Athletes who find their ways onto final National Football League rosters at the start of a regular season are set to make six figures at the very minimum. Those who are the top-tier players at their positions are guaranteed millions upon millions of dollars every year that they are physically able to take the field, and that does not account for the potential endorsement deals that those men can earn during and after their professional careers. While there are undeniably physical risks that come with playing such a taxing sport, the most recognized names in the NFL seem to have what fans would view as enviable lives.
It is that reality that makes it difficult for fans to understand how so many of these once respected athletes end up in prison. That list includes a man who was once a beloved player and actor who will now forever be remembered for accusations made against him and for crimes that he committed. Then, there is the tale of an All-Pro who threw his life away in his early twenties for reasons that do not make all that much sense to those of us who are not sociopaths. He is going to spend the remainder of his natural life in a maximum-security prison.
20 Dave Meggett
Known as a prolific kickoff and punt returner, Dave Meggett also served as an offensive target while featuring for the New York Giants, New England Patriots and the New York Jets during his career. Meggett was accused of assault and also of sexual assault in two cases following his retirement from the NFL, but neither of those incidents landed the former player in jail. His time as a free man came to an end in November of 2010 when Meggett received a prison sentence of 30 years after he was convicted of burglary and criminal sexual conduct. He later lost an appeal.
19 Robert Rozier
The defensive end who was unable to make it in multiple pro football leagues found a new home in a sect that was led by a man known as Yahweh Ben Yahweh. It was while he was in that group that Rozier, by his own admission, committed multiple murders. Rozier was given a reduced sentence due to cooperating with authorities, but he would find himself in court again in 2001 after it was learned that he had a long history of passing bad checks. The former pro football player was given a prison sentence of 25 years to life based on the “third strike” law.
18 Darryl Henley
The fall of the former cornerback who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams is one that was covered in sports book Intercepted. Once thought to be a role model of an NFL player, Henley was sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug trafficking charges in 1995. He went on to earn an additional 21 years behind bars when he admitted that he had attempted to hire a hitman to kill a sentencing judge and also a witness. It could be another 17 years before the product of UCLA is once again a free man. He would be 65 years old at that time, but his freedom at that point of his life is not guaranteed.
17 Art Schlichter
History and football fans will recall Art Schlichter for two main reasons. He is widely regarded as being one of the top busts in the history of the NFL, and has a reputation of being a compulsive gambler who got himself into legal troubles because of those personal demons. Schlichter has been behind bars multiple times during his adult life, and he was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2012 for his involvement in a mammoth ticket scam. Not one to shy away from stupid decisions, Schlichter also managed to fail a drug test while he was awaiting sentencing on that matter.
16 Stanley Wilson
The name of Stanley Wilson is one that will forever be associated with one of the more pitiful moments in Super Bowl history. Wilson was set to play for the Cincinnati Bengals against the San Francisco 49ers at Super Bowl XXIII when he was found to be high on cocaine the night before the big game. Along with having a nasty cocaine habit, Wilson also had a history of burglarizing homes. The third such occasion, one that included Wilson stealing over $100,000 of property all so that he could obtain more cocaine, resulted in the running back being put in prison for 22 years back in 1999.
15 Tommy Kane
A native of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Tommy Kane performed as a wide receiver in the NFL and in the Canadian Football League until his playing days quietly came to an end. Kane was back in the headlines in November 2003 when his wife was found brutally stabbed. The two had recently separated before the crime had occurred. What was controversial about the sentencing was that Kane was facing allegations of second-degree murder when a judge reduced the charge to manslaughter. That plea agreement put Kane in prison for 18 years. It was reported that Kane's depression was one reason the charges were reduced.
14 Jamal Lewis
The Baltimore Ravens chose talented running back Jamal Lewis with the fifth overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft. Lewis chose to celebrate an interesting way: He used a cell phone to attempt to set up a deal that would have involved the sale of cocaine. Somewhat lucky to not find himself facing serious charges, Lewis reached a plea agreement that saw him receive a prison sentence of four months. He has experienced rough patches since retiring as an active player, filing for bankruptcy in 2012. A Super Bowl ring that had been given to Lewis was sold in February 2015.
13 Mark Ingram Sr.
New York Giants fans of a certain age can probably still close their eyes and envision Mark Ingram working to gain a pivotal first down at Super Bowl XXV. The retired wide receiver was already set to begin serving a prison sentence when he thought it wise to jump bail in order to see his son, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram Jr., play in a bowl game. A judge was not sympathetic, adding two years to what was already a seven-year sentence that Ingram had earned for money laundering and bank fraud. Ingram may now never see his son play a pro football game in person.
12 Sam Hurd
Wide receiver Sam Hurd was an undrafted free agent in 2006 when he was given a chance by the Dallas Cowboys. Hurd made some positive and even a couple memorable plays while with the Cowboys, but he was more known as a special teams player than as a contributor on offense. He moved on to the Chicago Bears in 2011, but he would find himself facing serious federal drug charges by the end of that year. Hurd could end up spending up to 15 years in prison for his role in what was deemed to be a “massive” drug operation.
11 Travis Henry
A promising running back for the Buffalo Bills during the early days of his NFL career, Travis Henry later became known for other reasons. Henry has allegedly fathered at least 11 children with 10 different women, and he also ended up in prison after he was found guilty of dealing cocaine. While he received three years in prison for that offense, things actually could have been much worse for the former running back. Henry could have been given 10 years to life behind bars for his crimes. He has now become somewhat of a forgotten figure among pro football fans.
10 Josh Brent
The story of Josh Brent is particularly sad in that it involved the death of a 25-year-old. Brent was found to be well over the legal alcohol limit following a crash that killed his Dallas Cowboys teammate and good friend Jerry Brown. Brent was eventually hit with a sentence of 180 days in jail and also 10 years of probation for his actions on that fateful night. A free man now, Brent has retired as an active player after two comeback attempts while with the Cowboys. Moving on from pro football is probably what is best for Brent, the Cowboys and for the NFL at this point.
9 Plaxico Burress
The term “victimless crime” is one that is thrown out there in cases such as the one involving former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in November 2008 when the Giants were attempting to defend the Super Bowl championship that the club had won in February of that year. While the Giants would go on to be a one-and-done playoff team the following January, Burress spent 20 months in prison due to taking a loaded gun into a New York City nightclub, a gun that happened to go off. Be smarter, NFL players, and these types of things won't happen.
8 Donte Stallworth
24 days. That is the amount of time that wide receiver Dante Stallworth spent in prison after he struck and killed Mario Reyes in an accident that occurred when Stallworth was found to be legally drunk while operating his vehicle. There has, since Stallworth agreed to a deal that cost him less than a month of his life behind bars, been plenty of speculation that the NFL player could have been cleared of all charges had he chosen to fight the matter in court. Stallworth instead pled guilty, and he was ultimately reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Stallworth has also dabbled in journalism since retiring as an active player.
7 Darren Sharper
One of the best defensive backs of the first decade of the 2000s, Darren Sharper was respected as a top safety who could have been on his way to the Hall of Fame when all was said and done. Sharper instead will be remembered for the many sexual assaults and rapes that he has confessed to committing, crimes that landed him in prison for nine years. Hall of Fame voters are routinely urged to ignore off-the-field matters when considering if a player is worthy of such a high honor. Knowing all that we now know about Sharper, it is difficult to imagine that he will ever have his day in Canton.
6 Lawrence Phillips
Lawrence Phillips was a troubled young man who was accused of several heinous acts during his days at the University of Nebraska, and yet the St. Louis Rams nevertheless took a flier on the running back. It did not work out well for the Rams, as Phillips' inability to keep himself out of serious trouble would see him get bounced out of St. Louis and ultimately from the NFL and from freedom after he landed in prison. The convicted felon has been in the headlines in 2015 for being suspected to have had a role in the death of a cellmate, and also for some disturbing letters that have been made public.
5 Ryan Leaf
The word “bust” will forever be associated with Ryan Leaf, the quarterback who was not emotionally or psychologically prepared for what it meant to be a starter in the NFL. His troubles on the field and inside of the locker room followed him into his personal endeavors, and Leaf found himself in trouble with the law on multiple occasions. His latest prison stint concluded in December 2014, and the hope moving forward is that Leaf will be able to reclaim his life and avoid making a return behind bars. He still should have plenty of life left ahead of him.
4 Michael Vick
Opinions on Michael Vick and his NFL career following his involvement in an ugly and despicable dogfighting operation vary to this day, long after Vick served his sentence and was freed from prison. Some believe that Vick never should have been allowed to have a second run in the NFL, while others voiced the “everybody deserves a second chance” adage. Vick made good use of that second chance, flirting with winning a Most Valuable Player award while with the Philadelphia Eagles. The 35-year-old quarterback is now looking to convince at least one NFL team that he still has something left in the tank.
3 O.J. Simpson
One would have thought that O.J. Simpson would have done anything and everything imaginable to stay out of trouble after he walked away from the “Murder Trial of the 20th Century” a free man despite the fact that a plethora of evidence seemed to show that he was guilty of double-homicide. That was not the case in December 2008 when Simpson was given a sentence that carried with it a minimum of nine years in prison without parole after he was found guilty of armed robbery and other offenses. One of the greatest running backs of all time had finally been stopped, in part because of his own arrogance.
2 Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth was a promising offensive player for the Carolina Panthers when his pregnant girlfriend was found shot in November 1999. The wide receiver fled following the death of Cherica Adams, and he was ultimately found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Unlike the man who is featured next in this piece, Carruth could soon find freedom. He may, depending on what happens over the next several years, be released before the end of the decade. Chancellor Lee Adams, the child who survived the shooting, remains alive to this day, and that is a tale that must be read/heard to be fully appreciated.
1 Aaron Hernandez
It does not seem that it was a little over two years ago as of July 2015 that football fans knew Aaron Hernandez only because he was one of the best tight ends in all of the NFL. How quickly the mighty can fall. Hernandez is now a convicted murderer who faces additional charges that stem from a 2012 incident that left two men shot dead. While the New England Patriots will begin a defense of a latest Super Bowl championship come September, Hernandez will never again see his former employer take the field for a meaningful game let alone be on a team.