Execs drive careers into corners
DUI stops affect careers and charitable foundation problems affect a reputation
Designated drivers, tax returns and union by-laws. Not your cup o' tea? Read on. Your job security might depend on the lessons you'll learn. Courtside Seat takes a wild ride with a couple of sports execs, vouches for the integrity of one ex-football player and muses about NHL players' to-do list. Today, we start ...
Under The Influence
In a period of only five days, two of the sports industry's top executives, both 40 years old and already highly successful, were arrested and charged with DUI.
For Tom Lewand and Damon Evans it was handcuffs, rides in the back of a squad car, fingerprints, mug shots, hours in a jail cell, and then the horrible telephone call for a ride home. And that was only the beginning. Next it was the humiliation, the apologies and the anxiety over what will happen to what had been spectacular careers.
For Lewand, the president of the Detroit Lions whose blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit, the arrest came after a struggle with alcoholism and 18 months of sobriety. In what is known in the world of recovery as a "slip," Lewand apparently returned to drinking at a kickoff dinner for a two-day charity golf outing in which he was a headliner.
Although Lewand was frequently speechless and often appeared to be baffled by simple questions in a police video of his arrest, he managed to tell the police that he had not had a drink in 18 months.
Although the police officers were not notably impressed, Lewand's slip in his struggle for sobriety resulted in a stunning level of compassion and support from Lions owner William Clay Ford and coach Jim Schwartz.
Ford quickly and conclusively stated that the Lions would help Lewand with "this problem," and Schwartz said, "I fully support his commitment to recovery."
Lewand, who has worked for the Lions for 16 years and replaced Matt Millen as president in December 2008, in his apology described himself "as a person in active recovery" and promised he would take "all the necessary steps to insure nothing like this ever happens again."
Although Lewand's job appears to be secure, he faces charges in Roscommon County and discipline from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Lewand, who is the team's chief contract negotiator, and his legal team must now negotiate a settlement with the authorities on the DUI. With a breathalyzer reading of .21 blood alcohol and failures in roadside sobriety tests (he couldn't touch his nose with his index finger), his leverage is limited. But as a first-time offender, a settlement involving a license suspension, a fine and community service is likely.
The NFL may be a bigger problem. Goodell and the NFL take pride in the commissioner's tough policy on personal conduct. What will he do with Lewand, one of the league's top executives and an obvious favorite of Ford, an influential owner?
Lewand is the ninth NFL employee to be arrested for DUI in 2010. Even without an arrest, Goodell did not hesitate to suspend Ben Roethlisberger for six games after an alcohol-fueled and disgraceful performance in Milledgeville, Ga.
Will Goodell suspend Lewand as the Lions president works to sign the team's draft picks (only one has been signed) and prepares for training camp?
While the Lions displayed their compassion and support for Lewand, the University of Georgia and its president, Michael Adams, took a radically different approach after their married athletic director was arrested with a 28-year-old woman in his car and her red panties in his lap.
Within hours of Evans' arrest, Adams interrupted a vacation, gathered the athletic association board members who govern the Bulldogs' athletic department in a conference call early Sunday and ended Evans' career as the AD of one of the nation's top programs.
In what may be record time, Adams made the decision to dispatch Evans, put together a $237,000 severance package (Evans' salary was $550,000), and extracted a "resignation" from Evans.
It was a breathtaking fall for a guy who at age 34 became the first (and only) African-American athletic director in the Southeastern Conference and was ascending into the ranks of leadership in NCAA governance.
But Evans gave them no choice. Laughing and smiling when he stepped out of his 2009 BMW, leaving the red panties behind him in the car, Evans told the officer, "I feel pretty good."
He smelled of alcohol, his eyes were "red, bloodshot, and watery," according to the report from trooper M. Cabe.
As Cabe tried to test Evans for sobriety, Evans' companion for the evening, Courtney Fuhrmann, tried to stop the procedure. She was "very loud and obnoxious and was obviously intoxicated" and would not return to the car. Even after Cabe arrested her, handcuffed her and put her in the back of his patrol car, Fuhrmann continued to yell and scream.
When Evans finally realized he was about to be arrested (it may have been the handcuffs), he said, "I am not trying to bribe you, but I am the athletic director of the University of Georgia ... I don't want to use who I am, but I would just ask that you take me to a motel."
As trooper Cabe drove Evans and Fuhrmann to the Atlanta jail, Evans asked "if there was anything he could do to get a warning," according to Cabe's report.
"I told him 'I don't issue warnings for DUI,'" Cabe said.
What about the panties, Cabe asked Evans. According to Cabe's report, Evans replied, "She took them off and I held them because I was just trying to get her home."
In a news conference with his wife sitting in the audience, Evans said he and Fuhrmann "were just friends." But Fuhrmann told the police on the night of their arrests that she and Evans had been going together "for a week."
Until the trooper switched on the flashing lights and the siren, Evans had a future in sports without any apparent limit. But in a single evening that ended with Evans "uncontrollably crying" in the jail, he has managed to make the word "disgraced" a permanent part of his biography.
There are some teaching points in all of this. We start with two promising young sports executives. One admits he has an alcohol problem and enjoys compassion, support and a second chance. The other offers a lame explanation for the red panties, asks for special treatment because he is important and is summarily launched into what may be oblivion.
Rebuilding A Foundation
There's generosity. There's charity. There's philanthropy. And then there's Chris Zorich.
After a stellar career at Notre Dame including an undefeated season and a national championship in 1988, Zorich was drafted by his hometown team, the Chicago Bears, in the second round. In his third year with the Bears, Zorich established a foundation and began a series of breathtaking community charities that provided hundreds of turkeys at Thanksgiving, scholarships to Notre Dame and a Mother's Day extravaganza that provided queen-for-a-day treatment to 150 Chicago women.
Zorich's annual campaigns of giving back focused on rock-bottom Chicago neighborhoods, areas that Zorich knew well from his own childhood on the South Side.
Relying on churches and community organizations, Zorich found and helped people, who like his mother and himself in earlier years, were subsisting on the edge. In the history of the Chicago market, I haven't seen a sports figure do more for his community.
But in 2002, things came to an end. Zorich faced a series of personal challenges and was unable to continue the work of his foundation. The challenges included law school, failed attempts to pass the bar exam, a divorce and, finally, the death of his cousin, Barbara Singer, after a long ordeal with cervical cancer. Singer had been the executive director of the foundation and was responsible for its management, its accounting and its reporting to the IRS and to Illinois authorities.
Now, as first reported in the Chicago Tribune, the IRS and the Illinois attorney general want to know why the foundation has not filed the necessary papers and tax returns since 2002.
"I take full responsibility," Zorich told ESPN.com. "I did not know that these things had not been done. I am in the process of hiring firms that will be able to help me sort this out. All of the foundation materials are in a storage facility, and it is going to take a while."
In the last return filed with the authorities, Zorich reported a balance in the foundation of $925,332, and he says, "it is all still there, and we will do what must be done."
Zorich is now the manager of youth programming and outreach at Notre Dame and helps out the football program on contracts and game management.
It is clear that Zorich is embarrassed by the Tribune report that his foundation is in some kind of trouble, and it is equally clear that he is determined to solve the problem.
I was impressed with Zorich's foundation work between 1993 and 2002 and wrote about it from time to time. I'm also impressed with the sincerity in his voice now. He was the real thing when he was handing out turkeys, scholarships and Mother's Day gifts. He is the real thing now. And he will make this right.
When the executive board of the NHL players' association meets in Toronto on Tuesday and Wednesday, the player reps will face a daunting agenda:
• A new constitution that lays out a new governing structure for the union;
• A report from the committee that investigated the union's bizarre dismissal of former executive director Paul Kelly;
• A decision on the hiring of a new executive director.
How's that for a series of issues? It seems dramatic, even melodramatic. But for this union, it is as close to routine as the players have been in a long time. They've gone through a season-long lockout, three executive directors, the installation of a salary cap, a confounding and irritating escrow system and team bankruptcies.
Sources, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issues, say the new constitution is ready for consideration and adoption. It will establish a structure for union governance that will avoid the fragmentation of power and leadership that bedeviled Kelly.
A players' committee searching for a new executive director will, sources tell ESPN.com, report on its progress. At least two serious candidates have emerged: lawyer David Feher, who offers an impressive record of achievement in sports labor matters including eight collective bargaining agreements that involved salary caps, and Doug Allen, the former deputy director of the NFL players' association, who was instrumental in the union's highly successful litigation and negotiation in the early 1990s.
It is also possible, according to some sources, that the executive board may tap former MLB players' association chief Donald Fehr as an interim leader. Fehr has been advising the players on various issues since Kelly was fired.
The report of the committee investigating Kelly's dismissal could be embarrassing to former union officials and to some players. It's a project that has stalled occasionally but now appears to be ready for a conclusion.
At the end of the two days of meetings, there could be a new constitution and a new executive director. Some would say it's a whole new union. But, for the NHLPA, it is more like business as usual.
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.