Longtime MLB player Ben Zobrist accused his pastor of carrying on an extramarital affair with his wife and defrauding his charity, the former Chicago Cubs star said in an explosive Tennessee lawsuit.
Zobrist, the 2016 World Series MVP who led the Cubs to their first championship in 108 years, said Byron Yawn was senior pastor at Community Bible Church in Nashville when in spring 2019 “he began meeting her [Zobrist’s wife] for sex,” according to the civil complaint filed in May.
All the while, Yawn was acting as a counselor to the couple, allegedly helping them through their marital difficulties, Zobrist said. At one point in 2019, Yawn even counseled Zobrist to “give his wife some space” in disingenuous advice aimed at “self-seeking advantage,” the lawsuit said.
“The defendant secretly maintained a sexually intimate relationship with the plaintiff’s wife for the remainder of 2019 and into the spring of 2020, all the while concealing it from the plaintiff, his counselee,” according to the circuit court lawsuit filed in the 20th Judicial District of Tennessee.
The suit also said Yawn became active in Zobrist’s Patriot Forward charity and used his role in that organization “as an excuse to meet with the Plaintiff’s wife” starting in fall 2018.
“By December of 2018, the Defendant drafted his own job description as Executive Director, involving himself in every facet of the Plaintiff’s charity,” the lawsuit continued. “When the Defendant began meeting the Plaintiff’s wife for sex during the spring of 2019, he was still the Executive Director of Patriot Forward.”
In September 2018, Yawn submitted a proposed budget for the charity that included a $36,000 annual salary for himself, according to the lawsuit.
The charity fired Yawn in March 2019 when he was making $3,500 a month, Zobrist said. But despite being fired, “Mr. Yawn somehow continued to fraudulently receive salary checks until May of 2019 and he cashed these checks with full knowledge that his position had been terminated,” the player’s civil complaint said.
Zobristaccused Yawn of “breach of fiduciary duty” as his pastor and head of the charity and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The former big leaguer is seeking $3 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.
Yawn’s attorney, Christopher Bellamy, declined to discuss specifics of the case on Tuesday but said, “At the end of the day, any woman, including the woman involved here, has the right to choose who she wants to be with.”
“We are in the middle of litigation, so I cannot comment further at this point, but that is what this case boils down to,” Bellamy said in a statement to NBC News. “The facts are going to come out in the course of the lawsuit and the court proceedings.”
Yawn has left Community Bible Church, according to his lawyer.
Zobrist broke into the big leagues in 2006 with Tampa Bay before later joining the Oakland A’s, Kansas City Royals and the Cubs. He played a key role in the Royals’ world title run in 2015.
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He signed as a free agent with the Cubs before Chicago’s historic 2016 campaign. Zobrist was named MVP of the World Series that season, batting .357 in those seven games and helping the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians to break the longest title drought in major U.S. pro sports.
His last season was in 2019 in a campaign marked by a monthslong absence from early May until the start of September. The team said Zobrist was dealing with personal, off-the-field matters.
Zobrist filed for divorce from his wife on May 13, 2019, according to court records in Cook County, Illinois. He also filed for divorce in Tennessee about the same time, the player’s lawyer Larry Crain said.
Now at age 40 and out of baseball for nearly two seasons, Zobrist spends most of his time working with his charity and offering spiritual and financial support to MLB prospects, according to his lawyer.
“He’s trying to make the most of his career through helping others, helping young minor league players,” Crain told NBC News on Tuesday. “That’s what he’s devoting himself to, to move on.”
Tennessee civil codes include language allowing plaintiffs to show injury caused by conduct “so outrageous that it is not tolerated by civilized society.”
Those words might benefit Zobrist slightly, but he’s still facing long odds in court, New Jersey family law attorney Brad Micklin said.
“There’s no doubt he [Zobrist] was harmed by this man, in many ways, financially, mentally and in his marriage,” Micklin told NBC News on Tuesday. “But he still needs to prove that it wouldn’t have happened similarly if the pastor didn’t do what he’s alleged to have done, if he didn’t have the affair with his wife. Would his [Zobrist’s] marriage have still been on the rocks? Would he have still taken time off away from the game? Would he still have made these donations [to Yawn’s church]? We don’t know.”
Throughout his lengthy career, the Dallas Baptist University alum became a prototype of modern baseball, filling up statistical categories that had not been valued in earlier generations of the sport.
He skillfully played multiple positions (all four infield spots and three outfield positions) and contributed efficiently at the plate, drawing walks and hitting home runs.
Zobrist finished his career with 167 home runs, a batting average of .266, on-base percentage of .357 and slugging percentage of .426.
CORRECTION (June 22, 2021, 7:02 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the judicial district in which the lawsuit was filed. It was filed in the 20th Judicial District, not the 12th Judicial District.