Sports is one of the few professions that have their own dedicated branch of psychology, probably because they seem to have a steady stream of its employees on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. It’s gotten so bad that some athletes actually have incentive clauses in their contract that score them a bonus every year they go without adding another felony to the record. When you’re done asking why every Wall Street CEO doesn’t have this in their work contract, just take a look at six of the sports’ worlds most egregious defendants who have spent more than their fare share of time on the witness bench.
1. Darryl Strawberry
This New York Yankees outfielder singlehandedly made becoming a career athletic criminal long before it became chic in the sports world by racking up a series of criminal misdemeanors and felonies that could make a mafia witness protection informant urge him to seek professional help. From 1987 to 2002, his time off the field consisted of seeing how much he could push his luck, which turned out to be pretty damn far. The first came in 1990 during an argument with his wife, who had just divorced him after a blood test determined him to be the father of a child to another woman, when he hit her in the face with a semiautomatic handgun. The charges went away when he got out of rehab. From then on, he racked up a stream of bizarre charges including drug possession, tax evasion, stalking and failure to pay child support and the only charges that really stuck where the drug possession that only netted him a jail sentence when he violated his parole after wrecking his car and testing positive for cocaine. If this were baseball, we would call that “hitting for the cycle.”
2. Mike Tyson
The former boxer and professional poster child for mental health awareness may have calmed down in his post-sparring years and even embraced his image as a high pitched man child with an uppercut that can rip a man’s face off if they look at him the wrong way. Even when he was at the height of his game, his criminal career seemed to contribute more to his career than even biting a man’s ear clean off could. Long before he got into boxing, he had more than his fair share with the law, being arrested for “purse-snatching” and getting expelled from high school for “a series of transgressions,” a word Tyson clearly didn’t know the meaning of because of his subsequent brushes with the criminal justice system and his inability to pronounce a word with more than three syllables in a way that doesn’t make anyone who hears him laugh until they stop breathing. He faced a number of minor assault and sexual battery charges, which ended in either dropped charges or favorable jury rulings. Then in 1991, he received a special grand jury indictment of rape, which led to his infamous 10 years prison sentence. Even while he was in prison, he got time added to his sentence for threatening a guard and disorderly conduct. He might be a career criminal, but at least he stays in training in the off-season.
Sports might be full of athletes who have had more than their fair share of brushes with the law, but few have achieved and thrown away as much as the Juice did, a feat made more impressive by the fact that he had gotten away with most of it. The non-stop exposure of his murder trial that blanketed the national media for almost a year practically turned the former athlete’s reputation into toxic sludge after his defense “Dream Team” managed to convince a jury to drop the murder charge, which makes us question if anyone has a criminal justice degree these days. Even after escaping a lifetime in prison, he somehow managed to find himself back in the spotlight from the civil case that ruled in favor of the deceased’s families with a million dollar verdict that was never fully paid and the extremely distasteful “If I Did It” book and TV special that never got off the ground. Then just when he found at what could be termed his lowest point, he managed to find a way to get into a root cellar when he and some friends robbed a Las Vegas hotel at gunpoint, something he said he didn’t know was illegal at his sentence hearing, which netted him a 33-year prison sentence.
4. Robert Earnest Rozier
Usually when sports criminal have a brush with the law, it’s before they become big athletic hot shots with endorsement deals, luxury boats and an assortment of recreational narcotics that could make Tony Montana look and sound like a chaste Gregorian monk. This former St. Louis Cardinal and Oakland Raider was actually very close to being homeless following his pro-football career and found himself in and out of prison until he joined up with a religious cult called the Yaweh ben Yahweh Cult, a sect that required its members to prove their love to faith by hunting “white devils” and bringing back part of their kill as proof. Rozier actually trailed a drunk man in a Miami neighborhood, forced his way into his apartment and stabbed him in the heart. Following his arrest and subsequent prosecution, he testified against the members of the cult and admitted to killing seven people.
5. Tonya Harding
Usually when you picture a criminal athlete, a football or high profile baseball player seems like it would fit the bill more but one of the most infamous and meanest sports crimes of our lifetime actually took place in the world of figure skating, a sport that couldn’t produce a serious enough injury in the participation of the actual sport. Tonya Harding earned his infamous title in the days leading up to the start of the 1994 Winter Olympics when a masked man assaulted rival skater Nancy Kerrigan with a metal baton following skating practice in Detroit. As the details unraveled, the FBI arrested Kerrigan’s bodyguard Shawn E. Eckardt for conspiring to thwart the starlet’s chances at making it to the Olympics with Harding’s ex Jeff Gillooly, allegations that eventually pointed to Harding herself who lied to investigators about her involvement. Her subsequent prosecution led to a lifetime ban from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, forcing her to manage wrestlers and box to make ends meet.
6. Michael Vick
This former Atlanta Falcons QB threw away a career that most professional quarterbacks wish they could score, well, really only the ones that play for Houston or Oakland. This promising draft got 23 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting ring that not only pit animals against each other for gambling and profit, but also forced the mating of his fighting dogs and put several down that weren’t up to par by electrocution, hanging and even drowning. And if he weren’t in enough trouble already, he actually tested positive for marijuana use before his sentencing trial. Did he think that going to prison meant he could take a set of steak knives after the first five felonies?