The concept of infidelity in sports isn’t exactly new but is seemingly ever-present now with the help of technology, TMZ, message boards and other instant media. Stories about Parker’s divorce, Brett Favre’s alleged racy text messages and Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s sex-extortion case are just a click, tweet and moment away.
Two stories in 2009 shook the landscape more than any other athlete-infidelity tales. In the early morning hours of July 4, Tennessee football hero Steve McNair was shot to death by his mistress, Sahel Kazemi, a 20-year-old waitress. Roughly five months later, after Thanksgiving, Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant and a tree, leading to revelation after revelation that he’d cheated on his wife, Elin Nordegren, multiple times.
After months of nonstop Tiger coverage, one would think the average athlete might learn his lesson and see Tiger as a wake-up call. But in various interviews with athletes, spouses, girlfriends and people who work closely with the professional leagues, most agreed it hasn’t prompted many lifestyle changes.
"I don’t think athletes learn by osmosis," says Randy Kessler, a high-profile family law attorney who represents athletes, celebrities and spouses. "They’re human like all of us."
Kessler, based in Atlanta, says the culture of adultery is so pervasive that he stresses to his clients that they become educated, proactive and realistic. He recently suggested to one of his NBA clients that he include a clause in his prenuptial agreement that states if his wife files for divorce because he cheated, he won’t be penalized financially.
He told the NBA player it was likely he’d cheat on his wife and it was likely he’d be caught.
"I thought he was going to hit me," Kessler says. "I thought he was going to be mad. You know what? He said, ‘I want one of those; I want a bad-boy provision.’ He already knew what it was."
Kessler says about half of his office’s 500 active cases involve adultery.
None of this surprises Steven Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State who has spent nearly 20 years studying the wives of professional athletes and what he calls "husband-oriented" sports marriages. In one study, Ortiz interviewed 47 wives married to men in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
He chalks up the pattern of behavior to a patriarchal society and what he calls "spoiled-athlete syndrome." Since childhood, he says, athletes are enabled because of their obvious talent. And in the same way the culture of celebrity is celebrated, athletic heroes are worshipped.
I was listening to a long interview one night a decade or so ago with Michael Jordan and he said that the only teammate that he knew that didnâ€™t cheat was Steve Kerr.