|The cover of the article's issue|
|My alma mater. Hail!|
Inspired by the SI article, which had been published two years earlier, I decided to write about the issues professional athletes face--both in the courtroom and the locker room--when confronted with a paternity lawsuit. My topic choice was validated when a prominent agent (and lawyer) came to speak to our class. Right off the bat he told us that if you want to become a sports agent, you have to become familiar with family law. Although that was over ten years ago, this issue has gotten some fresh attention recently, when it came out that New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie had fathered ten children with eight different women, including a daughter and son with his current wife.** It became a story when he struggled to name all of his kids during an episode of the HBO hit series Hard Knocks:
With Father's Day fast approaching, I thought this would be as good a time as any to dust off the old law school files and resurrect my paper (the more interesting bits, anyway), which I titled "Personal Foul: Paternity Claims Against Professional Athletes" (clever, huh?). Fortunately for you, this post (split between today and tomorrow) is not a verbatim rendering of the original--it's much shorter and I've omitted the legal speak wherever possible.
"Honey, I'm Pregnant."
Whether hoped for or completely unexpected, these three little words often elicit the same emotions--in more or less the same order: shock, excitement, fear and wonder. For the pro player, though, soon after hearing these words, several questions might pop into their heads when the woman giving them this news is not his wife. For example, if there is any doubt in his mind that he could be father:
- Should I deny paternity right away, and risk looking like an a-hole to my fans?
- If I act the "gentleman" and own up to it right away, do I hurt myself when I challenge paternity later?
- What if I don't do anything? (By the way, keeping mum until paternity is conclusively established will typically be the preference of the lawyers—to the dismay of agents and publicity reps).
Then, once paternity is established, the pro's lawyers have to wonder:
- How will a court figure out how much my client has to pay in support?
- How can we make sure that the money is best used for the child's benefit?
I know this is a touchy subject, so before we get into the legal meat of the matter, let's lay a few things on the table.
And while there are definitely cases where a player was blind (perhaps willfully so) to the potential consequences of his promiscuity, some players are well aware of the stakes, and even seem to take pride in their fathering prowess--Antonio Cromartie being an apparent example.
Now for some positives...
First, professional athletes among the most reliable at paying child support. Before you get all sentimental about it, though, the reasons for their reliability are more practical than emotional: they can usually afford to pay; they are easy to locate; and they often have lawyers, agents and/or accountants to make sure they are not delinquent in their payments.
Several NFL teams, coaches and players are taking all of this a step further and sponsoring programs that encourage all fathers—fans and players alike—to actively participate in fatherhood. One notable example should be familiar to “Reading Huddle” followers, who read Tony Dungy’s memoir, Quiet Strength.
|The Dungy Family|
Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy is a proud father and has always put family first. He started an organization called All Pro Dad, which sponsors events for fathers and their kids, including monthly local breakfasts where fathers can build memories with their children and discuss family topics with other dads. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and several current and former NFL players are active spokesmen for the organization. Visit www.allprodad.com to find events in your area.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at what happens when paternity is established and the courts have to figure out how much Daddy needs to pay in support. Plus we’ll take a look at a few cases where this very personal issue spilled over to the playing field. You don’t want to miss it!
*Grant Wahl & L. Jon Wertheim, “Paternity Ward,” Sports Illustrated, May 4, 1998.
**In a few months that number will skip to twelve, as Cromartie’s wife is pregnant with twins.