The life of a National Football League player's wife can have its highs and lows. Huge player salaries are often spent on dining, travel, gifts, cars, and expensive homes. On the other hand, when the relationship sours, the lavish lifestyle can turn into a nightmare. So says Sureldie Williams, wife of San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Jamal Williams. Last year, she alleges, her husband turned against her, striking out violently. Jamal was arrested at their daughter's La Jolla school, and soon the couple were in the midst of a divorce battle over child support and their dismal finances.
Hers is one of the silent NFL horror stories that have gone unreported by San Diego news media, which relies on the NFL's goodwill for access to Chargers games and players. News organizations and writers who write too candidly are denied passes to the Super Bowl and ancillary events. The Union-Tribune is sponsoring the downtown "Super Hub" Super Bowl party district.
And because the league itself, critics say, is derelict in policing domestic violence, drug use, and alcohol abuse in its player ranks, a culture of spousal abuse and date rape has been allowed to flourish. Strong safety Rodney Harrison and ex-team member Darrien Gordon have been accused of drugging the drinks of a woman and forcing her to have sex. Other players, such as defensive end Raylee Johnson, have been named in paternity cases.
When legal troubles develop, players and the league have legal talent available to clean up the mess and keep the story from reaching the public. Some cases are quietly settled, and others, such as paternity suits, are put under seal by friendly judges. Questions about the handling of a recent drunk-driving case involving Charger defensive end Adrian Dingle prompted San Diego Superior Court presiding judge Richard E.L. Strauss to angrily deny that any untoward influence was brought to bear.
"My husband [Jamal] and I married about two and a half years ago," declared Sureldie Williams in a written statement filed with a San Diego court last March. "We have a three-year-old daughter, and I am expecting our second child in September. My husband is a professional football player who earns a significant income. In 2001 he was paid $737,000, and in May 2001 he signed an extension contract under which he will be paid $2,450,000 for the year 2002. In 2003 his income will increase.
"We have enjoyed a privileged lifestyle during our marriage. In January of each year we would have an elaborate birthday party for our daughter. To celebrate her birthday, we would either travel out of town or fly our relatives in. And, we would shower our daughter with lavish gifts.
"Throughout the year, we took expensive trips just to 'get away' or to visit relatives. Last year, we took a first-class trip to the Bahamas, where we stayed at one of the most expensive hotels on the island. Other trips have included vacations in Las Vegas and in Louisville, where we stayed at five-star hotels.
"It has been our practice at Christmastime to hire one of the most well-known photographers to take our family Christmas photograph. We would typically spend about $3000 on our Christmas cards alone. For Christmas, we enjoyed showering both of our families with expensive gifts. We would also pay the travel expenses for them to come and visit us.
"During our marriage I enjoyed frequent shopping excursions for myself and our daughter. On any given month, it would not be unusual for me to spend $5000 on clothing. We also spent a significant amount on home furnishings. I shopped at such stores as Gucci, Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, and Ann Taylor. Jewelry purchases alone were in the range of $16,000 a year. We also made frequent trips to toy stores to buy toys for our daughter, spending $200 to $500 on each occasion. In short, anything we wanted we bought.
"Expensive dining has also been a frequent luxury that I have enjoyed. We often dined at fancy restaurants, paying no attention to the price on the menu. We have always driven luxury cars, as well. I drive a Mercedes E 430, and my husband drives a new Yukon Denali. I am requesting exclusive temporary use and possession of the Mercedes, which is presently located in Texas.
"In August 2001, we purchased a beautiful 4500-square-foot home in Desoto, Texas. Our home is in a gated community. It has four bedrooms, a study, a game room, a media room, an exercise room, and a three-car garage. It was our plan to spend a few months a year in Texas and the rest of the year in San Diego. We currently have a lease on a rental in San Diego that will expire in May."
Unfortunately, according to Mrs. Williams, the money did not buy happiness and, indeed, became the source of Jamal's violence against her. As their marriage began falling apart, she claimed in a March declaration, her husband became physically abusive. It all began, she said, on February 28, 2002, when she was three months pregnant.
"During the morning on this date we were working on a financial plan, but our discussions turned into an argument. Respondent said many degrading things to me and became physically threatening. I was frightened and wanted to leave our apartment. I got my car keys and went up the stairs leading to the exit. When I was halfway up the stairway, respondent jumped on me to get the keys and punched me on my leg and on my side. When I tried to go back down the stairs and get away from him, he pushed me down the stairs, and I landed flat on my stomach.
"I got up and ran to the phone and started to dial 911. Before I could finish dialing, he came up from behind me and ripped the phone out of the wall. I then opened the patio door and exited the apartment from the patio by jumping over the railing. I had no money with me, no car keys, and no shoes. I went to a nearby McDonald's and called his business associate and his brother. I did not reach either of them but left detailed messages on their answering machines.