Why is infidelity a part of the pro sports lifestyle?

Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 1:11am

For Brad Hopkins, the news of Steve McNair’s murder began with questions.

“When I first started getting texts it was … ‘Is what happened to Steve true?’” the former Tennessee Titans’ left tackle said. “My first thought was he was sick or maybe there was an incident (related to) drinking or something.”

It was not long before he discovered that McNair was shot to death on July 4 and was found with a 20-year-old woman, who also died violently.

The investigation into the events surrounding the incident soon determined that McNair and the woman, Sahel Kazemi, were in “a dating relationship.” McNair, however, was a married man with four children.

That’s when the questions began for many of those who cheered the quarterback during his playing days and who admired a public life that included football camps, charity work and — most recently — a restaurant designed to offer a unique dining experience for those on a budget.

How can a man be in a relationship with one woman yet married to another? Were there other women? What did his wife know or think?

The truth is that, for professional athletes, infidelity is often a part of the lifestyle, albeit one that routinely is overlooked or ignored by those who idolize their competitive achievements, not to mention usually left unreported, except when additional factors make it impossible to ignore.

‘Culture of adultery’

In a 2001 presentation to the American Sociological Association, Steven Ortiz, an associate sociology professor at Oregon State University, discussed the “culture of adultery” with which wives of professional athletes must contend. His conclusion was the result of interviews with wives of 47 players in the four major professional sports — football, baseball, basketball and hockey.

“If you’re a man walking this earth, you’re tempted regardless,” former Titans’ running back Eddie George said. “It certainly magnifies those situations, being in the position of an athlete. But if you’re a man, whether you’re a politician, janitor, athlete, it doesn’t matter. You’re always going to be tempted.

“Steve is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last man to be in this situation. Unfortunately, in (his) situation, it magnifies it that much more.”

The atmosphere in which pro athletes live and work widely was considered off limits to the general public until former major league pitcher Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four, which included a memorable passage about how he and his New York Yankees’ teammates gathered on a hotel roof peering through windows into the rooms of women.

The late Wilt Chamberlain famously estimated in his autobiography, A View From Above, that he slept with 20,000 women, including more than a dozen in a single day. Of course, Wilt never married, once even suggesting the reason was that he knew he couldn’t remain faithful to one woman.

In recent years, details of athletes’ off-the-field lives increasingly have been revealed through court actions.

Seventeen members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, some of them married, were prosecuted for their actions during a so-called “sex cruise” in the fall of 2005. In the mid-1990s multiple players for the Dallas Cowboys used a house near the team’s training facility leased by one of them to engage in a full range of self-indulgent activities.

Spouses also have told the tales — via some high-profile divorce cases. The wife of baseball star Alex Rodriguez cited her “husband’s extramarital affairs” as the reason for her filing.

After NBA star Jason Kidd filed for divorce, his wife counter-sued and alleged a long list of affairs on his part.

The wrong ideas

“The love of the fans — it’s them cheering you, that’s what drives us,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes that attention can get misconstrued and people take from certain circumstances and situations — sometimes — the wrong idea. You get caught up in things like that, and unfortunately it progresses a lot faster than you can ever imagine — like a wildfire.”

It doesn’t help that there is no shortage of those who potentially could light that fire.

Distractions that can limit an athlete’s attention and time devoted to his family are plentiful — almost constant — even when he is in public with that family.

“A lot of people swarm celebrities just because they want to be seen or known or talked to,” Stephanie Haynesworth, wife of former Titans’ and current Washington Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, said. “… It’s not just women. It’s men. It’s kids. It’s grandpas wanting autographs for their grandsons.

“Situations happen, (and) it definitely puts your marriage in the spotlight.”

Stephanie and Albert Haynesworth are currently separated, but according to Stephanie, “We get along great. So, we’ll see.”

In the days that followed McNair’s murder, no evidence — legal or anecdotal — emerged to suggest his marriage was failing or on the verge of ending. Family members and friends described McNair’s widow, Mechelle, as “very upset” and “distraught.”

Still, for those who played with McNair the shock of his passing was not enhanced by the nature of his relationship to Kazemi.

“Steve was a phenomenal individual who was not impervious to making human mistakes,” Hopkins said. “I don’t think that anybody should ever look past the remarkable things he did on the field, but he’s not remembered and not the focus of all this (scrutiny) because he’s this great character husband and because he never made mistakes.

“I am not one to judge anybody, any man, because I — like many other people — have made so many mistakes in my life. But I’m still here to rectify those situations. Unfortunately, he is not. … Steve’s only albatross right now is that he cannot make up for a mistake that he might have made.”


9 Comments on this post:

By: pandabear on 7/9/09 at 7:24

Anyone who starts throwing stones at Steve McNair is a hypocrite.

He was a great guy and didn't deserve to go out like that.


By: tnbikers on 7/9/09 at 7:47

Like a columnist said, "they keep calling it a mistake".
It was a choice. A mistake is something that is "discovered". If it wasn't discovered it would not be a mistake!

By: sidneyames on 7/9/09 at 8:11

You said: "The truth is that, for professional athletes, infidelity is often a part of the lifestyle, albeit one that routinely is overlooked or ignored by those who idolize their competitive achievements, not to mention usually left unreported, except when additional factors make it impossible to ignore" and I can assure you that you are wrong. It is not JUST professional athletes. Bill Clinton comes to mind; Brad Pitt comes to mind; and a host of other political, media, preachers and just plain folks come to mind. The problem is that it is, as tnbikers said, not a "MISTAKE" but rather it is a personal choice. And then there are the women involved. Deprived and/or depraved, they think that they can get something they don't have by stealing another woman's husband. Or maybe they just like the thrill of the chase; the sport, if you will. And as your article so aptly states, we live in a "culture of adultry". Well, of course. Look at the median age of the culprits. When did we take God out of our schools and our lives? At least we could be accountable to Him before. Now there's no one holding us accountable. Not even the law. After all, a marriage contract is a contract. Too bad we can't sue or prosecute the interlopers. I feel sorry for Steve that he got shot while sleeping. Maybe he should have kept one eye open on that wacko who wanted him. And I'm happy for the other "other" woman that "Jenny" didn't catch her, or else we'd have another victim.

By: Ravendove on 7/9/09 at 9:34

Please help me understand the message this article is trying to present, because it sounds a lot like you're saying it's OK to cheat on your wife as long as you're a football star. Saying things like he wasn't the first and won't be the last doesn't really make a difference for his wife. He's the only one she was married to. I've certainly had my share of opportunities to cheat on my wife but I've been faithful. Making excuses because he was a football star is just unfathomable. He wasn't a "great man" because he was a football player. Volunteer firefighters are "great people". Emergency medical personnel and Search and Rescue teams are "great people". A guy who's good at playing a game is not comparable to a "great man" and "great things" are not accomplished on a football "PLAYING" field.
He died a cheater, now let's get back to some real news. For instance, whatever happened to that disabled firefighter who was losing his home. You know, the one who became disabled by being a firefighter and who didn't get front page status for three full days like an idolized, adulterous football player.

By: frankbrown on 7/10/09 at 6:49

You cannot confine infidelity to those in professional sports.

Infidelity is rampant among the handsome,the rich, the beautiful and those with high visibility.

The only reason it is not rampant among the rest of the population is that they are too fat and too ugly and unappealing.

By: NonyaBidness on 7/10/09 at 8:15

You nailed it frankbrown. It really is that simple. Poor, unattractive people have trouble enough attracting one partner, let alone many. Monogamy is hard (for men and women), and the more opportunities one has, the more likely they are to break marriage (or other) vows. Doesn't make it right, but it's not the worst crime in the world either. I think a lot of marriages that could otherwise be saved are destroyed because of the intense social stigma this society attaches to infidelity. Yes, monogamy in marriage or other partnerships should be the goal, but if slip ups and indiscretions weren't so stigmatized, then more couples would be able to reconcile and forgive.

By: 5263 on 7/10/09 at 8:14

He didn't break "man's law" - he broke God's law - remember the Ten Commandments - "Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery". If he had been home with his family, he would most likely be alive and well today. Indeed, he was a great football player and indeed he did give back to the community BUT he did sin in God's eye.

By: courier37027 on 7/12/09 at 4:06

Sunday's Braves at Rockies game, AFLAC trivia question, "How many All-Star Game MVPs are at today's game?"

One announcer reels off some names and likelihood, "Don Baylor, maybe. Terry Pendleton, probably not. Steve Garvey, well I don't see many kids running around the stadium." Microphones go silent for about twenty seconds. Apparently one of the announcers though that so funny he had to cut off the mic to cover laughing.

By: localboy on 7/14/09 at 8:36

Although he was a star on the field and an activist off of it, ultimately Mr. McNair made a choice, and he chose poorly. He died guilty of adultery, and while the young lady committed the most horrible of crimes, Mr. McNair committed a crime, too.