Sportscaster Marv Albert Is Tried for Sexual Assault Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Veteran sportscaster Marv Albert was tried for assault and battery, including violent biting, and forcible sodomy against a woman with whom he had a long-term sexual relationship. His criminal trial turned into a scandal as intimate details of his unconventional sexual life, including rough sex and threesomes, became public knowledge.

Summary of Event

In 1997, Marv Albert was the voice of New York sports, a role established over a period of more than three decades. His energetic and informed play-by-play calls, first in radio and later on television, as the voice of Madison Square Garden—most prominently in Basketball basketball (for the New York Knicks) and hockey (for the New York Rangers)—had defined him as one of the most influential sports announcers in the United States. He is especially known for his signature (and often imitated) catch-phrase “yessss.” [kw]Albert Is Tried for Sexual Assault, Sportscaster Marv (Sept. 22, 1997) [kw]Sexual Assault, Sportscaster Marv Albert Is Tried for (Sept. 22, 1997) Albert, Marv Albert, Marv [g]United States;Sept. 22, 1997: Sportscaster Marv Albert Is Tried for Sexual Assault[02840] [c]Law and the courts;Sept. 22, 1997: Sportscaster Marv Albert Is Tried for Sexual Abuse[02840] [c]Sex crimes;Sept. 22, 1997: Sportscaster Marv Albert Is Tried for Sexual Assault[02840] [c]Radio and television;Sept. 22, 1997: Sportscaster Marv Albert Is Tried for Sexual Assault[02840] [c]Popular culture;Sept. 22, 1997: Sportscaster Marv Albert Is Tried for Sexual Assault[02840] Perhach, Vanessa Black, Roy

It was a peripatetic lifestyle that may have contributed to the allegations against Albert in the spring of 1997. Vanessa Perhach, a forty-two-year-old former hotel telephone operator from Miami, Florida, had maintained an on-again, off-again sexual relationship with Albert for more than ten years (much of it through phone sex), during which Albert was married and then, after his 1992 divorce, engaged. According to Perhach’s later testimony, she and Albert regularly met in different cities to engage in his preference for kinky sex, including threesomes (with a second man), rough sex, and his wearing of women’s lingerie.

Albert, born Marvin Philip Aufrichtig, grew up in poverty in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a grocer. The young Albert had a passion for both New York and its sports franchises, called games in his bedroom for an imagined radio station, and got his humble start as a ball boy at the storied Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. As his career blossomed, he maintained close to a year-round commitment to sports broadcasting and established himself as something of a hip celebrity, appearing more than one hundred times on The David Letterman Show with his trademark sports-blooper videos.

The specific charges against Albert involved a sexual liaison on February 12 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel near Washington, D.C., after Albert had called a Knicks game in Landover, Maryland. According to Perhach, Albert had expected a third participant for sex that night at the hotel. After finding out that Perhach did not make the arrangements, he became extremely agitated and threw Perhach face down on the bed. In a frenzy, he then began to bite her back (eighteen to twenty times, according to medical reports, one sufficiently deep enough to draw blood). Despite her repeated requests to stop, Albert insisted that rough sex was what she liked, and so continued. He allegedly sodomized her as well. Forcible sodomy and assault and battery are crimes punishable by life imprisonment.

DNA tests in August showed that the bite marks on Perhach’s back were indeed made by Albert. At the criminal trial in northern Virginia, which began on September 22, 1997, Albert’s attorney, Roy Black, a high-profile defense lawyer notable for securing the acquittal in 1991 of William Kennedy Smith, William Kennedy Smith, who had been tried for rape, argued that Perhach was a troubled woman who could not bear the idea of Albert ending their relationship (he was engaged to marry Heather Falkiner, a producer for the sports network ESPN).

Marv Albert’s booking photograph from May 27, 1997. Albert was arrested by Arlington County (Virginia) police on assault and forcible sodomy charges.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Citing the film Fatal Attraction, Black portrayed Perhach as vindictive and desperate to destroy Albert. Virginia state shield laws prevented Black from introducing testimony that would have discussed Perhach’s previous relationships (including with an abusive former husband) and evidence that Perhach had pursued sexual relationships with other celebrities. Black was able to suggest in court that Perhach had a six-week stay in a mental hospital in late 1996 after she attempted suicide. Also, Black argued that the sodomy between Albert and Perhach not only was consensual but also at her suggestion because she was not on birth control at the time.

After Perhach’s emotional testimony on September 23 (during which Albert maintained a stoic demeanor, supported in court by his fiancée, his father, and his children), Black played an audiotape in which Perhach appeared to coach a Washington, D.C., taxi driver who had picked up Albert the night of the alleged attack to testify that Albert had been agitated and had vehemently requested the third participant. Although this damaged Perhach’s credibility, the prosecution then introduced a surprise witness, another woman who testified that between 1993 and 1994, Albert had made similar requests for rough sex, had bitten her twice, and tried to forcibly sodomize her. The surprise witness’s testimony proved devastating, as it established a pattern of behavior.

Black moved quickly in response. First, he petitioned (successfully) to have the more serious charge, forcible sodomy, dismissed (it was impossible to determine consent legally) and then advised Albert to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of assault and battery, thus ending what had become a carnival atmosphere in the media.

Albert was given a relatively light twelve-month suspended sentence, extensive counseling, and a guarantee that his record would be expunged if he refrained from similar sexual activities in that time. He also received no fine.

Albert, fifty-six years old and with his career and reputation in shambles, apologized during a brief posttrial statement, saying he never imagined Perhach was not a willing participant. Within hours, Albert was fired by NBC, even after the network had stood by its broadcaster throughout the long summer after the grand jury brought the initial charges against him. He then resigned from his announcer position at Madison Square Garden.

Women’s rights activists vehemently denounced Albert’s light sentence, arguing that the lack of jail or prison time sent the wrong message: that once again, the American legal system sided with a male perpetrator, turning him into a victim, and instead allowed the female victim to be portrayed as the victimizer. However, the reality was far less dramatic. Although Perhach’s relationship history was not permitted in court (Black later would say that decision had cost his defense nearly 90 percent of its material), the decision to move to a plea agreement was made because Black recognized the only way to counter the second woman’s testimony would have been to put Albert on the stand. Doing so would have cleared the way for potentially damaging (and humiliating) questions by the prosecution. The plea agreement was Black’s only legal option to avoid jail or prison time for his client.

Impact

It is difficult to shape Albert into a conventional cautionary figure. The same year he could have been imprisoned for life, he also was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame for outstanding media contribution to the sport. Less than one year after his plea agreement—and with an expunged record—a contrite Albert was rehired by Madison Square Garden to call Knicks games on radio, where he remained until a dispute over the direction of the team led to his termination. When Madison Square Garden management initially rehired Albert, it cited not only his stellar credentials and loyal fan base but also his successful year of therapy. After the Garden, he joined the prestigious sports division of cable television network TNT. His sportscasting career continued unabated.

Feminist groups were outraged at the lack of condemnation against Albert after his conviction, citing a system that destroys the lives and careers of women but allows male perpetrators to return to their careers unscathed. Albert quickly reestablished himself as one of basketball’s most informed and charismatic broadcasters (indeed, media critics argued the notoriety only increased his value in a market driven by celebrity). In June, 2008, he was a television commentator for the postseason games of the National Basketball National Basketball Association Association, calling the finals’ series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.

Little is known of what happened to Perhach after the trial. She intimated, through her attorney, that she might pursue a civil lawsuit against Albert, but none was ever filed.

In the long term, the Albert sex scandal reveals that such scandals in a media age do not, in fact, have long runs. Whatever impact the case had on Albert’s career was a short one, and it was soon forgotten, or simply disregarded. For the tawdry celebrity trials that followed, the Albert trial became a template with the following characteristics: extravagant media scrutiny, the blurring of the line between tabloid news and respectable press coverage, a focus on a marginal celebrity whose eccentric private life was deemed suitable for public investigation, a clash of high-profile attorneys, and a lurid mix of sex and power. In the aftermath, the beloved scandals that are celebrity trials offer irrefutable evidence of a contemporary culture’s inability to sustain either its curiosity or its outrage. Albert, Marv

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Langer, John. Tabloid Television: Popular Journalism and the “Other News.” New York: Routledge, 1997. Examines the definitions of “news” and how tabloids and celebrity trials have altered that definition. Also looks at how pretrial coverage trivializes the justice system by creating heroes and villains before the system renders its verdict.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Orth, Maureen. The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex. Farmingdale, N.Y.: Owl Books, 2005. A journalist’s analysis of the celebrity-driven tabloid era that includes the Albert trial. Argues the trial was part of a growing public fascination with the salacious details of the private lives of celebrities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schickle, Richard. Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000. A scathing indictment of tabloid journalism by a respected media critic. Argues that media renderings of the distinctions between public and private make those distinctions virtually meaningless and in turn trivializes disturbing behavior.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turner, Graeme. Understanding Celebrity. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2004. A theoretical investigation with numerous examples of how the treatment of contemporary celebrities, particularly in entertainment and sports, inevitably creates consumer boredom and the forgetting of scandalous behavior.

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