clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Marvin Lewis disputes New York Times story of Bengals hiding domestic abuse

A woman is accusing the Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis of 'encouraging' her not to go to police and rather to keep any domestic violence in her relationship with a former Bengals player in-house to avoid a distraction for the team.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Handout/Getty Images

Following a productive college career for the West Virginia Mountaineers, Robert Sands was selected 134th overall during the 2011 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, after not playing much in his rookie season, Sands suffered a season-ending chest injury in 2012. By January 2013, Sands was arrested and charged with assault in the fourth degree in a domestic violence incident. The Bengals released Sands on June 12, 2013, and that was the end of that.

Sands, along with former Hamilton High School star Brandon Underwood, who also played for the Ohio State Buckeyes and the UC Bearcats, are the subjects of a story by the New York Times that accuses the NFL of turning its back on their former spouses after reported domestic abuse.

In the article Mercedes Sands, the former wife of Robert and the woman whom he was arrested for hitting, is accusing the Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis of 'encouraging' her not to go to police and rather to keep any domestic violence in their relationship in-house to avoid a distraction for the team.

Mercedes Sands and her husband, Robert, a safety for the Cincinnati Bengals, started fighting early, just a few months after they were married. But when Ms. Sands drove her car into a neighbor's house while trying to flee, knocking herself unconscious and prompting a visit from the police, the Bengals became alarmed.

Within days of the episode, in January 2012, the team's head coach, Marvin Lewis, called a meeting at Paul Brown Stadium to try to help the couple work through their problems.

He offered encouragement, Ms. Sands said in an interview, telling them that young couples often fought and that they should seek counseling. He also advised them to reach out to the Bengals first if there were further problems because a call to the police could attract attention from the news media and cause an embarrassing distraction.

"They made it seem like we are a family," Ms. Sands recalled. " 'Anything you need, you come to us. We are here to help you.' "

But in interviews with The New York Times, two women who left their husbands — Ms. Sands and Brandie Underwood, who was married to a Green Bay Packers player (Brandon Underwood) — described abusive relationships in which they felt trapped, in part because of each team’s close-knit culture and a protocol that emphasized avoiding disruptions.

It's a very damning article that you need to read the entirety of, but it's also something both the Bengals and Lewis are disputing.

"The police were called and contacted before anything ever got to that point so I don't know where her rationale comes from that," Lewis said. "Mercedes doesn't have a very good memory of things, but I think we made a statement from the club, I think Jack gave it to everybody but Mercedes memory is not too good. We did a lot to try to help the Sands. It's part of growing up. You had two young kids who didn't really have a good feel for what life is and so forth. Their relationship was very tumultuous. I think she is kind of remembering things one-sided, from her side."

The Bengals also issued this statement regarding the story:

"The Cincinnati Bengals offer support to the Club's players and staff with counseling and related support when they face issues in their personal lives. This support extends to spouses and significant others. Neither the Club nor Coach Lewis advised the Sands not to talk to law enforcement; instead, the Club encouraged them to work on their problems and to utilize counseling to improve their relationship. Unfortunately, the Sands did not take full advantage of the services available to them, and they missed various counseling sessions. The notion that Mrs. Sands was advised not to talk to police lacks credibility. Law enforcement had already been involved with the Sands' situation."