They are wreaking havoc on the streets of big and small town U.S.A. The likes of Dallas, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Jacksonville, New York and Chicago have been invaded and terrorized. The sometimes weapon wielding thugs have made front page news as they shun the laws of the civilized society to do as they please at the expense of those who want nothing more than to enjoy their evenings uninterrupted by stray gun shots, bar room brawls, drive-by shootings and posse gang wars . Welcome to the world of the Gridiron Gangsters. The dark side of professional sports. Who are some of these gangster types? The list is long and distinguished:
1. Adam “Pacman Jones“, former cornerback for the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys. Pacman has not done any jail time yet but his non-stop off field troubles qualify him for gangsterhood. He was suspended by the NFL for numerous gangster like activities including his alleged role in a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club(his preferred venue of choice) that left one person paralyzed. He pleaded no contest to one charge of conspiracy to commit disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. He was given a suspended prison sentence of one year, probation, and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service The sum total of Pacman’s brushes with the law could fill an entire season of Law and Order. It is now being reported that he is being investigated in Georgia in an alleged shooting-for-hire scheme.
2. Plaxico Burress, former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and NY Giants. Plaxico carried an unlicensed loaded handgun into a NYC nightclub. Fortunately the only person he shot was himself. While Plaxico was not seriously injured, he is facing some serious personal freedom injury with mandatory jail time required under New York’s Sullivan Act. While Plaxico had always skated on the edge of the gridiron gangster lifestyle, he can now consider his initiation complete.
3. Micheal Vick, former quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons plead guilty to federal and state dog fighting charges. He is currently in federal prison. He will be eligible for release in June of this year. He is expected to apply for reinstatement to the NFL upon his release. Will anything change?
4. Jamal Lewis, running back for the Cleveland Browns. Jamal led the NFL in Rushing in 2003. He served four months in federal prison as the result of a plea bargain stemming from federal drug charges. While there is evidence that he is a good guy who made one terrible error in judgment, his four months in federal prison related to drug activity get him the Gridiron gangster tag. The jury is still out on his continued membership in the elite fraternity.
5. Marvin Harrison, wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. Marvin was allegedly involved in a brawl and shooting outside of his Philadelphia car wash that left 3 people wounded. Marvin admits fisticuffs but denies being armed. He was not charged despite two witnesses who state that he was armed. The local district attorney has questioned the credibility of the witnesses in the decision not to charge. Has Marvin entered the gridiron gangster ranks? Not yet but give him time.
6. Tank Johnson Defensive Tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Tank’s gangster kung fu is strong. Numerous scuffles, arrests and a jail sentence culminating in his eventual suspension from the NFL. He has since been reinstated and is currently playing for the Dallas Cowboys. You can read his gangster resume here.
7. Rae Carruth Former wide receiver for the Carolina Panther. Rae would be considered the Godfather of the Gridiron Gangster lifestyle. His almost 19 year prison sentence for conspiracy to murder his girlfriend qualifies him as the Don. He must have had some of the John Gotti Teflon going during his trial. He slid though the crack of reasonable doubt on a 1st degree murder conviction and possible death sentence down to a conviction on a lesser charge sparing his life and guaranteeing that he will be eligible to play in the just announced annual NFL All Con Reunion game.
These are a few of the high profile incidents. There are countless other examples of NFL gridiron gangster conduct of high profile and lessor known players ranging from drunken altercations to drugs and sexual assaults. In all fairness to the NFL, it is not like gangsterism has just suddenly sprung upon the NFL scene. The history of the NFL is replete with athletes in trouble. It can certainly be argued that the only thing that has changed is the media exposure. There were no cell phone cameras to catch Paul Hornung and Alex Karras placing bets when they were suspended indefinitely from football by commissioner Pete Rozelle for betting on NFL games and associating with undesirable persons. Gangsterism is certainly of function of the era we live in.
The gangster lifestyle often also outlasts football careers with tragic results. Athletes who had the protection o the posse fame and agents lacking any sense of identity outside of their stardom find themselves in the real world alone, unskilled, uneducated in real life business concepts, broke, and still gangster. Nothing good is going to happen. The NFL alumni gangster fraternity includes Darryl Henley, Byron Bam Morris, Lawrence Phillips, Dave Meggett, Maurice Clarett and Art Schlichter to name a few.
What is going on with present day athletes? Are they getting into trouble at greater rates or in greater percentages to the general population? Does it just seem that way due to the social media, cell phone video, instantaneous news delivery world we live in? The gridiron gangster is certainly not the standard of behavior in professional sports. The majority of NFL players live their lives by the rules of civilized society. NFL stars such as Donovan McNabb, LaDainian Tomlinson Brett Farve, Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, and other high profile professional athletes manage to get by day to day and night to night without guns, possess and drunken altercations. Their evening activities do not become TMZ, TNT and ESPN fodder. They do not have criminal attorneys, bail bondsmen and posse henchmen on speed dial. Instead Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Plaxico Burress and other law breaking professional athletes become flash points for the public perception of everything that is wrong with professional sports. The perception of athletes as prima-donna selfish, self-entitled thugs. Why do athletes who seem to have everything put everything at risk as they engage in conduct that qualifies them as a Gridiron Gangsters? I asked some people on the front lines.
Marc Roberts is no stranger to the gridiron gangster lifestyle having represented numerous high profile athletes. He is the author of “Roberts Rule! Secrets From America’s Most Trusted Sports Agent” Marc had this to say:
“Athletes get in trouble because they think they are invincible. They have been pampered in every aspect of their life”
Patrick Johnson is a wide receiver for the Toronto Argronauts of the Canadian Football League. He has also played for the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Washington Redskins. He earned a Super Bowl ring when the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV. He follows-up on the points raised by Roberts.
“The psychology of why athletes get in and out of trouble can be a very complicated, but very simple at the same time. First of all, what do we define as trouble? I firmly believe that if the athlete has a good support system around him/her other than the agent, it can minimize most of the issues they face. Many times however, athletes from a certain demographic don’t have individuals around them who know very much about the business. They have to rely on their agent who in many cases is only interested in what their client can give them financially. They are best of friends as long as the player can bring in money but quickly disappear when the cash flow stops. That is where the real trouble begins. Without an advisor willing to give the athlete the time after it’s all over, the reality of life sets in as the issues that were put on the back burner pop up. That’s the trouble with all of this. Contrary to the many stereotypes held about athletes, it’s not about homeboys, posses, fighting dogs and the like. Its the people who you put your trust in at the beginning when the say they can get you a dynamite contract. What if an agent introduced his players to Mr. Madoff? What’s bigger?”
Jordon Woy is a nationally known sports agent and a principal in the firm of Schlegel Sports, publisher of Replay Sports Monthly, He has represented high profile athletes such as Donald Driver of Green Bay and Flozell Adams and Roy Williams of the Dallas Cowboys. He had this to say:
“I feel the main reason that players stay out of trouble in the NFL or any other sports is they have a strong parental figure in their lives as they are growing up. That person can be a Mom, Dad, Uncle, Grandmother, coach, etc. It is the first question NFL teams ask me about any player who I am representing…What kind of a character kid is this? When I recruit a college player they usually have someone who is helping them make their agent choice. You can learn a lot about the player by who they are choosing to help them make their decision. Some have no one to help them. Some have a really smart, caring relative who has played a big part in helping them get where they are.
I think the other reason so many athletes get in trouble is they start to believe their own “press clippings”. The one characteristic that I see in a lot of players who really stay on the straight path is that they are still humble as people. It is always impressive to me when I meet a world famous athlete who is still humble and considerate of others. He or she may know that have skills that set them apart from everyone else but they still treat people the way they want to be treated. The reverse is also true, the athletes who begin to think they can act any way and do anything they want are usually the ones who find trouble. I have always marveled at athletes who come down to earth after they retire and the glory fades. They “find” their humbleness again. I have heard a lot of them say they feel bad for the way they acted and they realize it was wrong. I think it is a part of growing up that everyone has to go through even the most talented athletes in the world.”
Does living the gangster lifestyle automatically spell lifetime doom for professional athlete? Not necessarily. There are examples of athletes who were able to leave their gangster toys behind them and live productive law abiding lives. Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson are notable examples.
There you have it. Do you know feel any sympathy for athletes who must grow up and “put away childish things” when their careers are over. Is there a difference between a reason and an excuse? You decide.