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.
"In October of 1988, I informed Junior Seau that I was about four weeks pregnant. In June of 1989, [the baby] was born. Junior Seau visited the hospital, and his name, with his full knowledge and cooperation, was placed upon the birth certificate as father.
"Junior and I remained in a dating relationship for another year from the time I informed him I was pregnant in October 1988. I did not become involved in another relationship until September 20, 1990. In 1990, Junior Seau decided to go into the nfl draft. We stopped our dating relationship after Junior was picked in the nfl draft and became involved with Gina Deboer."
Before they split up, the mother of Seau's child testified, she followed Seau as he traveled with the college team, although he never provided her monetary support. "During Junior Seau's junior year at USC, [the baby] and I went to all the games. This travel was at some expense as I lived in Oceanside with my mother and worked full-time supporting [the baby] and myself without any support from Junior Seau. After Junior Seau's nfl contract was negotiated he at that point began giving [the child] $1000 per month."
According to a deposition taken in March 1991, Seau testified that he was the child's father and confirmed he was at the hospital for the child's birth and that he had allowed his name to be put on the birth certificate. He also agreed to pay $3400 a month in child support payments. But two years later, in July of 1993, when the mother sought a 10 percent increase in the monthly payment, Seau had a change of heart and demanded that the mother have a blood test to confirm that the child was actually his.
"I am somewhat confused as to the Defendant's request now for blood testing," the mother declared to the court. "Defendant has never disputed he is the father of the child." She added, "I do not know off of what wall Defendant comes; however, I am more than willing to have the blood testing performed in this action."
In a declaration filed with the court in September 1993, Seau fired back: "I have recently spoken to several of my past college friends and was told that during the time I was at camp, they believe [the mother] was not completely faithful to me. The plaintiff and I met while I was attending college at the University of Southern California.... We subsequently developed an intimate relationship. If I am the father, then the minor child will benefit from that relationship both emotionally and financially. However, if I am not the father, then a grave injustice will be performed if this court or any court imposes a relationship based on a legal technicality."
The mother countered by declaring, "Defendant/Father now as a last resort makes claims to smear my reputation. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I feel I must take this opportunity to rebut Defendant's declaration."
She went on to describe a lengthy physical relationship with the football player. "Junior and I were sexually active together even through my pregnancy, which was confirmed by ultrasound. Junior makes some claim at this point that since he was at football camp, there is no way he could have been the father. Junior Seau's football camp was held on the USC campus, where I would visit him. The campus was approximately ten minutes from our apartment, and the camp only lasted a couple of weeks.
"I was never sexually intimate with any other man [other than Defendant Junior Seau] from October 19, 1985, until after July 8, 1990, when Junior Seau and I broke up." The mother also denied she was taking advantage of Seau's status as a successful professional athlete, and she disputed his statement that they had met while he was at USC. "I was pregnant one year and nine months before Junior Seau ever became a pro-football player. Junior's efforts to make me sound like a gold-digging individual totally overlook the fact that we were high school sweethearts, and I became pregnant well before he ever became a famous pro-football player."
Court records show that a blood test was finally ordered in February 1994. Though the results are not a matter of court record, on May 25 of that year, a "stipulated judgment of paternity" was entered in the case. Signed by both Seau and the child's mother, it declares that "Plaintiff is the natural mother and Defendant is the natural father of the minor child" and outlines the terms of settlement, including the payment of $6500 a month in support until the child "marries, dies, becomes emancipated, reaches the age of 19 or reaches 18 and is not a full-time high school student residing with the Plaintiff, whichever occurs first." Seau did not respond to requests for comment.