NEW ORLEANS — From Tiger Woods to Brett Favre, the list of philandering pro athletes is long.
But at least publicly, Dan Marino, perhaps the most beloved sports figure in South Florida history and one-time NFL Man of the Year, always seemed above reproach.
That All-American, good-guy image, we learned this week, wasn’t the entire truth.
Marino — the Dolphins’ Hall of Fame quarterback — is the latest jock to fall hard from grace, admitting to fathering a child with a former CBS Sports production assistant.
The New York Post broke the story late Wednesday night of Marino’s 2004 affair with Donna Savattere, who gave birth to their daughter, Chloe, the following June. Marino has been married to wife Claire since 1985, and the couple has six children.
“This is a personal and private matter,” Marino said in a statement. “I take full responsibility both personally and financially for my actions now as I did then. We mutually agreed to keep our arrangement private to protect all parties involved.”
The Post reported that Marino paid Savattere “millions” to take care of the child, and presumably keep the story out of the news. That secret was kept for more than seven years before being exposed this week.
Marino, an analyst for CBS, is in New Orleans to broadcast Sunday’s Super Bowl — and apparently will not be disciplined for carrying on an affair with a colleague.
“Dan has said all there is to say on this matter and will be in his usual role on our broadcast Super Bowl Sunday,” said CBS Sports spokeswoman Jen Sabatelle.
Marino had no public appearances scheduled for Thursday, Sabatelle added.
Back in South Florida, the news surely came as a shock for the legions of Dolphins fans who considered Marino a hero.
Joe Rose, Marino’s teammate with the Dolphins and now a sportscaster, was asked about the scandal on his morning radio show.
“He’s obviously my friend,” Rose said on WQAM. “And his family, wife and kids, the whole group, I’ve been with forever. He was my roommate and we go way back.
“I’m aware of the whole thing. I feel badly for everybody and it’s obviously not going to be an easy time. I know what’s going on, but there’s not much I can say.”
Added Channing Crowder, another former Dolphin: “It’s a man with a squeaky-clean past who ended up not being so squeaky clean. But it’s his life. He’s dealt with it financially. He’s a good father who supports his daughter emotionally, financially. I don’t have a problem with that.”
As a player, Marino set more than 40 NFL passing records during his 17-year career that included 10 playoff appearances and one Super Bowl loss to San Francisco. At least nine of his records still stand, including most 400-yard passing games, with 13.
The NFL named Marino its Man of the Year in 1998, and the Dolphins retired Marino’s No. 13 jersey in 2000, the season following his retirement. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
He briefly returned to the Dolphins in 2004 as senior vice president of football operations, but resigned three weeks later, saying that the role was not in the best interest of either his family or the Dolphin organization.
“This is a personal matter that Dan has addressed,” the organization said in a statement Thursday. “We support him and his family and will respect their privacy.”
Marino has spent most of his post-playing career working in television, previously with HBO (2000 to 2008) and for the past 12 seasons as a studio analyst with CBS.
Besides broadcasting, Marino has dabbled in the restaurant business, opening Marino’s Town Tavern in Coral Springs and Fort Lauderdale. Both original locations closed, but others opened under different names.
Among former NFL players, few have been more prominent in national ad campaigns. Marino has been featured in spots for NutriSystem, Papa John’s and Hooters, among others. As a player, he previously appeared in ads for Isotoner gloves. Locally, he has done ads for Maroone Automotive.
Marino, who received an honorary doctorate degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008, appeared in the 1994 film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and had cameos in several other films. Hootie and the Blowfish featured Marino in their music video for their popular 1995 single, Only Wanna Be with You.
In April 2012, Marino became the AARP’s “Men’s Life Ambassador” — a forum which allowed him to share his thoughts on health, fitness and other issues.
Marino and Claire established a charitable foundation in 1992 after their son, Michael, was diagnosed with autism. The foundation provides more than $1 million annually for research, services and treatment programs for children with neurodevelopment disabilities. The organization began an annual Walk about Autism in 2010, raising hundreds of thousands of dollar for several charities.
“This is about the people that you’ve hurt, that have believed in you, confided in you, trusted you,” former NFL coach Herm Edwards said, when he heard of the affair. “Trust is a hard thing to get back. You have to earn people’s trust.
“We’re a collection of our choices,” Edwards added. “In life, what we do in the dark comes to the light.”
©2013 The Miami Herald