Generally speaking, in sports, if you don’t win it all, you can’t call it a good year. But in the television age, almost every year is a good year in sports crime.
While sluggish performances by Mike Tyson, Sebastian Janikowski, and the Portland Trailblazers seemingly skewed the number of athlete arrests downward in 2005, the sports-crime industry remained vital thanks to the resurgence of Lawrence Phillips and a little stylistic marketing kitsch. Just as the NFL and the NBA use throwback jerseys to capture the nostalgia market, 2005 featured throwback sports crimes.
Jazzy nouveau offenses like the Pierre Pierce sex rap and the Onterrio Smith Whizzinator case balanced nicely by an old-school spring-training bust of Doc Gooden and a week-nine "routine traffic stop" possession arrest of hallowed sports-crime icon Michael Irvin, who copped an elegant "those were my cousin’s drugs"–style defense upon capture. And in a twist that might herald more unpleasant things, 2005 saw several instances of the sons of famous sports criminals ending up behind bars, with both Dwight Gooden Jr. and Riddick Bowe Jr. arrested in separate incidents.
2005 also featured a few disturbing innovations in sports crime. It may be that none of these will ever be placed in the annals of the genre next to old standbys like the supernaturally large quantity of marijuana-possession arrest (also known as the Nate Newton), the nightclub parking-lot fracas (the Jumbo Elliott), or the X-treme DUI (John Abraham, Ingrida Sabonis), but in 2005, they certainly made their presence felt. Here’s a look at some of the lowlights in new — and old — trends in sports crime, 2005.
TAWNY KITAEN LIVES!
Looking back, it’s almost funny the way people made fun of ex–Cleveland Indian pitcher Chuck Finley, after his wife, the chesty pill-popping Tawny Kitaen, was arrested in 2002 for allegedly beating her husband. Many things were said about that incident, but few thought we would see another hulking pro beaten like a gong by a Klonopin-addicted Wife Gone Mad.
Wrong, said the year 2005! The ghost of Tawny returned first in Detroit on March 17, when Terry Duerod–esque Pistons reserve Darvin Ham was allegedly whacked in the head with a wine bottle by his wife, Denetria Ham. Police were called to the Ham house to break up the disturbance and found Darvin sitting mute on his couch, blood pouring from his head; he refused medical treatment.
A few months later, in early July, none other than O.J. Simpson was rescued by police when his long-time girlfriend, Christine Prody, allegedly attacked him in his friend’s driveway. Trapped as long as he had been on the great space-time Mobius strip that is man’s eternal and ultimately fruitless quest for justice, O.J. had made the mistake of reaching into Prody’s car to retrieve some things that he claimed she had boosted from his house. "O.J. friend" Steve Dockendorf called police when Prody responded by attacking Simpson; "she was like a wild animal," Dockendorf reported.
And while it was not spousal abuse, November gave us the mother of all teenage-boy fantasies: Carolina Panther TopCat cheerleaders Angela Keathley and Victoria Renee Thomas were caught having sex in a bathroom stall inside a Florida bar. When a woman waiting to use the facilities complained, Thomas allegedly clocked her in the face.
2006 Prognosis: Anna Benson hits Kris in the knees with a crowbar after he catches her in bed with Mookie Wilson and Mike Bloomberg.
Laptop theft was the hot boutique industry of 2005 sports crime. The bizarre run began on January 21, when six members of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team were arrested for the unusually stupid crime of burglarizing their own stadium as a protest against a disciplinary ruling. The players took some $18,000 of equipment, including two $4000 laptops, after school officials withdrew the team from bowl consideration following an on-field brawl with Clemson in November of ’04.
Less than two months later, in the first week of March, little-known NFL free-agent running back Larry Ned was busted in a Phoenix airport after an unsuccessful tryout with the Arizona Cardinals; Ned reportedly grabbed another passenger’s laptop after it went through the airport X-ray and tried to sneak away with it. Airport officials later found the 5’11", 220-pound tailback hiding with the contraband in the stall of the men’s room. Ned’s caper was the dumbest airport-security pro-athlete incident since Damon Stoudamire’s immortal "You mean like this marijuana?" bust — incidentally also in an Arizona airport — in which the then-Trailblazer voluntarily produced an aluminum-wrapped weed stash when queried about metal objects on his person.
A few months after the Ned bust, the much-ballyhooed prospective UConn backcourt of A.J. Price and Marcus Williams was arrested in tandem when the pair, showing excellent teamwork and ball movement, boosted four laptops from a girls’ dormitory. In the spirit of American sports justice, the lesser prospect Price was banned from campus for the fall semester, while the hot NBA prospect Williams was allowed to take classes.
2006 Prognosis: Look for Southeastern Conference football to bounce back after a slow year in campus theft arrests.
One of the more underreported sports-crime phenomena is car-ramming. Almost every year a pro or college athlete is arrested for trying to either run someone over with a car or ram someone else’s car with a car. This is distinguished from the accidental hit-and-run assaults of the Dwayne Goodrich variety; what we’re referring to here is Michael Pittman getting into his Hummer and repeatedly driving into a parked minivan containing his wife, child, and babysitter. This kind of thing happens more often than you’d think. Then-Saints tackle Victor Riley rammed a car containing his wife and infant daughter, and received a stern NFL punishment of a one-game suspension ("The league took one game from me and a one-game paycheck," he complained), and our own ex–Red Sox Jose Canseco has a ramming bust far down there on his rap sheet, a 1992 hit for ramming wife Esther.
This year’s rammer was none other than famed NFL bust Lawrence Phillips, who remains in contention with Isaiah Rider and the aforementioned Tyson for the title of most-arrested athlete of modern times. Phillips was arrested in August after he left a pick-up football game he had been playing with teenagers in Exposition Park and returned behind the wheel of a black Honda, with which he promptly tried to run over two of the teens. Apparently some of the kids had picked on Phillips — who was once compared to Earl Campbell — after tackling him in the game. The Honda, incidentally, was stolen, which put Phillips in the company of another rare club, one including Tamarick Vanover, Mark Ingram, and Bam Morris: pro athletes who steal cars.
2006 Prognosis: No athlete has ever been a better candidate for a future ramming than Terrell Owens.
AND THE FREAK CRIME OF THE YEAR ...
It actually happened in 2004, but it didn’t become public until January of 2005. Ex–Florida Panther Peter Worrell, pulled over for driving with an expired tag, tried to tell Broward County police that he was former teammate Andreas Lilja. Worrell is 6’7" and black; Lilja is 6’3" and Swedish. It didn’t fly. In an odd twist, Lilja was arrested in Stockholm for rape two months later. He did not claim to be Worrell.
Matt Taibbi can be reached at email@example.com.
Issue Date: December 23 - 29, 2005
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