Sordid sagas of the sports world. Unfortunately, there have been many. Sports can produce amazing and exhilarating highs, moments that enrapture entire nations, and goals that inspire people to go farther and dig deeper. But some athletes let their notoriety involve them with people and pursuits that should be avoided. Some have simmering underlying problems that get masked for years by athletic glory and media success. Some have trouble dealing with the fading stardom that comes at the end of a career. A few are just sociopaths. Telling sports stories means telling a few cautionary tales along the way.
It was announced late last week that the trial judge in the Aaron Hernandez murder case placed a gag order on both the prosecuting and defense lawyers, which prevents them from discussing the case outside the courtroom. Hernandez’s lawyers had claimed that Mike Pouncey, an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins and one of Hernandez’s college teammates at the University of Florida, had been served with a subpoena for questioning immediately after a game against the Patriots in October. They argued that this created an unwarranted media spectacle.1 Out of concern for the ability of the court to find Hernandez an impartial jury, or at least the perception of the court to TRY to find an impartial jury, the judge metaphorically pounded the ↓ VOLUME button on the trial’s remote control. The Hernandez mess is clearly one of those rare sports crime stories that has permeated well beyond the ESPN viewership and into the public at large.
In light of such developments, here are the stories of those who I would argue are the five most foul sports criminals of all time. The list is not meant to be a ranking. Ranking this type of thing strikes me as falling somewhere between “Vegemite” and “totally unripe banana” on the bad taste spectrum. Let’s just agree that anyone on the list can qualify for the Mount Wretchmore of the sports world.
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O.J. Simpson: Maybe you’ve heard of him. Needless to say, he was the Hall of Fame running back (and co-star of the classic Naked Gun trilogy) who was tried for the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. In terms of media attention in the U.S., the O.J. case was most likely the biggest news story between the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11, with months of breathless coverage that probably outpaced that of the Rwandan genocide, the Oklahoma City bombing, Diana, Columbine, and the Clinton impeachment. His guilt apparently fell somewhere between “more likely than not” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.”2 Because he was acquitted at his criminal trial, he misses the cut for our purposes, because we all know that the wheels of justice never get a flat tire.
Wolfgang Schwarz: The only figure skater ahead of Tonya Harding in a discussion like this. Schwarz was a gold medalist skater for Austria at the 1968 Olympics. Many years later, he was convicted of human trafficking – specifically, five women from the former Soviet bloc for the purposes of prostitution – and later served eight years for his plot to kidnap the daughter of a Romanian businessman, complete with a multi-million dollar Liam Neeson movie ransom demand.
Michael Vick: The well-publicized accusations against the NFL star included being essentially a leader and financier of a large dogfighting circuit, as well as being involved in the torture and execution of dogs who weren’t deemed suitable for fighting.
Bertil Fox: Fox was a champion bodybuilder who hailed from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts (and later, England). He was a prodigy, winning Mr. Universe in 1978. He would, however, become the worst by-product of the unchecked abuse of anabolic steroids in the bodybuilding world in the 70’s and 80’s, eventually gunning down his former fiancée and her mother in a dress shop in what was apparently an episode of violent rage.
Sam Hurd: Hurd was a little-known wide receiver for the Cowboys and Bears in the mid-to-late 2000’s. It was revealed in 2011 that he was essentially a real-life Walter White. He had been living a double life as a drug kingpin who was in the process of gearing up a massive multi-state drug distribution ring when he was brought into custody. After being sentenced, it occurred to him to remark, “I regret not thinking about the consequences.” Well then.
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5) Evangelos Goussis:
Goussis was born in present-day Uzbekistan and moved to Australia as a young boy. He began to show signs of being a great boxer and kickboxer, and quickly rose through the Australian ranks. He nearly qualified for the Seoul Olympics, and would eventually become the World Kickboxing Association champion in his weight class. Throughout that successful late 80s to early 90s time period, he was also involved in some less savory activities as well, as he was convicted of selling heroin and attempted murder and served jail time in his early 20s. But for many years, he was lauded as an all-time kickboxing great, and was celebrated as such in Australia and Greece, his country of ethnic origin.
From 1998 to 2010, a series of at least three dozen gangland murders were carried out in Melbourne, Australia, mostly of the retribution variety. Only recently did the details of many of the killings emerge, including the specific murderous aims of the various involved clans. Goussis had become involved in this type of serious underworld activity increasingly after his retirement from sports, and he was eventually found guilty of two separate murders in 2006 and 2008. Each involved close range gunshots to the head of the victim. Goussis remains in prison for life without the possibility of parole until the late 2030s.
4) Robert Rozier:
Of all these sad tales, Rozier’s is likely the strangest. Rozier played defensive end at Berkeley, and was drafted by the then-St. Louis Cardinals in the 1979 NFL Draft. He was promptly cut loose, possibly due to drug-related issues, at which point his life began to spin wildly out of control. After a few brushes with the law related to small crimes, Rozier fell in with the Nation of Yahweh, a black supremacist cult CEO’d by Hulon Mitchell, a.k.a. “Yahweh ben Yahweh,” who for many years was considered a pillar of the community in Miami due to philanthropy and community involvement. He was even honored with a Yahweh ben Yahweh Day by the mayor of Miami in 1990. Unfortunately, Yahweh’s real activities were much more objectionable.
A good starting point is the initiation ritual for the Nation of Yahweh members. Specifically, recruits were required to murder a “white devil” and return with a piece of the victim’s body. The organization was heavily involved in all sorts of illicit activities, including arson, extortion, and numerous murders.
The 70s, 80s, and 90s were an especially culty time in the U.S. Once Rozier became fully on board with the Nation’s lifestyle, he changed his name to Neariah Israel and moved into the “temple” as his permanent living space. Over the following year, Rozier would murder at least seven white people (seven being the number he actually admitted to), for the purpose of pleasing Yahweh. He would eventually become a star witness for the prosecution against the Nation, and would serve only ten years in jail before being placed into witness protection. Years later, he would return to prison for a string of bad checks he issued. Due to a no-nonsense “third strike” law, he received a sentence of 25 years to life, ironically much worse than his punishment for multiple murders, and was sent to California state prison where he remains.
3) “Gator” Rogowski:
Back before Tony Hawk became a household name, he was helping to blaze new trails for the sport of skateboarding alongside a small and elite group of peers in southern California in the 80s. One of those peers was Mark Rogowski. Rogowski basically spent his childhood honing his skills at various skate parks. After he went pro in the early 80s, his wild magnetism would bring him to the forefront of not only skateboarding but all extreme sports, which were quickly blossoming across the country and the world. He was a leading face of the sport, garnering probably the most media coverage of any of the elite skaters of the era including Hawk, and he made stacks of cash from endorsement deals.
“Gator” had a long and rocky relationship with a woman named Brandi McClain starting in 1987. They were, in essence, the Sid and Nancy of the skating world. Eventually, Gator went through some strange life events and glommed onto strict Evangelical Christian beliefs, which alienated McClain and led to her leaving him.
After that, Gator began a brutal downward spiral. He stalked and threatened McClain and her new boyfriend and repeatedly broke into her house. In early 1991, Gator received a call from a friend of McClain (Jessica Bergsten) to whom he had not spoken in years. Upon arranging to spend a day with her, Gator brought her back to his abode and knocked her out, raped her, and suffocated her. Eventually, his conscience tore him apart and he confessed to the murder, and explained that he had killed Bergsten as an act of revenge against McClain.3 Gator’s disastrous decline was chronicled in a documentary called “STOKED.”
2) Jerry Sandusky:
Not much needs to be said about Sandusky, as the news is fresh in everyone’s minds. For three full decades, he was the respected right-hand man and assistant underneath legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Sandusky founded a non-profit to serve at-risk youth in the late 70s, which he continued to work with even after retiring from active coaching in 1999. In 2011, Sandusky was charged with more than 50 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over the span of a decade and a half. He was convicted of 45 charges, and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
The details of the house of cards he built up are infinitely disturbing. Most of the boys were accessible to Sandusky by way of the non-profit. Sandusky essentially constructed a sophisticated organizational infrastructure whereby legitimate child-care professionals would seek and locate children who were vulnerable, and unwittingly entangle them in Sandusky’s twisted net.
1) Rae Carruth:
This one has everything you’d never want from a sports story. Rae Lamar Wiggins (a.k.a. Rae Theotis Carruth) was drafted by the Carolina Panthers out of Colorado in 1997. He’d catch 62 balls for 800+ yards and four touchdowns during games scattered over parts of three seasons. Prior to springtime in 1999, Cherica Adams, a woman he had been dating, became pregnant with his child. Carruth asked her to have an abortion, and she refused. Later that year, when she was seven-plus months pregnant, they went for a movie date. Afterward, Carruth had Adams follow behind his car in her own. Shortly thereafter, Carruth stopped his car in front of hers while another vehicle drove up alongside her. A passenger in the second vehicle opened fire directly on Adams, unleashing five bullets and hitting her four times, damaging vital organs.
Adams was somehow able to call 911 and relate to the dispatcher what she could piece together – namely, that she was very pregnant with Carruth’s child and that he must have arranged the shooting. After emergency surgery, the baby boy, Chancellor Lee, was saved despite being 10 weeks premature. Because of blood loss and hypoxic brain injury, he is severely physically and mentally disabled.
Adams managed to scribble out notes of her recollections of the incident, including the involvement of Carruth’s car and the fact that he was at the scene of the shooting. She fell into a coma. The notes would help the authorities arrest Carruth for attempted murder. Carruth posted a $3 million bond on the agreement that if Adams or the baby died, he would turn himself in. A month after the shooting, Adams passed away. One of the charges against Carruth was changed from attempted murder to murder. Upon hearing of her death, Carruth fled. He would be found by FBI agents in the trunk of a friend’s car in a bordering state. Carruth was convicted, and remains in the slammer. During Carruth’s trial, the triggerman, Van Brett Watkins, described how Carruth had hired him as a hit-man to kill Adams and the baby. Watkins testified that he himself was “petrified” of Carruth.
- It now appears that Pouncey is quite able to create a perfectly good media spectacle of his own, as he has increasingly become embroiled in the scandal involving Richie Incognito’s tormenting of Jonathan Martin.
- O.J. was acquitted at his controversial criminal trial, which involved numerous missteps by prosecutors and various witnesses. He was later found liable in a civil wrongful death suit brought by the Goldman family, which led to a plaintiff’s verdict to the tune of $33+ million dollars (including punitive damages). The prosecutors in the criminal trial had to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while the plaintiffs in the civil suit merely needed to prove their allegations “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which essentially equates to proving that they are more likely true than not.
- His logic gets a little hard to follow around, oh, the very damn beginning.