Tina Julian, a 33-year-old nurse in San Diego, says she may not be able to afford child care if National Football League owners and players can’t agree how to share more than $9 billion in annual revenue.
Julian’s concern stems from the child support she gets from her 2-year-old son’s father, New York Jets defensive back Antonio Cromartie, who might be without a paycheck if a new labor contract isn’t reached.
“The money I get from him is definitely important,” Julian said, declining to divulge how much she gets monthly from Cromartie, a free agent who was paid $1.7 million last season. “Something would have to change.”
Cromartie, who according to the New York Post has nine children from eight women, is among the players who may be without work because of the NFL’s inability to reach a collective bargaining agreement with its union. National Basketball Association players may face a similar situation when their contract expires in two months.
NFL and NBA players are lining up to get child support and alimony payments lowered to reflect what would be reduced incomes should their leagues shut down, said attorney Howard Rudolph of Rudolph & Associates LLP in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Rudolph, whose office is decorated with sports memorabilia from his athlete clients, said he’s working on modification requests for NFL players that he wouldn’t identify. It’s the same move Wall Street executives made when they lost jobs or income during the recession, says Raoul Felder, a divorce lawyer whose clients have included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the ex-wife of basketball player Jason Kidd.
“The NFL is an industry, and if the industry is in trouble, the men can’t meet their obligations,” Felder, 76, said in a telephone interview. “The only thing to do is file for modification.”
Cromartie’s agent, Jason Chinn, vice president of football operations at Westlake Village, California-based Pro Tect Management, didn’t return voice-mail messages left at his office or an e-mail received by Beth Acker, the company’s executive assistant. Julian said in an e-mail that Cromartie hasn’t mentioned the possibility of not being able to pay the support. Cromartie represented himself in Julian’s paternity case, according to court records. Julian’s attorney, Andy Cook, didn’t return messages left at his office.
By Felder’s measure, a top-paid athlete is no different than George Zahringer, a former managing director at Bear Stearns Cos. After losing his job, Zahringer urged a judge in 2009 to cancel an order that increased his alimony to $87,000 a month from $25,000, including retroactive payments. Richard Albrecht, an attorney for Zahringer in the case, declined to comment.
The NFL in March locked out its players, who earn on average about $1.8 million a year. Billy Hunter, the executive director of the union that represents players in the NBA, where the average salary is almost $6 million, has said he expects owners to impose a lockout when their labor contract expires on June 30.
Hunter’s union distributed a 56-page lockout survival guide to its more than 400 members that includes money- saving tips such as refinancing mortgages and turning off lights at home. Page 21 is devoted to alimony and child support, issues that affect as much as 80 percent of professional athletes, says Frank Brickowski, 51, a former NBA player and divorced father of one who is now a regional director for the National Basketball Players Association.
Brickowski has urged active players to get prenuptial agreements so that child support and alimony don’t become issues. His campaign has been helped, Brickowski said, by the popularity of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” a song about the perils of relationships with women more interested in money than love.
Brickowski once was a teammate of Shawn Kemp, who was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story that said he had seven children with multiple women. According to Brickowski, on trips to Los Angeles there would be three women sitting behind the basket with children, all of them Kemp’s.
Kemp’s agent, Tony Dutt, didn’t return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment. Colin Bryant, Dutt’s partner at Dutt Sports Services Inc., in a telephone interview said the two have recently discussed modification requests “extensively.”
Kemp in 2005 told the Seattle Times that he never missed a child-support payment.
The National Center for Health Statistics said it doesn’t calculate a nationwide U.S. divorce rate.
“I tell the players that in divorce, on average, the woman gets 70 percent of a man’s wealth,” Brickowski said, without giving a basis for the figure. “That gets their attention. But not as much as Kanye.”
Keith Glass, 58, an agent whose clients have included seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry, said players aren’t the only ones who feel the financial blow of a labor stoppage. Contracts can’t be signed, preventing agents like Glass, who has divorced three times, from collecting commissions.
Glass said he filed an alimony modification request for himself during the 1998-99 NBA lockout. He said he won a 40 percent reduction, while unable to recall the dollar amounts.
“There will be filings, all right,” Glass said. “You can bet it’s already being done by agents.”
Big money will be at stake for players like Cromartie. The 27-year-old got a $500,000 advance of his $1.7 million salary from the Jets to settle child-support matters. He has been among the players to criticize the NFL and players association for not reaching an agreement.
“How abt the owners and the NFLPA get ur behinds back to the table and talk it out there,” he said on Twitter a week after the owners locked out players on March 12.
None of the more than 15 NFL, NBA and National Hockey League agents contacted would say whether they were helping prepare, or had helped prepare, modification requests for clients.
Under terms of their labor contracts, NFL players don’t receive their first paycheck for the 2011 season until September and NBA players until November. Rudolph said applications need to be made in advance to ensure that any change coincides with the income cutoff.
Not all athletes consider modification. Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden, who has three children with three women, has enough money to pay his support even in the event of a lockout, said his agent, Ian Greengross. McFadden in 2008 signed a six-year, $60 million contract that included a guaranteed $26 million.
“Unless they raise his child support to $20,000 a month per kid it won’t be a problem,” Greengross said in a telephone interview.
Julie Hannaford, a Toronto-based attorney who represented the ex-wife of former NHL player Tie Domi in their divorce, says applying for modification doesn’t mean a reduction will be granted.
Judges often first require the athlete to shed assets, including real estate, cars or even championship rings, she said. Canadian law says a divorced athlete with two children being paid $9 million a year would pay about $105,000 a month to his former wife, while one in the same situation earning $1 million would pay less than $12,000, she said.
“Most players are so well managed that they’ve got enough money put away to shelter against lockout day,” Hannaford said.
There’s more for a judge to consider than just no paychecks, says Peter Kuperstein, 41, a divorce lawyer and partner in the Boston-based firm of Prince Lobel, which has represented pro athletes he wouldn’t identify.
An athlete’s out-of-pocket expenses for things such as health insurance rise during a lockout, since teams aren’t paying, Kuperstein said. According to the trade association representing NFL players, a player’s health insurance coverage can run more than $2,000 a month.
“The likelihood is that a majority of these players are the ones maintaining health insurance for children and, potentially, their ex-wives,” Kuperstein said.
While athletes have agents, lawyers and unions looking out for their financial well-being, the ex-wives and mothers might not. Any court-approved modification may have dire consequences for them, Felder said.
“It falls like a ton of bricks,” he said.
As for Julian, she’s been saving a portion of her paycheck and tax refund the past few years. There are any numbers of reasons why a child-support payment might not arrive when it’s supposed to, Julian said in a telephone interview.
“It takes money to raise a kid,” she said.
To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org