Cycles of abuse are harder yet to break in court, especially for those women involved with athletes or coaches much revered in their communities—where police often work harder collecting autographs than evidence and where the media and the fans, including those on the jury, tend to side with the icon over the iconoclast. Sun Bonds, the former wife of San Francisco Giant outfielder Barry Bonds, fended off her then estranged husband's legal efforts last August to gain access to their Atherton, Calif., house—the scene of one incident of domestic violence that she had reported to the police—by threatening to "amply" substantiate her claim that he had caused her physical and emotional injury there. Barry then abandoned his petition for access to the property.
However, Sun, a Swedish immigrant, soon found out what it was like to be the wife of a celebrated American baseball player and accused wife abuser. In August, when baseball's highest-paid outfielder, at $4.75 million a year, sought to have his family-support payments reduced from $15,000 to $7,500 a month—Barry, the father of two young children, was pleading "financial hardship" in the middle of the baseball strike—he found himself before a star-struck San Mateo County Superior Court judge, George Taylor, who described himself as an ardent baseball fan. Immediately after granting the $7,500 reduction, Taylor asked Barry for an autograph. Barry granted it with a flourish. Two weeks later, as the result of what had become a public embarrassment, Taylor set aside his judgment, returned the autograph and recused himself from the case. Barry and Sun Bonds refused requests for interviews.
Barry's encounter was no anomaly. Whether stopped for speeding or arrested for battering a woman, the athlete encounters a legal system in which the scales are tipped in his favor. Saad says Parish used to taunt her to challenge him in public. "Robert would constantly hold it over my head," she says. " 'Who you gonna tell? Who's gonna believe you? They're gonna believe me, and I'll make you look crazy.' And it was easy to make me look crazy then because I was losing my mind. My family was absorbed by the status of Robert. Everybody was. The image that he portrayed was of a quiet gentleman. Quiet dignity. Who was going to believe me?"
The athlete usually can count on a worshipful public that wants to believe him. "The athlete's status in the community often makes it hard for people to believe that these guys are really batterers," says Richard Gelles, for 22 years the director of the Family Violence Research program at the University of Rhode Island. "This is particularly true of the athletes who have cultivated their public image as 'good guys.' The wives of the gentle giants feel they can't go public because no one will believe them."
Cases involving even minor celebrity-athletes present the same imbalance. Nowhere was this more manifest than it was in early June in Denver, where a former Colorado Rocky pitcher named Marcus Moore, 24, went to trial on charges that on the night of July 17, 1994, he had raped and sexually assaulted his then girlfriend, 29-year-old Markel Nield, in his Denver apartment. By the time of the alleged assault, Moore was no longer pitching for the Rockies, as he had been earlier that summer. He had since been dispatched to the Rockies' AAA affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, but was already relatively well known around Denver.
Moore and Nield, a telephone company sales representative, had carried on an occasionally stormy relationship since July 1993, when the Rockies first called him up. It was, she would testify, an affair marked by an ascending series of incidents that ran from intimidation to physical abuse to flight. Nield made a highly credible witness for the prosecution as she offered a teary description of the events that led up to the alleged July 17 battering, the assault itself and the cab ride back to her apartment from Moore's.
On July 16, Moore had been the Sky Sox's starting pitcher in a road game against the Albuquerque Dukes. It turned out to be the most humiliating performance of his career. In four innings he had given up 10 earned runs and walked five batters. The next day, still out of control, he called Nield and demanded that she drive the 67 miles from Denver to Colorado Springs that night to meet the team bus and take him back to Denver. When she got lost and arrived late, she testified, he repeatedly told her, "You need some discipline."
Making light of that line, Nield testified, she told him, "What are you going to do, Marcus, spank me? That would be kinky."
The discipline, she said, began that night when she emerged from the bathroom in his apartment, dressed in a nightshirt and string bikini panties. Moore threw her on the bed, she said, ripped off the panties and forced her facedown on the bed. "Don't move," she said he told her. At this point, she testified, he started beating her on the buttocks with a belt. "He hit me again and again," she said. "I was screaming." The final lash of the belt struck her between the legs, she said, causing her to bolt up in pain. He then assaulted her sexually, she said, both anally and vaginally. They had experimented with anal sex before, Nield said, but she had found it painful and had begged him not to do it again.
Moore's testimony revealed an altogether different view of that night's events, of course, but it lacked the steady tone of Nield's. Murmuring his answers, turning restlessly in his chair, looking everywhere but at the jurors, he appeared to be a man who would rather have been at the dentist's. The vaginal and anal sex were consensual, he testified, and were nothing different from their routine. The only departure from their usual practices, he said, was the spanking she had asked him for: "She says, Are we gonna have kinky sex? Are you gonna spank me?' I look around. I see my belt. I say, O.K., cool. I hit her three or four times...about 30 percent [of my full force]...I didn't try to hit her between the legs. I cuddled her. Everything was cool. She told me she loved me."