CINCINNATI – Coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals are disputing accounts about their involvement in a domestic violence situation between a former player and his ex-wife.
Mercedes Sands, former wife of ex-Bengals safety Robert Sands, told the New York Times that the team told the couple to keep their domestic violence problems within the Bengals organization and not call police.
WCPO talked to Mercedes Sands Wednesday evening and she insisted she was telling the truth.
Lewis said the police were called. He said the club tried to help the couple, but they skipped counseling sessions and didn't take their help.
"Mercedes doesn't have a very good memory of things," Lewis said during the coach's weekly news conference.
"We did a lot to try to help the Sandses. It's part of growing up. You had two young kids who really didn't have a good feel for what life is, and their relationship was very tumultuous, and I think she's kind of remembering things one-sided – from her side."
See the rest of Lewis' comments below.
Robert Sands, now playing in the Canadian Football League, told the Times that Lewis urged them to keep their problems “in house.” Sands said he did not physically abuse his former wife. The Bengals waived Sands in June 2013.
The Bengals issued this statement:
"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. The Bengals' decision to release Robert Sands was based upon his overall performance."
According to the Times' report, headlined "N.F.L. Was Family, Until Wives Reported Domestic Abuse," the couple started fighting a few months after they were married in 2011.
In January, 2012, Mercedes Sands was trying to flee her husband and drove her car into a neighbor’s house, knocking herself unconscious.
The police arrived and "the Bengals became alarmed," the report says.
Lewis called the couple to a meeting at Paul Brown Stadium.
“They made it seem like we are a family,” Mercedes Sands told the Times. “ ‘Anything you need, you come to us. We are here to help you.’ ”
According to the report, Lewis said they should seek counseling and advised them to reach out to the Bengals first instead of calling police because that would lead to media coverage and that would become a distraction.
Mercedes Sands said she refrained from calling police as more problems arose. Instead, she called Eric Ball, the Bengals’ player relations coordinator. Ball took her calls and sometimes went to the couple’s house in the middle of the night to help.
A year after Mercedes Sands crashed her car and the couple met with Lewis, she called police to report that her husband had choked her. She was pregnant and she said he put his weight on her stomach.
Mercedes Sands said she expected support from the others players' wives but she was met with silence, she said.
“No one was there. The wives weren’t there. No one answered my phone calls, " she said.
She said Robert Sands cleared out their joint checking account and canceled her credit card. She said she had to rely on food stamps and church handouts during the final weeks of her pregnancy.
Asked about the Times report, Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth told WCPO that domestic violence claims have to be reported to police.
"When it is serious, it needs to be reported and people need to know about it and things need to be done and, you know, that's always important," Whitworth said.
More comments from Marvin Lewis:
Following Lewis's response above, here's what else he said about the Times story at his Wednesday news conference:
Lewis: "I was asked not to say anymore. So, I'm going to stop. I'm not going to answer any more questions. It's done. Anything else that really matters?"
Reporter: What is the club's policy on handling situations where domestic violence might be involved?
Lewis: "Domestic violence involved -- it's a matter of the law and it's not our deal and in their case the authorities were called -- and, you know, that's the way it goes. And, it goes through that system. Is there anything else I can help you with? It was all documented in the story that the police were called and their issues.
Reporter: She brought up the idea that you prefer to keep everything in house instead of going outside.
Lewis: "You'd prefer that they don't have the things that cause them issues. They've got to work on their relationship. These are young people who I think they knew each other about two months, three months, before they were married. Something like that. That's going to be tough."
Reporter: Something like that comes up, how big of a distraction is it to your weekly, normal protocol?
Lewis: "This didn't happen during a game week. This was an off-season thing with Robert and unfortunately Robert is no longer in the NFL."
Reporter: The team or you never told them not to contact the police?
Lewis: "The police were called and contacted before anything ever got to that point. I don't know where her rationale comes from that. What they were asked to do is work on their relationship. We offered counseling to them and many times where they missed the appointments to where the counselors would no longer take their appointments. So, really, I think from Mercedes' standpoint she ought to be more truthful in what she's talking about."