Secret Code of Sports Mistresses

The woman who killed former NFL MVP Steve McNair made a fatal mistake when she got involved with him, according to athletes’ groupies—she fell in love.

AP Photos

As soon as I heard Steve McNair got offed by his mistress, Saleh Kazemi, I couldn’t help but wonder: Jeez, didn’t this girl know the rules? Among pro athletes and those who love them, Groupie Rules are so entrenched that legions of spandexed women manage to abide by them on a regular basis and no one ever gets killed. In fact, if you look at the statistics—as CNN solemnly reported in the wake of the McNair murder-suicide, “80 to 90 percent” of pro athletes cheat (presumably the other 10 to 20 percent are recovering from groin injuries)—and factor in the jealousy and money involved, you might be amazed no one ever got murder-suicided before. But as with any evolved society, there’s a reason for that: there are rules. And as I discovered during an extended visit into their world, the good groupies know them.

Rule # 1: You do not fall in love. EVER. Unless you are Eva Longoria. And even then….

Rule # 2: Never, ever even entertain the notion that they are going to leave their wife for you. These guys have even less of a chance of doing that than your average philanderer. Their wives know the score—that’s part of the reason they aren’t leaving, either.

“If she played by the rules, she would have just gotten knocked up,” America's top groupie expert told me. “And then she would have had child support payments for life. But she got in too deep.”

Rule #3: Try to get jewelry or an Escalade, but for chrissakes, make sure it’s fully paid for upfront. (Saleh, what were you thinking?)

Even a stripper from Minneapolis who for six years, according to the New York Daily News, was also involved with McNair—not to be confused with the other Other woman who apparently set Saleh off on her murderous rampage—knew the rules. As the former manager of her strip club so eloquently put it, “She liked money and athletes. She went out with athletes before. She was one of those girls who said, ‘You’re married? You have kids? So what? Let’s have fun.”

That’s playing by the rules.

I had the opportunity, if not great fortune, three years ago to meet a whole bunch of these ladies when GQ Magazine sent me to the NBA All-Star game in Houston to hang out with groupies for four very long days and nights at the Doubletree Hotel. (My second choice was lethal injection.) It was there that I learned how to drink Grey Goose in Styrofoam cups (with mixers from Costco), how to fake cleavage (finally!) and the difference between a Gutter Groupie and a Fly Girl.

Gutter Groupies wait in parking lots after games and are happy just to give oral sex to an athlete (heck, even a bodyguard will do). Fly Girls have something more going on. They are just classy enough to often merit oral sex a second time. Sometimes there is jewelry involved. I met one of these Fly Girls in Houston at Dave & Busters, the same beer-burgers-and-games chain that Steve McNair would later meet Saleh Kazemi (we both went to to D and Bs, it seems, to find groupies). She was a beauty. And knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. “You gotta pay to play,” she told me, explaining why she’d sprung for hair extensions and a real Louis Vuitton bag before heading to Houston. “You want a look that says, ‘I’m available but I ain’t cheap.’” Now this is a role model. But the one thing that struck me in Houston was that every woman I met, Gutter to Fly, knew the rules.

So what was up with this Saleh?

Until she bought the gun, everything about her made perfect sense. She was the classic conquest for any pro ball player, current or retired, looking to cheat on his wife with no strings attached—which is to say, all them. (Okay, okay, 80 to 90 percent of them.) She was 20 and nubile. (Yes, it sounds awfully young, but do you think these guys are trying to score 40-year olds? Even late 20s tends to be a stretch.) She worked as a waitress at Dave & Busters. Check. Where he picked her up. Check. (Hooters must have been closed). She adored him (they all do), and was willing to fly to Vegas or wherever he wanted her to be, even if she would get stood up when she arrived. All standard protocol for groupies who end up scoring.

So why couldn’t she have just left it at that, like the countless other women who bed married pro ball players? For answers, I called up my old pal, the fabulous and stunning Brenda Thomas. I first met Brenda in Philadelphia on my way to the NBA All-Star Game because everyone had told me Brenda was the groupie expert. She’s former longtime personal assistant to Stephon Marbury who infuriated Marbury (and his wife) when she wrote a juicy novel called Threesome: Where Seduction, Power and Basketball Collide, in which a vast assortment of (allegedly fictional) women spend a great deal of time on their knees, in service to the NBA.

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Brenda did not disappoint. We talked about oral sex, condoms (they do stick pins in them!), and what cheating players really want (“what their wives won’t do for them… These are women who will do these things.”)

Your wife will also not shoot you to death. (Though boxer Arturo Gatti’s wife apparently strangled him last weekend.)

So what did she make of this Saleh chick?

“You know, when I first heard Steve McNair got shot to death, I’m thinking, okay, did somebody set him up? Was he into something? You don’t think of some chick knocking him off. Then you come to find out it’s this murder-suicide thing. And I’m like, How the hell did he get himself involved in that? I heard he wasn’t the brightest bulb, but still. My thing is, she did not know the rules of the game. And neither did he. You don’t go getting in a relationship with a 20 year old.”

So what rules did she not follow?

“You don’t fall in love, okay? And you don’t let them know you’re in love with them. Because then they begin to push back, they know at that point, you’re gonna be needy, you’re gonna want them to leave the wife… They want something that’s stress free. They don’t want nobody saying, ‘Where you going?’ Cause they can get that at home.”

And you mentioned that he broke the rules, too?

“Right. And his rules are, You have whatever action you want on the side, but you don’t go in too deep. You don’t buy a truck, with the girl, in both of your names. And you send somebody else to pick up the girl from the police station after she gets arrested for drunk driving. You don’t do that all stuff.”

So where was his thinking? I mean, he bought her an Escalade, but she still had to make the payments. Is that what these guys do?

“No! I mean, maybe in some cases. But it wasn’t like this girl had a corporate job where she could make the payments. You should not have all these bills if you’re dating Steve McNair. But she was trying to prove to him, ‘I’m not like the other girls, who need expensive gifts.’ She would have been better off doing that. But she wanted to trap him.”

Has anything like this ever happened in this world?

“Other girls get pregnant, they tell the media, they go harass the wife. But I can’t recall anything like this. If she played by the rules, she would have just gotten knocked up. And then she would have had child support payments for life. But she got in too deep. I mean, thank God that other women that she followed, she didn’t knock her off too! “

Lisa DePaulo is a correspondent for GQ magazine.