The Challenges of Divorcing in the Public Eye
The best-selling Topps card of 2020 features a 79-year-old infectious disease expert who threw one of the wildest pitches in the history of baseball. The card was on sale for 24 hours, and set a company record: 51,512 cards.
We may have needed this little bit of good news, in light of what is happening with the MLB: on August 6, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association issued a joint announcement that 111 players and 30 staff members across 28 different organizations have tested positive for coronavirus. There is a real risk of baseball ending before it really begins.
In the midst of all this turmoil, however, another news story came to light: Michael Kopech, pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, filed for divorce from his wife Vanessa Morgan, an actress known for her role on Riverdale, on June 19, 2020. The Chicago Tribune reported on the divorce filing on July 27, 2020.
There are two other pieces of information about the divorce that are interesting:
Kopech had already opted out of the 2020 season to deal with a “personal matter,” leading Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper to tell the Chicago Sun Times
: “I don’t know what is going on with Michael, but I know he deals with some anxiety and depression, and my thought is, I sure hope he’s OK.”
Vanessa Morgan announced she was pregnant on July 24, 2020 – and did not mention Kopech at all in her Instagram announcement.
In prior blog posts, I have talked about the importance of being unified on social media in the event of a divorce, and making sure that you and your soon-to-be-ex are on the same page – at least publicly. I have also discussed the importance of signing a prenuptial agreement, and what that “prefect prenup” should include. Stories like this are exactly why business managers, sports agents, financial advisors, and other professionals should work in tandem with a family law attorney at every stage of a player’s career; one can never be too careful.
Lessons to take from the Kopech/Morgan split
There are a few points I want to make here.
First, I have said it before, and I will say it again: being unified in your separation or divorce announcement is the right and only way to go. There were 38 days between when Kopech filed for divorce, and when the Chicago Tribune announced the filing. At no time was a joint statement issued and so their online followers created the narrative for them. Social media has a way of taking the most personal and emotionally challenging moments of your life and offering them up to the world for dissection. For Kopech, who has spoken publicly about his anxiety and depression, this type of exposure could have negative consequences on his health, and his ability to play the game in the future.
Second, timing is crucial for any personal announcement; otherwise, people will speculate about who knew what, and when. Kopech may have wanted to remain silent about the filing, but this message has not been conveyed to the public, nor potentially even to his team. Whatever reasons Kopech had for staying quiet on the subject, it appears either he or a member of his inner circle may have neglected to tell the White Sox organization. At the very least his team of advisors should have crafted an official statement by now to protect their player. By failing to do so, Kopech is at a disadvantage when it comes to controlling his own narrative.
That narrative is the final lesson: if you do not control your story, someone else will – and players need an inner circle of trusted advisors who truly understand what they are going through. They need financial advisors who can protect their investments and plan and save for the future, a public relations professional who understands how “bad optics” can affect endorsements, branding, and future projects and income streams, and an agent and a business manager whose looks out for the athlete’s best interest at each and every phase of a career. They also need legal counsel when it comes to the potential effects that personal issues, such as a divorce or separation and being in the public spotlight, can have on their family, their brand, and their organization. They need a family law attorney who understands the legal issues of divorce, separation, child support, spousal maintenance, and child custody. Most importantly, they need advisors who can work together to protect their players, since a problem that affects one aspect of a player’s life will inevitably affect all the others.