Infidelity talk prominent among athletes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The shocking death of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair and infidelity among sports stars is the main topic of discussion among families of professional athletes.
"They can't take their mind off it," said Tisha DeShields, ex-wife of former major leaguer Delino DeShields.
McNair had been married 12 years before he was shot to death on July 4 at his condo by 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, who then turned the gun on herself. Police said Kazemi was struggling financially and suspected McNair might be involved with another lover.
DeShields, a 38-year-old Atlanta businesswoman who divorced her husband after discovering his seven-year affair, remains friends with a number of male pro athletes and their wives. She said that McNair's death is what they've been discussing.
"If this was a banker down the street, then it would just be the banker down the street," she said. "But this was one of their own, their colleague, someone they respected."
One question that comes up is will any of the athletes learn from the tragedy.
Dr. Sherry Blake called McNair's death "a wake up call" for players, but she expects most eventually will forget about the murder-suicide and return to their old habits.
"Many players have had extra affairs for years," said Blake, a clinical psychologist who practices in the Atlanta area and has counseled athletes and entertainers about the temptations of drugs, alcohol and women.
Some affairs involving marquee players have played out in public.
In 2003, NBA star Kobe Bryant -- then 24 -- admitted to adultery when accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman who worked at the exclusive Colorado spa where Bryant was staying for knee surgery. That case later was dismissed. Last year, Cynthia Rodriguez divorced Yankees star Alex Rodriguez after allegations of repeated infidelity.
One way to possibly get athletes to heed the warnings of experts is for the advice to come from their peers.
Chris Sanders, who played with McNair, says he should have been more involved in the personal life of his one-time teammate.
"I beat myself up ever since it happened," the former Tennessee Titans wide receiver said. "Maybe it was something I could have said, or maybe it was something I could have did, instead of just talking about football. Maybe the situation would have been different."
Sanders said most of pro leagues have "player development programs," designed to help with certain personal aspects of their lives, such as finances. But he said the programs don't deal enough with relationships or marriage.
The NFL discusses the potential risks in personal relationships at its annual rookie symposium each June. Each club can access the Life Skills options that include programs for managing relationships and violence against women.
"Relationship management is a critical part of what we do in Player Development," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail.
The 36-year-old McNair was an NFL veteran who had retired just 9 months before meeting Kazemi.
Blake said pro athletes -- particularly retirees -- often seek women to validate "they still got it ... although they may have the perfect set up at home."
In seeking out such women, Steven Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University, said pro athletes often fall victim to groupies -- women who make themselves accessible to the players -- and who can be quite persistent.
"It's like a fast-food sex mentality," said Ortiz, who interviewed 47 wives of pro athletes over a four-year period and is currently writing a book based on his findings.
Ortiz also said many pro athletes' desire to commit adultery stems from the preferential treatment they've received most of their lives.
"I call this the spoiled athlete syndrome," he said. "Part of the syndrome has to do with the idea that they are above any responsibility for their actions off the field."
Victor Winfrey, a former tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, agreed.
"Whenever you're dealing with men who have been put up on a pedestal and told that they're the greatest thing, and always have been admired by people, there's ... a sense of entitlement to whatever you want," he said. "It's no different than some politicians."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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STEVE McNAIR: 1973-2009
Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was found dead July 4, 2009, at age 36. He was fatally shot by a girlfriend in a murder-suicide, according to police.