by Maryclaire Dale
PHILADELPHIA (AP)—A Pennsylvania woman should get the NFL pension of former Philadelphia Eagle running back Tom Sullivan because he never divorced her before marrying again, a federal judge has ruled.
|TWO WIVES—This Nov. 27, 1973, photo shows Philadelphia Eagles football player Tom Sullivan in the locker room at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium, after a game against the New York Giants. (AP Photo/File)
Barbara Sullivan of Summerville, S.C., who has two daughters from her 16-year marriage to Sullivan, is no longer entitled to the $2,700-a-month spousal benefit, the judge said. He found that marriage void under South Carolina’s bigamy law.
The NFL must now send the pension payments to Lavona Hill, of Folcroft, whose 1979 marriage to Sullivan was never dissolved when they went their separate ways in 1983.
“In our society, if marriage is going to mean anything, you have to have a beginning point and an end point,” said Hill’s lawyer, David B. Sherman. “You can’t have a bigamy relationship.”
Sullivan was married three times, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller concluded. Hill didn’t know about his first marriage, and Barbara Sullivan, whom he married in 1986, didn’t know about the second.
“When they first told me that he had been married before, I went berserk,” Barbara Sullivan, 57, told The Associated Press. “I don’t believe there was a marriage.”
Sullivan, 52, died in 2002 following a car crash in Florida.
Originally from Jacksonville, Fla., he was the second Black football player at the University of Miami.
In his seven-year NFL career, he rushed for 3,142 yards and scored 17 TDs. He played for the Eagles from 1972 to 1977 and ranks ninth on the franchise’s all-time rushing list. Sullivan suffered a career-ending knee injury the next season playing for the Cleveland Browns.
He was making $65,000 a year that last season, and later earned far less as a machinist and Kmart security specialist, Barbara Sullivan said.
Despite her doubts about Hill’s claim, she said she cannot afford to appeal the ruling. Her NFL payments stopped last year amid the lawsuit, and her $30,000-a-year job doesn’t cover the mortgage and the cost of raising two daughters—one in college—and a grandson.
In settlement talks, Hill turned down an offer to split the benefits, she said.
“She’s a very greedy person,” Barbara Sullivan said.
“From all his football injuries, when he passed … he had a hip replacement, a right knee replacement, he had arthritis all over his body,” she said. “I would have to help him out of bed…Where was she at in all of this?”
According to her lawyer, Hill never sought a divorce because she had no plans to remarry. She received no support from Sullivan and had no contact with him after the mid-1980s, Sherman said. She has one son, and has worked odd jobs over the years, he said.