Spouse Abuse and Sports: Do Teams Drop the Ball?

Article excerpt

It's an issue that has become too common in the high-pay, high-pressure world of pro athletics: How should sports deal with good players who are accused of criminal conduct?

Officials of the storied Boston Red Sox, team of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and August collapses, are confronting that very problem this week. The team's star left-fielder, Wilfredo Cordero, is enmeshed in allegations of spousal abuse. Indications are that Cordero is finished in Boston and will soon be traded to a different town.

The Sox are a business, after all, and need a positive image to fill Fenway Park seats. But has the team handled the matter fairly? Or is it just quickly dispatching a public-relations problem? Few would dispute that sports teams, whose members are perceived as role models, have a right to hold players to acceptable moral standards. But they are also often expected to help players with personal difficulties. Balancing these sometimes-conflicting roles in a hot glare of media attention can be extraordinarily difficult - as the Red Sox are finding. Don McPherson, a former pro football player and now director of Mentors in Violence Prevention at Northeastern University in Boston, says the accusations surrounding Cordero are a public, not private, issue. The Red Sox "are in a business that depends on public involvement and trust. Cordero is a public person," Mr. McPherson says. "It's about what is acceptable behavior and what is not. It's about player images and subtle messages." Some fans and sports commentators are concerned the "subtle message" in this case is that the Red Sox made light of the problem - apparently persuading Cordero's wife, Ana, to drop charges that her husband struck her with a telephone at their home June 11. The team also ordered counseling and benched its $3-million-a-year man for eight games, a sort of cooling off period for the player and the local press. Then, over the weekend, court documents from a divorce proceeding surfaced, alleging Cordero had also beaten his former wife, Wanda. Although Cordero has steadfastly denied the abuse and faces no charges stemming from the allegations, this revelation sent the team's management into a tailspin, and trade talks began in earnest. THIS is not the first time the Red Sox, other major league ball clubs, or other sports teams have grappled with allegations of domestic violence in their ranks. …