- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The first inclination might be to mock the Jacksonville Jaguars upon learning they’ve added marriage to their formula for evaluating free agents. Apparently, new owner Shahid Khan, general manager Gene Smith and rookie coach Mike Mularkey want men who are good husbands as well as good players.

“If you’re happy at home with your wife at home, I think the energy level is higher,” Mularkey told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s very important to me. There’s a lot that goes with being married. I just believe the happier you are with your wife, the happier you are on the field. I really believe that.”

When the initial impulse to mock the Jags subsides, it might be followed by smirking or outright laughter. Some of the game’s greatest players are single or less-than-ideal spouses. And it’s impossible to know the real status of a marriage, as facades can conceal turmoil.


That said, it’s understandable why teams in markets such as Jacksonville might prefer players who are married and supposedly settled. Slower, sleepier outposts have less to offer singles in search of nightlife activity. Players who have all the action they want at home might be more content with the limited options, as opposed to bachelors who might become frustrated.

But the Jaguars are incredibly Pollyanna if they’re using marital status as a major factor in personnel decisions. There’s no scientific evidence on the correlation between marriage and performance or bachelorhood and market size. Besides, single players who crave hustle and bustle won’t sign with the likes of Jacksonville unless there’s no other choice or the offer blows them away.

However, Jacksonville’s decision to recruit the wives as well as their free agent husbands makes sense.

Former Dallas Cowboys wideout Laurent Robinson, who signed with Jacksonville last month, never brought his wife on other visits and teams never invited her. But the Jaguars requested her presence. They gave her a tour of the facilities, took her to the beach with Mularkey’s wife and arranged for a massage at the hotel. They did likewise with Brittany Henne before signing former Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne.

“I never planned to go,” Kat Robinson said in the article. “They asked him to bring me. We’ve been in the league five years; I never knew of anything like that.”

I’m surprised if every team doesn’t try to curry favor with wives and include them in free agent pitches. Better halves can be instrumental in the decision-making process, especially on close calls. If she’s pleased with the choice, life can be a lot easier for the husband. Conversely, as the saying goes, “if momma’s not happy, no one’s happy.”

Certainly some wives prefer the recreational and cultural options available in the big city. Shopping and dining in New York — in-between Broadway plays and other attractions — probably appeals to more than a few. Even if Eli Manning’s wife, Abby, didn’t work in the fashion industry, she might prefer New York over Jacksonville.

I’m all in favor of marriage, having been part of the institution for nearly 22 years. And I don’t blame Jacksonville for considering more than on-the-field performance when deciding which free agents to pursue. But it’s a bit troubling if single players are deemed inferior and weeded out on that basis. I hope Smith isn’t making value judgments based on marital status.

“I can only speak from personal experience,” he said in the article. “When my wife came into my life, she made me a better person. I think you start looking at things in a more responsible way, and you actually have an intrinsic reason to come home.”

Since he doesn’t know for certain what takes place between leaving home and coming home — let alone what happens at home — Smith shouldn’t put too much weight on marriage certificates.

From a former Arkansas football coach, to a former No. 1 golfer and countless other public (and private) figures, we know appearances can be deceiving.