In other sports, baseball’s Gary Sheffield and Juan Gonzalez, along with former greats Jim Palmer, Steve Garvey and Pete Rose, have been hit with paternity suits. The NFL names include Andre Rison and Alonzo Spellman; hockey, Mark Messier; boxing, Oscar de la Hoya; and tennis, Roscoe Tanner.
Sports Illustrated’s Sandy Bailey joins us to discuss the story.
Paul Crane: Sandy, before we lay this at the doorstep of athletes only, how much does this problem mirror that of society as a whole?
Sandy Bailey: I think it is a problem in society. As you pointed out, 32 percent of children in this country are born out of wedlock and that’s up tremendously–it was only 18 percent in 1980. So it is a problem in society but, by all the anecdotal evidence, it is an even greater problem in sports.
PC: And why is the incidence of this problem so much higher in the NBA than in other sports?
SB: That’s very hard to say. We suggested a few possible reasons. If the athletes view that there are a lot of women out there sort of looking for them, it’s certainly true that NBA athletes are much more identifiable than athletes in other sports. For one thing, they’re taller–these guys are 7-feet tall in many cases. They’re also athletes whose faces are very familiar to us; they don’t wear hats like baseball players, they don’t wear helmets like football players. They’re very visible. They have a lot of free time on their hands with their roadtrips and also their salaries are the highest. As far as exactly why, it’s very difficult to say.
PC: This should be such a private and personal issue–should we really care about the private lives of sports figures?
SB: Whether we should or shouldn’t, I think we do, in this country in particular, care very, very much about celebrities in general. And I do think that in these particular cases you’re talking about children–we’re trying to look at the impact that this has on their lives, we’re looking at the impact this has on the women involved and also the guys. In numerous cases we found, some of these activities reach a point where they impact the actual on-the-court, on-the-field performance. We talk about one NFL player, Dave Meggett–one of his paternity cases reached a point where the New England Patriots had to have one of their executives work with him and Meggett was served with papers before a game. You don’t think that impacts the team?