It’s a familiar story: Celebrity male is caught cheating on his wife, declares himself a sex addict, goes through a treatment program, and comes out looking for forgiveness. To the public, it can all look like little more than an easy way to rehabilitate an image and deny responsibility for bad behavior.
Before Tiger Woods was the celebrity reportedly undergoing the sex addiction treatment, it was former ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips. And, Phillips told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday in New York, it’s a very real and devastating addiction.
“People look at sex addiction as an excuse; it’s not an excuse. I’m fully responsible for everything that I did and accept responsibility for that,” Phillips said in his first interview since leaving the Gentle Path sex addiction program at the same Mississippi treatment center that is said to have just finished treating Woods.
What the 46-year-old Phillips did was devastate his family and destroy a bright and lucrative career.
“I’ve broken my wife’s heart,” Phillips said. “I’ve damaged her and our relationship in a terrible way.”
Last August, Brooke Hundley, a 22-year-old production assistant at ESPN, told Phillips’ wife, Marni, that she had had an affair with him. Hundley, who also contacted Phillips’ 16-year-old son through the Internet, posing as a classmate, confronted Marni Phillips in front of her home. Terrified, Marni Phillips called the police on the young woman.
Phillips’ sex addiction had gotten him in trouble before. In 1998, while he was the general manager of the New York Mets, a co-worker filed a sexual harassment suit against him that forced him to take a brief leave of absence from his job. The case was settled out of court.
Phillips told Lauer that he knew he had a problem back then, but he didn’t look at it as an addiction.
“I didn’t go to a clinic; I just got some local therapy,” he said. “I tried to manage everything on my own. I didn’t get the appropriate help that I needed.”
Everything finally came crashing down when he had three sexual adventures with Hundley last summer. After the affair ended, Hundley contacted Marni and then the eldest of the Phillips’ four sons. When Marni made her 911 call after Hundley confronted her in her own driveway, the story hit the New York tabloids, which had a field day with the salacious story.
“I think of all that my family’s gone through,” Phillips said. “People choose to participate in a relationship, but my wife and kids didn’t. With what my wife and kids have gone through, the trauma that they’ve faced, not only from having a father and a husband that’s a sex addict, but the trauma of the media attention, they’ve been through a lot.”
Phillips told Lauer that he actually realized he was out of control after he broke off the affair with Hundley.
“I started calling facilities in August, well before everything blew up, and before there really was a problem where I ended up losing my job,” he said. “I knew I had a problem; I needed to get help.”
By the time he entered treatment in October, both Phillips and Hundley had been fired by ESPN. Now living in California, Hundley told NBC News that she regrets what happened.
“I’m sorry for him and his family. I’m sorry for my family. I was 22; I made some mistakes. If I could take them back, I would, OK?” she said.
The program Phillips completed is a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, whose first step calls on members to recognize that they are powerless over their addictions and their lives have become unmanageable.
“People who go there are broken people,” Phillips explained. “That’s really the essence of the addiction, that you’re broken inside. You’ve got a hole that you’ve tried to fill, whether it was with alcohol or drugs or sex or gambling, with whatever.
“You go there and try to get the basics of why did you do what you did,” he added. “For most addicts, whether it’s alcohol or sex or whatever, it is that you have that hole inside based upon shame and trauma that occurred from childhood.”
Phillips did not address his specific trauma, instead choosing to address how it affected him.
“I did get to the basis of my issue,” he told Lauer. “When I made a mistake, it wasn’t that I made a mistake, I thought I was a mistake. When I failed, I thought I was a failure. When I disappointed somebody, I internalized it that I was a disappointment.”
And he tried to make it better by having sex with women other than his wife.
Marni Phillips filed for divorce last fall, but the couple are together since Phillips completed his 45-day treatment program and are trying to work out their problems. He said it’s not easy, and it’s by no means certain that they will not divorce.
“I’m working my tail off to try to save my marriage,” Phillips said. “I don’t know what the ultimate result will be.”