Brandon Jacobs’ Non-Apology to Gisele, And the Sexism of Silencing Athletes’ Wives

I suppose it’s nice for New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs to apologize for telling Gisele Bunchen, the model who is married to New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, that rather than expressing her upset about the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss that “She just needs to continue to stay cute and shut up.” But I’d rather he apologize to Gisele than to Brady:

“Given the fact that it’s a colleague of mine’s wife, I do apologize for saying that, because I shouldn’t have said that,” Jacobs said of Tom Brady’s spouse in an interview on “The Doug Gottlieb Show.” “It’s his wife and I should respect that just as much as anyone else.”…However, while Jacobs apologized for telling Bundchen to hush up, he refused to express any remorse about calling her cute, saying that Brady should “take that as a compliment.” “If he finds something wrong with that, then that’s his problem.”

Which means he really doesn’t get what he did, and why it was wrong. Jacobs’ comments were obnoxious not because he was impugning Tom Brady’s wife. They were obnoxious because they implied that the role of a woman was to be attractive, rather than to have opinions. The question is not whether Tom Brady has a problem with his wife being reduced to her looks. It’s whether Gisele does.

And I’ve honestly been dismayed by the idea that Gisele is obligated by contract or custom not to speak ill of her husband’s teammates or the team’s performance. Tom Brady is her husband, not her keeper. She is an independent woman who makes an income that does not leave her dependent on the Patriots. Whether she speaks publicly about his work is a matter for their marriage, not our judgement.

It’s an attitude that treats women who are married to athletes as if they’re like another set of women who are often treated as if they’re helpmeets first, and individuals second: political wives. No matter how accomplished Gisele or Hillary Clinton are in their own fields, as long as their husbands are or were preeminent figures in their fields, what Tom or Bill were up to was understood to be the priority—no matter what role those men feel comfortable having their wives take on. God forbid Gisele have opinions about football. God forbid Hillary have something to add on health care. I understand that it makes strategic sense, given the persistent and virulent sexism directed at women in politics, particularly those cast as if they’re malevolent powers behind the throne, for political wives to take on anodyne issues that are removed from the substance of the political mainstream. But that norm isn’t something we should be proud of.