AS IN SO MANY CASES OF FAMILY Violence, the reasons remain hidden. But when 7-year-old Jeffrey Moon called 911 in Missouri City, Texas, on July 18, one thing was terribly clear: his father, Warren Moon, 38, widely regarded as one of pro football’s most wholesome role models, and his mother, Felicia, 38, an advocate for battered women, were having a furious confrontation. Felicia later told police Moon had struck her in the head with his open hand, choked her, then pursued her in his car as she fled in another automobile.
After refusing to talk to police for three days, Moon solemnly apologized to his wife of 14 years during a July 21 press conference in Houston, where he once quarterbacked the hometown Oilers. Yet he carefully avoided admitting assaulting her and skirted the question again just before he reported to training camp with the Minnesota Vikings, his team since 1994. Later, in an interview with PEOPLE, he was less circumspect. “Yes, this was a case of domestic violence,” he says. “[It] did not happen because I hate my wife or I decided to come home and beat my wife one day. It was about things happening inside myself.”
It has been a stormy off-season for Moon, a $2.75 million-a-season starting quarterback known for his charity work. Through his Crescent Moon Foundation, Moon has sent more than 100 mainly inner-city students to college on full scholarships and was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 1989. But last May his public image was tarnished when former Vikings cheerleader Michelle Eaves, 24, filed sexual harassment charges against him in Minneapolis. Moon denied any wrongdoing and quickly settled the case out of court, but unsavory details leaked out. Among them: Eaves charged that Moon once showed up at a bar where she was working as a waitress and asked to sip tequila from a glass held between her legs.
As vexing as the charges of womanizing may have been, Moon says they weren’t the cause of his problems at home. “My wife understands that I am out a lot…and I have female friends,” he says. “Other women have never been a problem to her, because she knows where I sleep every night.”
Instead, Moon blames his high-profile career, which he describes as a source of constant pressure. His off-the-field work—as vice president of a Texas real estate firm, as a pitchman for companies like Northwest Airlines and Burger King and as a correspondent for the TNT cable network—left little time, he says, for his wife and their children, Joshua, 14, Chelsea, 12, Blair, 10, and Jeffrey. “It really kind of overloaded me as far as my schedule. [But] it wasn’t like I was out having a good time. I was working and making money.”
For now, Felicia Moon seems to have accepted her husband’s apologies. “Warren and I have been having marital problems lately, but none as serious as that which occurred on [July 18],” she said at the press conference. “Since then my top priority has become to seek professional support.”
In fact, the whole family is undergoing counseling. Even so, mending the Moon marriage may well take more than short-term therapy and togetherness. Warren and Felicia met as 16-year-olds at the same West Los Angeles high school. Two years after graduation, Felicia followed Warren to the University of Washington, then in 1978 to Canada, where he turned pro with the Edmonton Eskimos. They have been married since 1981. But authorities on spousal abuse say couples are rarely able to solve their problems quickly after violence has entered the relationship. “There’s an analogy between battering and alcoholism,” says Ellen Cohen, executive director of the Houston Area Women’s Center. “[You] need that long-term reinforcement.”
There is also the matter of the law. Despite Felicia’s refusal to press charges, Fort Bend County district attorney John Healey is determined to prosecute Moon, who was arrested for assault and released on $1,000 bond shortly after his press conference. “It’s not something that should be ignored,” Healey says, noting that if Moon had done to a stranger what he allegedly did to his wife, no one would be suggesting that charges be dropped. If convicted, Moon could face up to a year in jail, though first-time offenders are usually just sent for counseling.
That part of the process, at least, has already begun. Though Moon says the media are blowing his arrest out of proportion as a consequence of O.J. Simpson’s much-publicized history of domestic violence, he acknowledges he has just gotten a wake-up call. “I’ve neglected the most important things and taken my family for granted,” he said. “I can’t do that anymore.”
KAREN ROEBUCK in Houston and MARGARET NELSON in Minneapolis