Former Chicago Cubs star and 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist has filed a lawsuit against his former pastor Byron Yawn, alleging that he had an affair with his wife Julianna Zobrist and defrauded his charitable foundation, all while serving as his spiritual counselor and confidant.
According to the lawsuit, Zobrist is seeking $6 million in damages due to “breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Zobrist, who last played for the Cubs in 2019, says in the lawsuit that he and his wife met Yawn while attending Community Bible Church, located in Nashville. The suit says that Yawn served as their pastor, and was also accepted into their lives as a “spiritual mentor,” providing pre-marital counseling for the couple in 2005.
Yawn also served as a counselor for Ben Zobrist during his baseball career, with Zobrist confiding in the pastor about his struggles with “anxiety and depression,” according to the suit.
The suit alleges that in Aug. 2018, Yawn began to have regular conversations with Julianna Zobrist, sometimes on a daily basis. A short time later, Yawn allegedly began to “secretly pursue an intimate relationship” with Julianna, and began meeting her for sex in the spring of 2019.
That relationship continued into the spring of 2020, with Yawn concealing the nature of the relationship from Ben Zobrist, according to the suit. Julianna Zobrist and Yawn allegedly used “burner phones” to help hide the relationship.
Text messages sent from Ben Zobrist to Yawn during that time indicate that the former Cubs player was staying away from the team during spring training in 2019 to work on his marriage.
“She used the words ‘emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.’ I was shocked,” Zobrist said in the text message. “Can’t be 2000 miles away from her and the kids while she’s thinking that about me.”
Yawn, who was allegedly involved in a sexual relationship with Julianna Zobrist at the time, responded with “feigned words of sympathy and friendship,” according to the suit.
The suit also alleges that Yawn "used his influence" to involve himself in all facets of Zobrist’s “Patriot Forward” charity, writing the group’s curriculum and handling other aspects of the organization, including social media and copyrighting.
For this work, Yawn was paid approximately $36,000 per year. Ben Zobrist also contributed approximately $10,000 per month to the church that Yawn was senior pastor of at the time, and donated between $10 and $15,000 to fund a pastoral trip for Yawn’s family, according to the suit.
Yawn allegedly "used Zobrist’s celebrity status" to attract and recruit new members of the church.
Yawn’s contract with Patriot Forward was terminated in March of 2019, but he continued drawing a salary of $3,500 a month until May of 2019, and the suit alleges that he did so “fraudulently.”
Ben Zobrist reportedly learned of the use of “burner phones” and of the relationship between Julianna and Yawn in 2019 after Yawn’s wife Robin discovered the phones. She believed that the nature of the relationship was emotional, and Ben Zobrist “forfeited four months” of his salary to work on repairing his marriage, according to the suit, costing him approximately $8 million in income.
Ben Zobrist was made aware of the sexual relationship between his wife and former pastor in June 2020, when Julianna Zobrist made the admission as part of the couple’s divorce proceeding. She also admitted to lying to her husband about the relationship.
Now, Ben is seeking $3 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages against his former pastor, according to the suit.