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Paternity Ward
Grant Wahl
May 04, 1998
Fathering out-of-wedlock kids has become commonplace among athletes, many of whom seem oblivious to the legal, financial and emotional consequences
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May 04, 1998

Paternity Ward

Fathering out-of-wedlock kids has become commonplace among athletes, many of whom seem oblivious to the legal, financial and emotional consequences

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It is an inescapable truth: Professional athletes have a lot of sexual opportunities, and probably always have. Tales about Babe Ruth's escapades came long before the outrageous boastings of Wilt Chamberlain or the laments of Magic Johnson. And the flip attitude toward unplanned fatherhood is hardly a new phenomenon in the sports world. Consider this quote from boxer Max Baer after losing the heavyweight championship to James J. Brad-dock in 1935: "Well, he's got a wife and children. Maybe I got children too, out over the country, only I don't know it."

Some experts contend that sports' competitive environment encourages athletes to try to prove their masculinity through sexual conquests. "In the world of sports, physical and sexual prowess play a big role," says Elijah Anderson, a sociology professor at Penn who specializes in urban culture. "The physical emphasis, the independence, the doing of battle with other men all underscore the male identity and dominance."

The consequences of this mentality can affect athletes and their teams. Take the case of Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kemp, who is not married but who, at 28, has fathered seven children, according to Gerald Phillips, an attorney who represented him in a paternity suit filed by Charlotte Osuna, the mother of Kemp's two-year-old daughter, Dominique. (Osuna says that Kemp told her that five other women have also borne his children.) A source with the Seattle SuperSonics told SI that Kemp's well-publicized meltdown while playing for Seattle last year resulted primarily from the increasing pressures of paternity and child-support obligations, not a drinking problem, as was reported at the time. In the season's final two months, Kemp missed or was late to practice five times, including three times in a seven-day stretch in April. It was then, Osuna says, that paternity-related issues weighed heavily on Kemp. "It was, like, every other day somebody was delivering a total bomb to him," she says. Kemp averaged 21.3 points and 11.0 rebounds a game before the All-Star break, but 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds after it. The Sonics, who had hoped to return to the NBA Finals, lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Houston Rockets.

During a press conference shortly before the playoffs last year, Kemp denied charges of alcoholism and blamed his erratic behavior on unspecified "personal problems." He did not mention his out-of-wedlock children. "It wasn't alcohol. It was the cost of being a father to a bunch of kids," the Sonics source says. "There's no doubt it was on his mind last year. It definitely became a drag on him, his game and eventually the whole team. He found out it was going to be real expensive being a multimillionaire NBA star with kids around the country."

Kemp apparently was also upset because he was unable to spend time with some of his children. "For [his last] two years [in Seattle] he had a really bad problem," according to Osuna, who says that she and Kemp are still friends, though they're no longer romantically involved. "I know it takes two to tango, but he met some bad women. [Shawn told me that] they said, 'Marry me, or you don't see your kid, and I will cause hell in your life.' He told them, 'Listen, I pay you all child support. I want to see my children.' " Kemp declined to comment for this story.

Kemp's considerable child-support obligations were among the financial stresses that precipitated his demand to be traded, according to the Seattle source. Having already borrowed $2.1 million from the Sonics in 1994, Kemp complained last season that his $3.7 million-a-year salary made him only the team's sixth-highest-paid player. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Seattle was unable to rework Kemp's deal, but after he was traded, the Cavaliers immediately renegotiated his contract for $107 million over seven years, an average of $15.3 million a year.

Running back Dave Meggett of the New England Patriots is another high-profile athlete whose team became entangled in his paternity obligations. Last fall Meggett, who had fathered four out-of-wedlock children by three women, was sued for prenatal support by a fourth woman, April Estabrook, a 21-year-old dental assistant from Jupiter, Fla. After Meggett failed to respond to her support suit (he did not dispute paternity but did claim that he had never been served with the papers), Estabrook went to court seeking a default judgment against him. Because Meggett was scheduled to be in Florida for a Dec. 7 game against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, the court granted Estabrook a writ of ne exeat (literally, a "no exit" order) against Meggett, which would have prevented him from leaving the state until he posted a $25,000 bond. After being served with the writ in the Patriots' hotel before the game, Meggett provided the money for the bond, and is negotiating terms of child support with Estabrook, according to a lawyer familiar with the case. (Meggett declined comment.)

Don Lowery, the Patriots' vice president of public and community relations, was assigned by the team to work with Meggett on the matter. "We didn't want to get involved in this, but this was one of our key players, who had the potential of not playing because he could be arrested," said Lowery. "It was a distraction for the organization, no question about that."

Paternity can be an expensive proposition. In several states the baseline amount for a man who is proved to have fathered a child is roughly 20% of his income as support until the child turns 18. Considerations such as time spent with the child and the income of the mother are factored into a complex equation and can slightly reduce or increase the award.

High-wage earners such as athletes present courts with a dilemma: Should judges follow the 20% guideline, which would mean a windfall to mothers and children? Or should support payments cover only the basic needs of the children, depriving the youngsters of their dads' standard of living? Many judges have compromised by limiting support—sometimes at $10,000 per month per child—regardless of the father's income, a decision that has sparked debate among family-law attorneys.

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