring out how to nail the surgical nurse and where to eat after.

Sorry.*

*Especially for blaming you. And for starting and stoking those Mommy Wars. And for that whole "unequal pay for equal work" thing. And for the last couple of thousand years of marginalization. And oppression. Really, really sorry, babe. Forgive me? Did you get the flowers I sent? We'll have dinner Friday. I'll call and we'll set something up. Promise.

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