Fans of any sport know that players can, or do, behave badly. We are used to seeing hockey players sent to the penalty box for fighting, soccer players sent off for a bad challenge, football players ejected and baseball players kicked out for arguing with the umpire. Suspensions, of a game or more, are also common. Violent conduct on the field of play, or run-ins with the law off of it, has led to suspensions, trades to other teams and contract terminations for more than one athlete. We’d like to think that the athletes we watch are fine, upstanding and law-abiding individuals. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t. Charges and accusations of cheating, fighting, doping, drinking, gambling and stealing are but a few of the black marks we, as fans, have endured over the years.
What about the more serious charges, like murder? Charges related to murder are far less common among the top-tier athletes, but it does happen. In almost every major sport, at one time or another, a star performer has had their life, and career, flipped upside down by a murder-related charge. In most cases, whether found guilty or not, the athlete’s personal life and career are ruined. Contracts and sponsorship deals are often terminated and personal funds dry up. If convicted, years behind bars consumes the best years of life, meaning a career in sports is no longer viable once released from prison.
The following list contains a wide range of athletes from a variety of sporting events. Charges range from first degree murder to conspiracy to commit murder. Some were found guilty, while others were not, or had their charges reduced. Some are currently facing trial, while others have had sentences overturned. What they all have in common is that these athletes were all, at one time or another, charged with murder.
10 Jack Roland Murphy
Nicknamed ‘Murph the Surf,’ Murphy became famous by winning the National Surfing Championship twice and being named California’s top surfer in 1963. Beyond this, he was also a concert-violinist, movie stuntman and circus diver. Murphy became infamous in 1964 when he took part in the ‘Heist of the Century,’ by breaking into New York’s Museum of Natural History and stealing 22 gemstones, including the massive Star of India sapphire. His life of crime escalated in 1968 when he was charged and convicted of the murder of Terry Rae Frank, a secretary who had aided Murphy in stealing money from a firm. This, in combination with a previous burglary charge landed the ex-surfer a life sentence in a Florida prison. In 1986, Murphy was released from prison.
9 Mike Danton
Mike Danton played center for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and St Louis Blues. His NHL career was relatively short and he played only 87 games between 2000 and 2004. On April 16th, 2004, just two days after the Blues were eliminated from the playoffs, Danton was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. At the time, as this CBC report shows, there was uncertainty as to who Danton was trying to have murdered and why. During the trial, Danton pled guilty to attempting to hire a hitman to kill his agent, David Frost. Danton was released from prison in 2009. Any chance at an NHL career disappeared with the conviction. Since then, his hockey career has involved playing for clubs in Sweden, Slovakia and Poland.
8 Ugueth Urbina
Urbina was a well known and successful relief pitcher in the MLB. The Venezuelan-born Urbina began his career with the Montreal Expos in 1995 and made his last appearance with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005. A two-time All-Star, Urbina helped the Florida Marlins win the World Series in 2003.
In October 2005, while on his family ranch in Venezuela, Urbina reportedly took part in an attack on a group of workers. A number of reasons and excuses were given for why the altercation took place. In any event, Urbina allegedly attacked the men with a machete and poured gasoline on them. A trial in Venezuela in November 2005, found Urbina guilty of attempted murder and sentenced him to 14 years. While he was released early in December 2012, Urbina’s MLB career was finished as a result of his incarceration.
7 Mark Rogowski
Almost everyone has heard the name Tony Hawk, the skateboarding icon who headlined a number of competitions, videos and video games over the past three decades. Fewer people have heard of Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski. Yet, Rogowski was part of the group, which included Hawk, who helped popularize skateboarding during its meteoric rise in the 1980's. A national champion in 1984, Rogowski was making tens of thousands a month in sponsorship deals and even had some stunt-man roles. It all fell apart in 1991. In March of that year, Rogowski admitted to attacking, raping and then murdering Jessica Bergsten, a friend of the skater’s ex-girlfriend. He pled guilty to first degree murder and received a 31 year sentence. He is not eligible for parole until 2018.
6 Rae Carruth
Carruth was a wide receiver for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers from 1997 to 1999. He holds the unenviable distinction of being the first NFL player charged with first degree murder. In November 1999, Carruth’s pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Adams was shot in her car after she had stopped behind a vehicle she said was driven by Carruth. The shots came from a third vehicle which pulled up alongside Adams’ car. The baby survived but Adams later fell into a coma and died of her wounds. Not convicted of first degree murder, Carruth was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in 2001 and sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison. The Panthers released him from his contract and Carruth is scheduled for release from prison in 2018.
5 Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis is the only person on this list to have had as much, if not more, success after a murder charge as before it. Between 1996 and 2012, Lewis made his name as one of the most feared and effective linebackers in the NFL. He played his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens, securing a number of team and individual awards, including thirteen Pro Bowls, three AFC Defensive Player of the Year awards and two Super Bowls.
Following a Super Bowl party in January 2000, Lewis and a group of friends got in a fight with another group of men. The story is that two men were stabbed and killed and Lewis was one of the suspects. Blood belonging to one of the victims was reportedly found in Lewis’ limousine and the suit worn by the Ravens’ linebacker that night was never found. Charged with murder, attorneys struck a deal whereby Lewis pled guilty to a lesser charge of obstruction in exchange for testimony against his two friends.
4 Aaron Hernandez
A tight end with the New England Patriots from 2010 to 2012, Hernandez is the latest NFL player to be charged with murder. In June 2013, Hernandez and his property became the focus of a police investigation into the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a friend of Hernandez. Lloyd’s body was discovered a mile away from Hernandez’s home and reportedly suspicious behavior on the part of the Pats tight-end, including the destruction of cell-phones and surveillance equipment, grabbed police attention. On June 26th, Hernandez was charged with first degree murder. The Patriots released him from his contract that same day. Financially, the player loses out on almost $20 million in salary earnings. Legally, things continue to get worse for Hernandez with police now investigating his involvement in a 2012 double homicide in Boston.
3 Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
“Here comes the story of the Hurricane”; a line from Bob Dylan’s 1975 release ‘Hurricane,’ a song written in protest of the perceived wrongful imprisonment of Middleweight boxer Rubin Carter. In the early 1960s, Carter’s career was on the rise. At one point, boxing magazine The Ring, ranked Carter as high as #3 in his class.
In June 1966, three people were killed in a shooting at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. Carter and a friend were picked up as suspects. No reliable eyewitnesses from the scene identified Carter as the shooter. There were no fingerprints or gunshot residue to tie Carter to the murder. Nevertheless, ‘The Hurricane’ was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In 1985, the 48 year-old Carter was released from prison with the judge stating that “racism rather than reason” had played a role in sending the boxer to jail 20 years earlier.
2 Oscar Pistorius
Before 2013, South African runner Oscar Pistorius was best known as a double-leg amputee with World and Olympic titles to his name. He was the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics in London in 2012. On Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. The runner admitted to shooting Steenkamp but said it was an accident, as he thought she was an intruder. Steenkamp had reportedly locked herself in the bathroom of Pistorius’ home and was killed when Pistorius fired a gun through the door. When security called to inquire about the gunshots, Pistorius allegedly told them everything was fine. If found guilty, Pistorius could face 25 years in prison which would see his athletic career effectively ended.
1 O.J. Simpson
Orenthal James Simpson, nicknamed ‘The Juice,’ rose to fame with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in the 1970s. With the Bills, Simpson won four NFL rushing titles and became the first player to ever rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. Considering this was done during a 14-game season, this record remains impressive. Off the field, Simpson enjoyed a career of acting, production and sports commentary. All of this came to an end in 1994 when Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Often described as ‘The Trial of the Century,’ the Simpson case was extensively covered by the media. The white Ford Bronco, the black leather gloves and Simpson’s attorney, Johnnie Cochran, all became cultural icons of one sort or another. An example of the trial’s cultural impact can best be seen in the sitcom Seinfeld, where a number of characters and storylines are clearly spoofs on the real life people and events. Ultimately, in 1995, Simpson was found not-guilty, a verdict which divided public opinion and remains a talking point to this day.