Athlete-celebrity power couples have long been part of American culture, going as far back as former New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio and film star Marilyn Monroe in the early 1950s. Back then tabloids tirelessly covered the Yankee Clipper and former Playboy pinup girl and actress, paving the way for the celebrity-driven, TMZ culture of today.
The latest example of the entertainment and sports worlds colliding is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and R&B singer Ciara Harris, who tied the knot earlier this month in England after a year-long, very public courtship.
However, one of the biggest differences between the two power couples, besides the 50-year time gap and the easy access provided by the internet of celebrity gossip sites, is that Wilson is still in the heart of his career while DiMaggio was retired three years before marrying Monroe, so Yankee fans never saw the relationship have an adverse effect on his play.
As the Seahawks enter the 2016 season as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, Wilson could join a number of mega-star athletes who have seen their play drop off considerably after uniting with a fellow celebrity.
It’s a concern the Seahawks have technically addressed, albeit in a veiled way with no direct mention of Ciara. Last season, when defending NFC champion Seattle had gone 4-5 through their first nine games, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported the Seahawks thought Wilson had “changed his approach” to the season and was becoming more of a “celebrity QB.” That came one year after Mortensen’s report on a divide growing in Seattle’s locker room due to teammates’ alleged “envy” of Wilson’s endorsement deals.
In fairness, Wilson and the Seahawks, who were built around a dominate defense that deserves just as much criticism for the team’s poor start last season, recovered to win six of their last seven games with the quarterback launching 24 touchdowns to one interception.
Money is one factor that cannot be ruled out for Wilson or any other major athlete. Before the 2015 season, Wilson and the Seahawks worked out a long-brewing contract extension that included $61.5 million in guarantees, and there’s a far longer list of athletes who have seen a drop in production after inking a new lucrative contract than athlete-celebrity power couples.
Still, the extra attention the Wilsons are likely to garner is nothing new and it’s touched almost every major sport around the world. Another major example comes from the NFL almost 10 years ago, between Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and singer and reality television star Jessica Simpson.
Romo and Simpson began their year-and-a-half relationship in November 2007, smack in the middle of the Cowboys 13-3 season, which is still the highest win total of Romo’s career. But the following year, Romo’s production tumbled. He threw 10 fewer touchdowns, nearly 800 fewer yards, and his passer rating dropped by six points.
In March 2009, former teammate Terence Newman called out Romo, claiming the relationship with Simpson was affecting his play and preparation. Romo and Simpson would split in July 2009.
“I think that with the situation Tony was in, I think that kind of maybe hurt him a little bit — being a first-year starter, then you have the limelight with his girlfriend and situations of that nature,” Newman said. “It’s going to take away from him being a quarterback, being a successful quarterback.
“He won 13 games and everything was perfect, but now after this past season, it was, ‘Is he doing enough for the team? Is he working hard enough? You know, he’s got this girlfriend, so …’ I think that once he inherited the starting quarterback job and his relationship got into the national media attention, I think that that was something that definitely hurt and took away from Tony Romo being a great quarterback.”
Players from other team sports have also seen declining results on the field while dating a celebrity. Former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp began seeing R&B songstress Rihanna and the up-and-coming All-Star went from garnering MVP votes in 2009 to having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career in 2010.
Kemp would hit .249 with 170 strikeouts—both career-worst numbers. The pair dated for nearly all of 2010 but the relationship reportedly ended because Kemp “wanted something more normal” rather than “following after her like a puppy dog all over the world.” In 2011, Kemp enjoyed the best statistical season of his career.
A celebrity relationship can negatively impact professional players in Europe, as well. The marriage of David and Victoria Beckham may have directly led to the soccer star's departure from Manchester United, according to former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
In an autobiography published in 2013, Ferguson wrote David Beckham “chose to be famous” and eventually believed he was “bigger” than the manager. Ferguson would sell Beckham off to Real Madrid in 2003 after claiming six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, and one Champions League crown with Beckham as the featured star.
"David was the only player I managed who chose to be famous, who made it his mission to be known outside the game," Ferguson wrote according to BBC. "I felt uncomfortable with the celebrity aspect of his life."
Ferguson also added in a press conference to promote the book: "He fell in love with Victoria - that changed everything."
Of course, there are examples of superstar athletes who haven’t missed a beat while dating or marrying a celebrity, and Wilson can take note of one of his most successful peers. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wed former Victoria Secret supermodel Gisele Bundchen in 2009 after dating for three years, and after a long relationship with actress Bridget Moynahan. Brady and Moynahan dated for roughly two years and have a son together.
Brady posted his best statistical season in first year with Bundchen, and it was among the all-time great seasons for any quarterback. He fired off a then-record 50 touchdowns and nearly led New England to a perfect record and Super Bowl title. After a major knee injury forced Brady to miss all of the 2008 season, he’s made the Pro Bowl seven straight times and led the Patriots to two Super Bowls, winning one in 2014.
Brady and Bundchen’s marriage did reportedly weather a very difficult 2015, which revolved around the NFL’s never-ending “Deflategate” scandal and E! News reporting Bundchen felt Brady was taking his frustrations out on her. Still Brady would lead New England back to the AFC Championship game.