San Diego The crowd, 5000 strong, roared when he was introduced at the Chamber of Commerce rally called to oppose the referendum effort to put the Chargers contract before voters for their approval. Tiaina Baul Seau Jr., otherwise known as Junior, multi-million-dollar linebacker for the Chargers, had finally entered politics. As Mayor Susan Golding looked on approvingly, the hulking player, seemingly more accustomed to rumbling on the field than about it, lit into the opposition as if it were the dreaded Oakland Raiders. The audience howled its agreement, and later a TV reporter spoke giddily about how "the players haven't been heard from before in this debate. Now they've spoken!" Others praised Seau for helping influence public opinion in favor of the stadium deal and speculated, only half-jokingly, that Junior might even run for mayor someday.
Later the same week, a superior court judge took Junior's advice and killed the stadium lawsuit, leaving behind a 1995 contract with the city widely acknowledged to be a windfall for the Chargers and team owner Alex Spanos. Whether Junior, now baptized in the ways of San Diego commerce and politics, follows his political star remains for the future. But whatever he does, observers say, will most likely be heaped with glory by local sportswriters.
Mixing sports and politics, and the coverage of each, is a specialty at the Union-Tribune, where editor in chief Herbert Klein, an ex-Nixon public relations aide, has long reigned as the paper's chief patron of sports. During the height of the stadium debate, Klein authored a lengthy piece featured prominently in the paper's Sunday opinion section bashing critics of the project and went on talk radio to defend the Chargers' deal.
The paper has also run a steady stream of paeans to Junior Seau, burnishing his carefully groomed image. But the entire story has not been told. And the Union-Tribune is not alone in failing to tell it. Specifically, sources allege, the paper and other media have long been aware of but have hushed up details of a bitter paternity suit filed against Junior Seau by his childhood sweetheart. The treatment afforded Seau, many observers say, is the same special handling consistently given the football team and its owner, wealthy Stockton developer Alex Spanos, as well as other team owners and players.
"The sports department is a public relations extension of the football team," says one inside observer. "They promote the team. It's obviously in their best interest. The TV and radio sports guys do likewise. They get free tickets to every game; they call them press passes. The stadium expansion includes a very nice new and very large press area, with a brand-new place to eat and drink malt beverages. How the hell do you think O.J. got away with wife-beating for so long? And he isn't the only one. The sports media is a joke."
During the January 1995 run up to the Super Bowl, a Los Angeles Times story called Seau "one of the most charitable players in the league," adding, "Seau's foundation supports child-abuse prevention efforts, drug and alcohol awareness, and anti-delinquency programs. He stages golf tournaments that raise thousands of dollars, he makes speeches at malls that move disadvantaged families to tears." Seau was quoted as saying, "Nothing is more important than my family when I'm off the field."
That same month, the Atlanta Journal wrote, "A year and a half ago, Seau's first child was born six weeks premature, her lungs perilously underdeveloped. Today little Sydney Beau Seau is healthy and happy. Still, there were difficult and uncertain weeks that tested Junior and his wife and stripped away part of the toughness that men of Samoan descent feel is willed to them and insist is necessary to exhibit at all times."
Those descriptions are a far cry from the story told by the mother of Seau's actual first child, born in June 1989. The protracted paternity suit, in which Seau first admitted, then questioned, then finally admitted again he was the father of a young son born to his high school sweetheart, ended only after Seau reluctantly agreed to pay $6500 a month in child support, along with health insurance, life insurance, and $25,000 in legal fees.
"Defendant spends nearly no time with his minor child," the mother declared in July 1993. "[I] would estimate that his time-share is near zero. Given Defendant's lack of interest in the minor child, I am left to deal with an extremely upset child when Defendant is the one who never asks for contact or who only asks to see the child or speak to the child well after [the child's] bedtime.
"I am also left to deal with a child who continually sees his father on television as a member of the San Diego Chargers football team. He sees his father on commercials where his father holds other children on his knee for some charity event. I am left to explain why his father spends so little time or interest with him but has time for charity events and other children who are not even his own. I will further have to explain a press release of how Defendant is soon to start a new career as a 'daddy' as his new spouse is now pregnant."
According to a final stipulated judgment of paternity filed in the case in May 1994, the child's mother was to have an "anticipated 20 percent time-share of minor child with his father."
According to case records, the mother met Seau while both were students at Oceanside High when she was 15 and he was 16. "On October 19, 1985, Tiaina Baul Seau Jr. and I first began dating," she testified. "In June of 1987, Junior Seau graduated from Oceanside High School. Then in August of 1987, Junior Seau went away to USC in Los Angeles. In January of 1988, I graduated from Oceanside High School and promptly moved to Los Angeles, where Junior and I began sharing an apartment on Vermont Avenue. We shared that apartment until September 1988. Junior and I also shared a joint checking account.