Former baseball player Ben Zobrist has filed a complaint against Byron Yawn, claiming Yawn used his position as a pastor to embed himself in the financial operations of Patriot Forward, Zobrist’s charity, as well as to bed Zobrist’s wife, Julianna.
Yawn is accused of a “breach of fiduciary duty while acting in a confidential role as a pastoral counselor of a charity established by the Plaintiff” [Ben Zobrist], according to a complaint filed in the Circuit Court for the Twentieth Judicial District of Tennessee at Nashville.
At the time of the allegations, Yawn was the senior pastor and elder at Community Bible Church in Nashville, as well as the owner of Forrest Crain & Company, a strategy, vision, mentoring and management consultancy.
Zobrist established Patriot Forward in 2016. “The primary purpose of the charity is to care for the heart and soul of the professional athlete… through specific initiatives, the charity hopes to make advances in improving the mental health of professional athletes, education players for the improvement of their domestic context, and offering intensive consultation in the transition to life after professional sports,” according to its 2018 Form 990, the most recent available through GuideStar.
Zobrist played professional baseball for all or parts of 14 seasons, including stints with the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics. His last season was with the Cubs in 2019.
For the year ending Dec. 31, 2018, Patriot Forward reported $90,305 in revenue and $63,598 in expenses, including $13,592 for travel, conferences and meetings and $20,500 for consultants. Its end of the year assets were $33,226.
According to the complaint, Zobrist and his wife began attending Community Bible Church in 2005. That year, Yawn provided pre-marital counseling to Zobrist and his then-fiancée Julianna. Yawn would later counsel Zobrist for anxiety and depression.
By June 2018, Yawn had also integrated himself into Patriot Forward’s operations, providing content and curriculum development services “for an estimated combined hourly rate of $87.50,” according to the complaint. On Sept. 19 of that year, Yawn presented a budget for Patriot Forward that included an annual salary for himself of $36,000, the complaint alleges. By December, Yawn wrote a job description for himself that listed his title as executive director.
“The Plaintiff began ingratiating himself into all the financial aspects of Patriot Forward,” according to the complaint. “He provided the budgets, signed contracts for various events, and was involved in all aspects of the website, social media, brand adjustment, their long-term marketing strategy, and their financial system.”
Simultaneously, Zobrist was attending Yawn’s church, where he donated around $10,000 per month in tithes and offerings, as well as providing $15,000 to families at Yawn’s urging, according to the complaint. Separately, Zobrist funded a pastoral trip for Yawn’s family at a cost of between $10,000 and $15,000, the complaint alleges.
In March 2019, Yawn was dismissed from his $3,500-per-month executive director position at Patriot Forward. “Despite his termination in March of that year, Yawn somehow allegedly continued to fraudulently receive salary checks until May of 2019 and he cashed these checks with full knowledge that his position had been terminated,” according to the complaint.
Concurrent with these allegations, in September 2018, Yawn began pursuing a sexual relationship with Julianna Zobrist, according to the complaint. Julianna Zobrist admitted to having later engaged in a sexual relationship as part of a divorce-related counter complaint she had filed. Zobrist had previously filed for divorce in May 2019, according to The Peoria Journal Star. Both cases are pending, according to the Peoria Journal Star.
Zobrist is seeking $3 million in compensatory damages, another $3 million in punitive damages and possible additional damages, including court costs.