By Michael Kiefer
The Arizona Republic
As she waited in court for a jury to come back with a verdict, Tina Placourakis flashed back to the worst day of her life. That was the day the man she loved attacked her while she was taking a shower, she said. There, in the place she should have felt safest, he knocked her to the floor and held her for seven hours, sometimes with a foot on her neck.
As she shivered on the tile, naked and curled in a fetal position, he spit tobacco chew on her, urinated in the drain next to her and humiliated her until he got what he wanted, which was for her to sign over the title of her car to him.
Millions of women are physically and mentally abused by their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons or lovers. What made Placourakis' story different is that her abuser was a retired millionaire athlete, Charles "Chili" Davis, who started his Major League Baseball career as a switch-hitting center fielder for the San Francisco Giants and ended it as a designated hitter for the New York Yankees.
"The physical abuse from him is something I think about and I blink and it goes away," Placourakis said. "The mental abuse affects me because I'm angry that I allowed it. I'm not a weak person."
While fans and sports pundits rant about steroids use, violence against women might be an even more insidious illness afflicting college and professional sports.
University studies have shown repeatedly that male athletes are at greater risk of violent behavior than non-athletes, that they are more likely to be aggressive with dating partners and more accepting of hostility toward women. One study found that male student athletes made up just 3.3 percent of the male population at the universities surveyed yet were accused of 19 percent of the sexual assaults on campus.
A long list of offenders
But story after story about athletes who assault women appear in newspapers across the country. The Valley has had its share. Davis was not the only athlete to sit at the defense table in a Maricopa County Superior courtroom in 2006:
Former Arizona State linebacker Mitchell "Fright Night" Freedman was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault in June; he was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Prosecutors did not bother to try him for two other rapes because he was going away for so long.
Former major league slugger Albert Belle was convicted in July of stalking a former lover, even putting a global positioning satellite device on her car so he could follow her. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years probation.
And several prominent athletes have yet to stand trial:
ASU running back Loren Wade is charged with first-degree murder for killing another former ASU player while in a jealous rage. He is scheduled to go to trial in February.
Another ASU player, Darnel Henderson, and the university itself are the defendants in a federal civil lawsuit alleging Henderson raped a student in her dorm room.
Former Cardinals player Stevie Anderson was charged with kidnapping a woman from a Scottsdale bar and then sexually assaulting her. His trial is scheduled for May.
A former minor league baseball player named Fabio Gomez, who already has been sentenced to death for raping and murdering a female neighbor, will return to Superior Court to reconsider whether he should receive the death penalty or life in prison.
Nor is athlete violence against women a Phoenix phenomenon:
A search of national newspaper stories between Sept. 30 and Nov. 30 turned up sexual assault allegations against athletes from Duke, Mississippi State, Texas Christian, Utah State and Penn State universities; the universities of Albany, and Colorado; the U.S. Naval Academy and a community college in Northern Minnesota, among others.
A similar news search of the same time period turned up domestic violence allegations against players at Harvard, the University of Michigan, Indiana University, the San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
So why is abuse by athletes not an issue for sports fans? "Here's the deal," said Todd Crosset, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "For sport to work, they (fans) have to trust honest effort. Crimes against sports are gambling and steroids. What goes on off the court does not affect the game."
Crossett, who has studied extensively violence by athletes, cited as an example Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers, who pitched the day after being cited for beating his wife outside a Boston bar in June.
"He didn't commit a crime against the sport," Crosset said. "It's not about sport, it's about their private lives."
But multiple research studies at universities have probed the relationship between athletes and violence against women, and about their sense of being "above the law."
"There's the hubris there's the privilege, there's the acceptance of athletes of having character, money issues, all of those things come together," said Jay Coakley, another researcher at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
"I come under heat for being 'overly negative about sports,' when in fact I'm trying to take a critical look at it," Coakley said. "Whereas most people are looking at sports through rose-colored cultural glasses that can't see any problems with sports itself."
Studies show dominant attitudes toward women and lesser men set in even before the athletes reach high school.
Perhaps most disturbing, is the violence might not be random; instead, an outgrowth of the kind of mind control athletes need for a winning edge.
"Athletes are very instrumental in their violence," Crosset said. "They know exactly what they're doing. They're not coming unglued. They're terrorizing these women to get their way."
Physical, mental abuse
Placourakis recalled one night about four months after she moved away from the house she shared with Davis. She woke up in the dark to see Davis sitting in a chair by her bed. He handed her the phone and asked her if she wanted to call anyone, then ripped it out of the wall so she couldn't.
"Just when you feel that life is great, it'll be gone," she claimed he told her.
And then, who's going to believe the woman's word against the athlete's?
"Personally for a woman, the most difficult part is number one, the stereotypical attitude, the first thought that comes into society's mind when it involves an athlete is she's the one who's questioned first," Placourakis said.
Placourakis is a business consultant, mother of three, former model and former Miss Hawaii. Her first and only marriage lasted 15 years before romance ebbed away and she divorced. But she was a stranger to abuse and it had never occurred to her to file criminal charges against Davis, she said.
Instead, Placourakis sued Davis in Maricopa County Superior Court. She claimed she mostly wanted to get back the assets she had brought into the relationship. And in April, a jury heard her testimony.
Placourakis testified Davis physically and mentally abused her, once even holding a gun to her head. In court, Placourakis' attorney played tape-recorded phone conversations in which Davis was heard to say, "Tina, you deserved to get hit . . . and any woman that I ever met like you deserves to get their ass kicked."
Davis could not be reached for this story, but one of his attorneys, Teresa Thayer, characterized the relationship between Davis and Placourakis as "volatile," and called Placourakis' testimony uncorroborated.
"She was just allowed to testify about things she alleged," Thayer said.
But the jurors believed her. They determined Davis had committed assault and battery and ordered him to pay her $350,000 in damages.
If Davis had been prosecuted and convicted in criminal court, where the burden of proof is greater than in civil court, he could have been sentenced to decades in prison. Thayer felt the jury verdict eventually may be set aside, either by the trial judge or an appeals court.
But even if the jury did believe Placourakis, the public did not. The morning after the jury verdict, an unidentified woman called a local radio station claiming to be "the woman who sued Chili Davis."
The woman told the breathless disc jockeys that she had lied in court and had made her children lie in court to get Davis' money.
It was not Placourakis, but for some listeners, the anonymous confession rang true.
They called and e-mailed The Republic to report the injustice committed - against Davis.
The Arizona Republic