June 19 - 26, 1997

Heavy hitters

A Red Sox outfielder becomes the latest professional athlete to be charged with beating his wife, providing fresh evidence of the link between sports and domestic violence. Community leader and ex-jock Don McPherson wants to stop the pain.

by Jason Gay

It was late Wednesday morning, June 11, when Don McPherson heard the news: Wilfredo (Wil) Cordero, starting outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, was arrested and charged with assaulting his wife, Ana, following a Tuesday-night double-header loss at Fenway Park.

Cordero's arrest was clearly the Boston news story of the week. Almost immediately, the telephone started ringing at McPherson's modest office on Columbus Avenue, where the former college-football star serves as director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program for Northeastern University's Sport in Society Center. On the line were assorted media personalities, all wanting to know McPherson's take on Cordero's troubles. How should the Red Sox respond? Should Cordero be suspended? Should he be allowed to play?

"Once I heard what had happened," McPherson tells a reporter, "I knew you guys would be calling."

The police account of the incident at the Cordero home was, in a word, revolting. Ana Cordero told police that her husband came home drunk after the game and attacked her, striking her in the head with a telephone, choking her, and threatening to kill her. Hours later, Wil Cordero was arraigned in a Cambridge court on charges of assault and battery.

Reaction to the incident was predictably swift and furious. Pundits and talk-show callers alike suggested that Cordero should never play again for the Red Sox. But McPherson, while making no apologies for the outfielder, believes the discussion of the alleged assault has focused too neatly upon Cordero, and has not attempted to evaluate the broader issue of domestic violence in society at large.

"It seems that people don't want to address the real issues of domestic violence," McPherson says. "They want to talk about whether Wil Cordero should play baseball or not. It's easy to talk and obsess about Cordero, because then you don't have to confront the reality that domestic violence is everywhere in our culture."

This is hardly a typical jock quote, but then Don McPherson is no ordinary jock. An All-American at Syracuse University and an established professional quarterback, he voluntarily walked away from the game to begin a career counseling young student-athletes. It was a stunning choice: three years ago, still in his prime, McPherson put down his football helmet and committed himself to community service in Boston, a city he hardly knew.

His timing was perfect. McPherson's work with MVP and Northeastern is targeted at preventing the kind of abuses that too often land talented athletes like Cordero on police blotters instead of sports pages. It is work that will never earn McPherson the kind of money or accolades he found on the football field, but it is far more satisfying to him than any trophy or stadium roar.

"These are different decisions I'm making now. These are life decisions," McPherson says matter-of-factly. "Before, I was making decisions that meant the difference between a first down and not a first down. In the grand scheme of things, those aren't very important decisions at all."

Part 2

Jason Gay can be reached at jgay@phx.com.