Entertainment And News

At Midlife, Gisele Bündchen Is Finally Coming Into Her Own

Photo: Arezzo Brasil - YouTube, CC BY 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons
Gisele Bündchen

Whether you’re into sports or not, it’s hard to drown out news of the divorce of supermodel Gisele Bündchen and NFL quarterback Tom Brady. Married since 2009, and with two children of their own, 12 and 9, as well as Brady’s 15-year-old son with his former partner Bridget Moynahan, they seemed like The Perfect Couple™.

RELATED: Divorce Lawyer Stirs Debate After Revealing The Top Profession A Man Should Avoid Marrying Into

Until they weren’t.

Like many sports wives, Bündchen dialed back her fashion career to support her husband and his career and to raise their children.

She spent the 2010s living in Boston when Brady was with the New England Patriots and then moved to Tampa when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. He announced his retirement in February — something she was eager for — but six weeks later, the 45-year-old changed his mind and committed to at least one more season, shocking many.

Which gets us to where we are now — divorce.

Like many women in midlife, Bündchen, 42, believes that she has done her best to support her husband and children and is ready to refocus on herself, or at least that’s what she told Elle Magazine.

“I’ve done my part, which is [to] be there for [Tom]. I moved to Boston, and I focused on creating a cocoon and a loving environment for my children to grow up in and to be there supporting them and their dreams. Seeing my children succeed and become the beautiful little humans that they are, seeing him succeed, and being fulfilled in his career — it makes me happy. At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve done a good job on that. I have a huge list of things that I have to do, that I want to do. At 42, I feel more connected with my purpose.”

But Bündchen is no ordinary middle-aged wife seeking some “me” time— she’s the wife to a sports superstar. And while that may sound glamorous, it comes at a cost, or so says Steven M. Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University and author of The Sports Marriage: Women Who Make It Work.

Being a sports wife in a hyper-masculine culture of male professional sports is a life of subordination, he says.

RELATED: 16 Subtle Signs Of Divorce — From A Woman Who Missed Them All During Her Marriage

To be clear, not every sports pro is married, and not every sports pro is heterosexual. That said, Ortiz writes that “the fundamental nature of the heteronormative marriage has not changed as a marital institution, even when the husband is nationally or internationally celebrated” and that pro players today face more demands in part because of their multi-million salaries, which puts more stress on their marriage.

In addition to frequent moves and separations during the sports season that force them to manage all the household and parenting responsibilities, sports wives must live with the intense media scrutiny, invasions of privacy, team loyalties that outweigh marital loyalties, disruptions caused by their husbands’ injuries all while cutting back or giving up their own career.

As Rachel Terrill, wife of former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Craig Terrill who did her dissertation on NFL wives writes:

“To be a ‘good NFL wife,’ you have to give 100% of who you are to your husband. You cannot depend on him, particularly during the NFL season, but he should be able to depend on you — for everything.”

Obviously, many women are willing to make those sacrifices for the huge financial perks and privileges as well as status.

And Brady acknowledges that Bündchen has made many sacrifices for him.

Yet no matter how many sports wives enjoy the excitement and privilege of being involved in their husband’s profession and career success, many like Bündchen look forward to the day when they finally retire, eager to have their life become more “normal,” he writes.

But many sports pros deal with mental and physical health issues in retirement as well as financial issues. And because of the physical demands of a career in pro sports, players retire when they’re young.

It seems highly unlikely that Brady and Bündchen would deal with financial issues in his retirement — they’re reportedly worth at least $250 million and likely more. But she might not be immune from the realities of post-career care work, as Ortiz details in a new study, “Women Caring for Retired Men: A Continuation of Inequality in the Sports Marriage.”

“They felt ill-equipped to cope with the more severe consequences of their husbands’ career choice and what it meant for their own lives. Although their husbands and family members seemed to take their care work for granted, they had doubts about their caregiving abilities and suffered varying degrees of internal conflict and guilt related to their feeling of inadequacy.”

RELATED: I Left My Husband For A Married Man — But He Never Left His Wife

Many of the patterns of care that got sports wives through their husband’s career can’t easily be abandoned in retirement, especially if he retires with chronic, debilitating, and progressive physical and mental-emotional health issues, as many sports pros do.

In fact, he cites that NFL players have an elevated risk of developing long-term neurological disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.

All of that demands intensive caregiving. And while the wives often joke off their husband’s injuries, they are aware that their husband’s caregiving needs are going to increase as they age, causing them fear and anxiety.

Brady recently talked about his ongoing mental health challenges. But as a sports pro who has taken 543 sacks — more quarterback hits than any player in NFL history — Brady is likely to develop health issues such as osteoarthritis as he ages.

And although Bündchen thought that in Brady’s retirement she would finally be “getting what she asked for,” they may have ended up divorced anyway — the divorce rate for NFL players is between 60 and 80 percent, comparable to athletes in other sports, often just two years out of retirement.

Bündchen says as a soon-to-be-divorced woman, she’s devoting herself to helping and bringing attention to her native country Brazil’s ecosystems.

“There are so many things I’m working on, I’ll be here the entire day talking about it…. I feel very fulfilled, as a mother and as a wife. And now it’s going to be my turn.”

In truth, if Brady had retired and they stayed married, it may not have been her turn after all.

RELATED: Tom Brady & Gisele Bundchen's Marriage May Rest On One Crucial Decision

Vicki Larson is an award-winning journalist, and author of Not Too Old for That: How Women are Changing the Story of Aging and the co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels.

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.