Still, Phillips's suspicions are hardly unique. Mention paternity suits to athletes, and the word setup inevitably enters the conversation. "Wherever there's money, there are going to be women," says veteran Sonics guard Nate McMillan, who has no out-of-wedlock children but has friends who do. "You find some women who might be a little lazy and don't want to work, and they're cute and have an opportunity to be with some of these players. They're using the kids to take advantage of a situation. If you don't go in as a couple and plan a family, then in a sense I think it's a setup."
"I don't condone players who have had affairs, but the fact is, there are women who hunt pro athletes in the hope of becoming pregnant and filing paternity suits to make an income," says Pat Richie, the chaplain for the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. "I'd say that teams probably have two or three women per year who are purposely looking for this."
Certainly there have been false charges made against athletes. Former NBA All-Star Jeff Malone was the victim of a baseless paternity suit filed by a former college lover. Although genetic tests had proved he was not the father of the child, Malone says that on four or five occasions he saw the woman at his games, telling the child to wave at him. Eventually he submitted to a second round of tests to further disprove paternity and says he enlisted NBA security to prevent the woman from harassing him. "When she came up with the story, there was a big article, but when word got back that it wasn't my child, there was a tiny article," says Malone. "Mostly I felt bad for the kid."
Former NHL forward Mike Peluso, also the victim of a groundless suit, was less sympathetic. After not one but two blood tests determined that he had not fathered the son of a Chicago woman, Erica Schulz, Peluso mounted a counterattack. Enraged that Schulz had persuaded a judge to demand that he take the second test, Peluso filed a suit seeking reimbursement for his legal expenses. A Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled in Peluso's favor, awarding him $4,620 in damages.
To others, the suggestion that women are sirens who lure athletes into impregnating them is absurd. How can athletes feel victimized when they made the decision to have unprotected sex? "It's a two-way street," says Elmore. "The women may be scheming, they may be an attractive nuisance, but a major part of the problem is the irresponsibility of athletes."
Among Elmore's former clients is Greg Minor, a reserve swing-man for the Boston Celtics who is a standard-bearer for irresponsible fatherhood. Between May 1996 and July '97, according to court records, Minor assaulted Celeste Rowan, his ex-girlfriend; questioned whether he was indeed the father of their three children when his support of them was increased by a court; and finally ceased contact with them. "It breaks my heart," says Rowan, whose children are now five, four and two years old. "When I first got pregnant, I told him about how my father was never there. He talked about how his father was never around, and he said he would always be there."
After Minor signed a five-year, $12.5 million contract with the Celtics last spring, a Jefferson County (Ky.) Family Court judge raised his monthly support payments from the $2,000 that had been ordered in 1995 to $30,000. Minor responded by appealing the decision and demanding genetic testing to determine whether he was the children's father. "That had never even been an issue before," says Rowan. "Greg was there at the hospital when two of the three kids were born, and he used to show them off to his friends and his mom. Only when he had to pay his fair share was he saying he might not be the dad." Although DNA tests established that Minor was the father, the family court reviewed the order in November and found the $30,000 a month to be excessive and reduced Minor's payments to $7,860, more than half of which goes into a trust fund.
Minor, who declined to be interviewed for this story, agreed to undergo counseling in exchange for avoiding a trial on Rowan's assault charge in 1996. A progress report from a counselor at Emerge, a clinic in Cambridge, Mass., last Aug. 28 offered this observation: "Mr. Minor comes across as an extremely immature person with a history of many short-lived but overlapping relationships with women." In another report, dated Jan. 27, 1998, a counselor at Emerge wrote, "At one point, Mr. Minor said that he was not calling his children because Ms. Rowan was seeking to increase the amount of child support that he pays.... At other times, Mr. Minor has said he had 'too many other things going on.' "
What could account for such behavior?
"Today's athletes just don't care," says Elmore. "They're hung up on instant gratification. There's no view of the impact that present-day decisions have on the future. There's almost a perverse pride to it, like, Hey, that's my kid."