In his introductory press conference as Colorado's new head coach, Mike MacIntyre did something that has grown increasingly common: he pointed to his wife, literally, and used her as proof he can recruit.
Mike MacIntyre asked his wide Trisha to stand up: "Looking at her, you can definitely tell I can recruit."— Kyle Ringo (@KyleRingo) December 10, 2012
You can see the moment Ringo relates in the video of MacIntyre's press conference at about the 44:00 mark. (You'll probably have to zoom to 43:03 and let it play.)
It's just the latest example of coaches using the ability to convince women to enter into consensual sexual life partnerships with them as evidence that they can convince 17-year-old boys to choose to play football for them: James Franklin trotted out a riff on the tactic this summer, and Lane Kiffin's wife has long been used as evidence of his recruiting acumen.
There's a chance, maybe a good one, that these are all mostly jokes designed to flatter their wives. But even the jokes mostly serve to flatter the coaches, who get a room full of people laughing at both the sitcom-ready premise that an unremarkable man can marry a beautiful woman and the idea that that has anything to do with recruiting.
Call it Hot Wife Theory. And describe Hot Wife Theory for what it is: unfunny, objectifying, patriarchal, heteronormative, weirdly racial, and one of the worst things about college football.
Let's go point for point on this.
If Hot Wife Theory is purely a joke, it's not a good one
I wonder if Trisha Macintyre was told that she would be used as a prop in yesterday's press conference; her sort of grimace and head shake in the video suggests she didn't really enjoy it. I doubt she was even warned, and though I'd bet that there are occasional conversations between coaches and their wives that touch on the idea that wives are used as recruiting tools, it strains credulity to think that the women have the agency in that decision.
Many of the women I know would blanch at the idea of being used as evidence of their significant other's salesmanship -- which is how Trisha MacIntyre was used -- even in close company. I can't imagine their reactions to being put on display as that evidence in public.
Further, the fraternity of college football media members doesn't have enough women in its ranks (yet) to make the audience for jokes like this less, not more, receptive. The lack of women on the football beat helps things like this quote get passed around like funny jokes and not cringe-worthy shows of sexism.
And yet someone in that Colorado presser said, "I can't think of a better note to end on," after that bit, which, yikes.
Hot Wife Theory is objectifying
Speaking of being "put on display": my SB Nation colleague Bomani Jones made a great point about this at the time.
whenever the words "set" and "out" appropriately describe what you did to your wife, you went about it the wrong way.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) December 11, 2012
Mike MacIntryre set his wife out as, at best, either a punchline or a piece of evidence. Without having seen a picture of her until I started writing this article, I had no idea what she looked like, but the context clue that she could stand (and was therefore not disabled) and was being used by a white male college football coach as a prop led me to believe she conformed to a certain American standard of beauty. Either watch the video or look at the picture of the MacIntyre family in the 2008 Duke media guide and you'll get your confirmation: Trisha MacIntyre is tall and blonde, which is enough to signal to everyone present at a Colorado news conference that she's a "catch."
Coaches too often use their wives as props that convey, "she's a catch," based on physical appearance alone, and do not give any clue that a woman should be valued as more than a piece of physical evidence. That's classic objectifying.
Hot Wife Theory is patriarchal
Sports fans don't often come into contact with the word "patriarchy" -- it's not one of Skip Bayless' favorite topics -- but it loosely means, "a social system in which power is primarily held by adult men." American society is basically a (white) patriarchy, and sports are patriarchal, and college football, especially, is a patriarchy: coaches serve as father figures to scores of young men and don't even necessarily have to be benevolent rulers, with the idea that the ability to get a team of football players to win as many games as possible is the single most valuable ability for a man to have.
That ability isn't exactly applicable to women, of course, because women coaching football are so vanishingly rare -- Virginia high school football coach Natalie Randolph is essentially it at the moment -- and because football is often understood as a man's game, in so many words. But while patriarchal merely describes football as an artifact of the society that birthed it, as feminists can tell you, institutions that are rigidly patriarchal are often negative for everyone but the few who benefit from being atop it, and those few are blind to their own faults.
Hot Wife Theory seems normal, even logical to people who name websites Outkick the Coverage (which presents the idea that men should strive to date/have sex with/marry women more attractive than them) and assemble slideshows that judge coaches "on the kind of tail they pull": "Of course Coach Whistle is gonna get five-stars to Tech State A&M," fans think, "Just look at his smokin' wife!" That's just more evidence that it's part of the dominant patriarchal ideology of the day.
But there are differences, massive ones, between dating and recruiting (for one, I sure as hell hope coaches aren't trying to convince recruits to start families with them), and they play into both the patriarchal nature of Hot Wife Theory and some of its racist implications.
Hot Wife Theory is heteronormative
I initially called Hot Wife Theory "moronic" and "heteronormative" on Twitter, and I got a bit of pushback from @heymarnold, who suggested that it wasn't heteronormative, just objectifying. I think a simple reversibility test helps show why it's both: would a gay coach be able to make the same point about his husband and have it received in the same way?
I doubt it, and I think that kind of proves the point he made: gay men and women experience the same attraction to their sex and life partners that heterosexual men do, but it's a woman's conformity to a heterosexual male standard of beauty that is the basis of the claims made based on Hot Wife Theory. And that's norming heterosexuality, hence it's heteronormative.
Hot Wife Theory has weird racial implications
At the core of Hot Wife Theory is this idea: if a coach has a hot wife, that coach is good at things that will make him a good recruiter. To be fair, there are skills common to both courtship and recruiting: persistence and communication skills serve suitors in both contexts well, and honesty and sensitivity aid with the building of a relationship. And the essential goal of both establishing a relationship and recruiting a single prospect are the same: finding the absolute right person to fit a role.
But coaches (usually) only end up with one wife for one role; coaches have to recruit 20 to 30 players in a year, sometimes recruiting more than one to play the same role, and those roles have (must have) nothing to do with sex or family-building. Partners in relationships tend to care very deeply about their sexual attraction to their partners; coaches tend to pay no mind to how recruits look if they can play football well. Finding a good wife is ultimately something done for personal fulfillment and satisfaction, not the professional success that recruiting is performed for, and there's no NCAA to regulate how courtship happens.
As with most things about college football, though, the most important difference means there's a racial component to consider. College football coaches, a cohort made up mostly of white men, holding up their ability to marry attractive wives (who are mostly white women) as a skill equivalent to their ability to recruit football players, who happen to be mostly black men: is that suggesting that college football coaches can or should treat recruits like their wives and vice versa? Does that put both white women and black men on a lower rung than white men?
Within college football, which has all sorts of complicated issues with race, it's especially hard to divorce issues from race. And the implication that white men in positions of power have extraordinary amounts of privilege, enabling them to define and deploy things like Hot Wife Theory that reinforce their power and diminish others, doesn't sound like it's an exception.
So what can we do about Hot Wife Theory?
When I say that Hot Wife Theory is one of the worst things about college football, I say that because I love college football like few other things in life, and because I'd like it to ditch Hot Wife Theory like a too-small shirt. (I'd also like it to not have some of the other worst things about it -- fealty to amateurism that leaves players without actual pay for their work and at the mercy of the NCAA's star chamber, clunky bureaucracies and winning-over-everything mentalities like the ones that combined to fail to stop a tragedy at Penn State, and the concussions that plague all levels of football -- but this is a column, not a book.)
I think ridding college football of Hot Wife Theory requires forcing coaches to be honest about what they are trying to say when they compare courtship and recruiting as a first step. There are ways to be honest and quotable about being good at recruiting without using a woman as an example or the butt of a joke; Will Muschamp's found a decent one in, "Recruiting's kind of like shaving: if you miss a day, you look like a bum."
Of course, making the homeless the butt of a joke has some issues, too, especially for a coach in Gainesville, which has serious issues with homelessness, but forcing coaches to be constantly accountable for what they say and do in their positions of power is probably the second step, and one that has clearly been necessary for this and other reasons for years and years.
Granted, I'm reading a lot into one remark by MacIntyre, but he also said, "That's why I coach college football. ... I enjoy mentoring young people," in his presser, and he and other coaches influence many, many people merely by wearing windbreakers and blowing whistles. That, a pretty common sentiment among coaches, invites reading a lot into remarks, and challenging the job of mentoring MacIntyre and other coaches do.
The third step, though, requires years and decades of work to chip away at calcified power structures that have perpetuated bad ideas. That isn't easy work, and it's certainly not appealing work: consider how few people wanted to engage with an accusation by former Colorado coach Bill McCartney that racism played a part in Jon Embree's firing, preferring to note that Embree deserved to get fired regardless of his race instead of acknowledging the possibility that Embree deserved to get fired and race might have played a role.
But one of the best ways to mothball Hot Wife Theory, specifically, may well be one of the easiest: pointing out that even the coaches who would be prime examples of its accuracy aren't exactly good at their jobs because of it should do plenty to undermine it.
That's the Lane Kiffin Corollary: no one will care one bit about how well a coach uses Hot Wife Theory if his team is a hot mess, and the lamentable use of people as props will look idiotic if Coach Whistle can't at least make up for personal failings with wins. If winning makes Hot Wife Theory forgettable, losing should make it unforgivable.