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Sports' Dirty Secret
William Nack
July 31, 1995
When scarcely a week passes without an athlete being accused of domestic violence, it is no longer possible to look the other way
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July 31, 1995

Sports' Dirty Secret

When scarcely a week passes without an athlete being accused of domestic violence, it is no longer possible to look the other way

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Not since it first arose as a matter of public discussion more than a century ago, with the 1878 publication of the book Wife Torture in England, has the issue of domestic abuse been as hotly debated as it has been the last few years. And surely in no other arena—from academia to entertainment, from politics to industry—have more and varied men been exposed as batterers than in the relatively small, if highly visible, world of sports.

But if the number of athletes involved in domestic violence is minuscule compared with the number of batterers in the U.S. population as a whole, the volume of such incidents reported on by the media suggests that a majority of the nation's domestic abusers play college or professional sports. This is not so, of course, but the trial of O.J. Simpson, with its repeated playing of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson's call to 911, has been the loudest and longest-running domestic violence saga in history. While Simpson is certainly the most celebrated athlete ever to admit having battered his wife, he is hardly alone. Mike Tyson's rape of Desiree Washington was not domestic violence (she was virtually a stranger when he violated her four years ago in Indianapolis), but his battering of former wife Robin Givens was. After saying that the best punch he ever threw was aimed at Givens, Tyson was quoted by a biographer, Jose Torres, as having said, "She flew backward, hitting every——wall in the apartment." Perhaps nowhere in the literature of misogyny—a critical component in many cases of domestic abuse—has the word been defined more vividly than by Tyson: "I like to hurt women when I make love to them.... I like to hear them scream with pain, to see them bleed.... It gives me pleasure."

Although batterers are rarely exposed in any other realm of human activity—who are they in politics, in the military or law?—it has become a challenge to read any sports section for a week without finding a tale of domestic abuse involving an athlete. Moon, Simpson and Tyson are merely at the top of a roll of athlete-abusers that goes on and on: In the last three years alone, the list of the accused has included Dante Bichette and Barry Bonds, John Daly and Scottie Pippen, Jose Canseco and Bobby Cox, Michael Cooper and Darryl Strawberry, Duane Causwell and Jaime Brandon, Olden Polynice and Otis Wilson. And for every story printed, far more remain untold.

Take the case of Robert Parish, the longtime Boston Celtic center who now plays for the Charlotte Hornets. While portrayed for years by the image-makers in Boston as a gentle giant who was as large in class and character as in stature, Parish, according to his former wife, Nancy Saad, was a domestic terrorist. Nowhere is this dark side more graphically revealed than in her recounting of an incident on the afternoon of June 2, 1987, hours before the Celtics were to open the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Forum.

As Saad arrived at the door of her estranged husband's room at the Marriott Hotel near L.A. International Airport, she recalls, she could hear muffled laughter in the room and the voices of a woman and a man, and she could smell the smoke from a marijuana cigarette, Parish's favorite scent. She and Parish had not lived together for nearly a year, not since the day, she says, when Parish, who is 7'1" and 230 pounds, threw her down the stairs of their house in Weston, Mass., and then, as she screamed for help, kicked her as she stumbled out the front door.

On this day in June, Saad says, she had driven to the Marriott from her home in Santa Monica to talk with Parish about several nagging issues: One involved their five-year-old son, Justin, whom Parish had not seen in weeks and who had recently suffered minor injuries in a bicycle accident, and another had to do with the $3,000 a month he was sending her in child support out of his $100,000-a-month salary. "I called him when they arrived at the Marriott and told him I would like to come talk to him," she says.

She says that she rapped on the hotel room door and that Parish opened it as far as the chain would allow and peered down. Then, she says, he asked, "Bitch, what are you doin' here?"

"I've been trying to reach you," she said. "I want to talk to you about Justin...."

"Can't you see I'm busy?" he said. He closed the door, she says, and she knocked again. She heard the sliding of the chain. The door cracked open again, and this time she pushed it with her right arm. "Let me in," she said. "You're not going to keep doing this to me...." Saad looked in the room, she says, and saw a naked woman grabbing a sheet to cover herself. The woman screamed, whereupon Parish opened the door farther and said, "Bitch, are you——crazy? I'll kill you!"

According to Saad, Parish then grabbed her by the throat and threw her out the door, into the hallway, and she remembers being punched and thrown into a wall and spinning and thumping off the door of an adjacent room. The next thing she recalls is falling dizzily to the floor and lying there supine, looking up at a stranger's face, that of an older man with salt-and-pepper hair who was wearing a dress shirt. He said, "What the...!" She remembers saying to him, "Help me...!" And then she recalls hearing Parish's bass voice, slow and deep and rolling over her, still eerie and unclear, saying something to the older man. "I don't know what it was," she says. "The man went in and shut his door." And then Parish kicked her, she says, and he was saying, "Get the——out!"

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