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Jewish World Review / May 8, 1998 / 12 Iyar, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Where's daddy?

SWEET, DARK EYES gaze out in perplexity from this month's cover of Sports Illustrated. Khalid Minor, 2-year-old son of Celtics player Greg Minor, can just barely get his arms around a basketball. He has never gotten his arms around his father. Minor, who also fathered Khalid's two older brothers, has denied paternity (genetic testing proved otherwise), threatened and assaulted Khalid's mother, and been forced by a court to provide child support.

Minor is the standard bearer for the new style in super-rich athletes: Father illegitimate children, and then abandon them.

Corrie Bird is a dead ringer for her famous father, Larry Bird. Her bedroom, according to Sports Illustrated, was for years a shrine to him (children offer worship even to the most undeserving parents). Bird, who was once married to Corrie's mother -- though not at the time she was conceived -- has provided financial support for Corrie but has actually seen his daughter only once or twice. Her eager letters, report cards and school pictures -- all sent certified mail -- fell into a black hole of silence. Corrie, now 20, keeps hoping things will change. "I've never gotten so mad that I haven't wanted to see him," she confesses.

Throughout professional sports, but most saliently in basketball, players (and one uses the word advisedly) who earn multimillion-dollar salaries and enjoy the adulation of millions of fans behave in a fashion that is just about criminal (and some even cross the legal line). They treat sex as a perk of office (any resemblance to a scandal now percolating in Washington, D.C., is ... notable) and children as mere nuisances. The illegitimacy all-stars include the already mentioned Bird and Minor, as well as Patrick Ewing, Juwan Howard, Shawn Kemp, Jason Kidd, Stephon Marbury, Hakeem Olajuwon, Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen, Isaiah Thomas, Latrell Sprewell, Kenny Anderson, Allen Iverson and Jim Palmer.

Many, many others have also fathered illegitimate children but managed to settle the issues quietly. Sports Illustrated estimates that there is one illegitimate child for every player in the National Basketball Association. For each civilized athlete who has no illegitimate children, there is another who has fathered two or three. One NBA agent said he spends more time on paternity suits and support claims than on contract negotiations.

Some of the athletes, betraying the childish reasoning one expects from preschoolers, blame the women. They say that groupies lie in wait for prominent, wealthy athletes, hoping to get pregnant and thereby secure a meal ticket.

Poor, poor pampered athletes -- tricked into fatherhood by scheming females! Sports Illustrated suggests safe sex. There is another alternative: You always have the option of keeping your trousers zipped, gentlemen.

The pro-choice movement can take a bow for its role in this chaos, too. One young lady, faced with an illegitimate pregnancy, told her athlete boyfriend about it. He told her to have an abortion. When she gave birth instead, he advised her that since the "choice" to have the baby was hers entirely, he had no obligations to her or the child.

These moms are hardly profiles in virtue themselves. Not only do they conceive children out of wedlock, but some make demands for support in the neighborhood of $30,000 a month. Courts are rightly questioning whether these children have a "right" to enjoy the lifestyle of their famous sires or should merely be given enough to live comfortably.

It's a tricky question, but not for the reason the courts may think. To award support checks commensurate with the incomes of these star athletes would have the salutary effect of punishing immorality. But it also tends to undermine marriage. Marriage must be the essential bedrock for all claims against men. Women who are not married to the men who impregnate them should expect very little. Otherwise, women are encouraged to look upon men, particularly wealthy men, as cash cows -- and to devalue the family.

In fact, as any of the NBA's lost children will attest, a father's presence cannot be replaced by a monthly check. Even if the woman doesn't think she needs or wants a husband, the child needs and wants a father.

Khalid has a basketball and bragging rights about a father he doesn't know. Let's hear it for our heroes!


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2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
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12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.