Athletes can be a unique breed. Take a guy with great physical talent and give them the limelight and some can overact massively. Many a promising guy has fallen on hard times but even successful stars can fall apart big time. So many have gotten arrested for drug use, assault and even killing to ruin their reputations and lives. But others have been affected as well by their being killed and become martyrs. Some had long careers while others were cut down in their prime, often in very brutal circumstances. It’s sad but it shows the tensions of sports and how to many times, a promising guy can be ruined by a criminal act one way or another.
There are plenty on both sides, the killers and the victims, the monsters and the lost. A few victims weren’t so innocent while some of the killers were folks who took some bad steps. But they all cast a shadow over their teams and fields, ruining reputations in some cases and more remembered for these ends than anything they did in their sport. Some made headlines, others are a bit forgotten but all notable for how they were involved in brutal crimes of a heinous sort. Here are 10 athletes who took lives and 10 who met a sad end to show how brutal death can be.
20 MURDERER: Robert Rozier
Born in Alaska but growing up in California, Rozier was a player for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980 but was let go after just six games before being released for drug use. He then spent time in Canada playing for teams before falling into issues with drugs and some minor arrests. That led him to “The Brotherhood”, the infamous group led by Yahweh ben Yahweh, founder and leader of an extreme black supremacist movement. As part of the cult, Rozier had to murder a “White Devil” and then bring in a body part just to join. Rozier would admit to having killed at least seven white people over several years to please his master. He was arrested in 1986 and cut a deal to testify against Yahweh in return for a reduced sentence.
Paroled in 1996 and put into Witness Protection, Rozier was arrested for passing bad checks and sent back to jail. A truly bizarre case of a man whose off-field life was more notable than on it.
19 MURDERED: Sean Taylor
It’s sad to see how many promising athletes were cut short in their prime in terrible ways. Sean Taylor has to be added to that list. He was part of the key Florida Hurricanes team that won the 2001 National Championship and an All-American. Drafted by the Redskins, Taylor got into trouble, missing the rookie session and over the course of his career fined seven times for uniforms, late starts and other issues. Despite that, he was a promising player, showcasing his great play and a two-time Pro Bowl selection. On November 18th, 2007, Taylor was at home alone when some men tried to break in and he scared them off. A week later, they returned and shot Taylor (at home nursing an injury) in the leg. It cut an artery and despite rushed to the hospital, Taylor died of the wound.
The Redskins honored him with his “21” on the field and player uniforms and only starting 10 men for their first defensive play in that week’s game. While some controversy lingers over his life, all agree Taylor didn’t deserve such a harsh end.
18 MURDERER: Mark Rogowski
Tony Hawk may get the fame but most credit Mark Rokowski as one of the pioneers of skateboarding as a sport. He was showing off his great skills and style to give the sport a flair that got major press and attention with more pushed on Rogowski himself. His great personal style launched slews of imitators as he was the first to endorse clothing and spark a style that other boarders imitated. However, as a more “street style” came to be, Rogowski suffered a bit and turned to drinking. In 1991, the body of Rogowski’s girlfriend, Jessica Bergsten, was found in a car trunk, badly decomposed. She had been raped and murdered and Rogowski bragged about doing it to a friend. Pleading guilty, Rogowski was convicted and has been in prison ever since. Many a skateboarder has taken a harsh fall but nothing as bad as this.
17 MURDERED: Rikidozan
While born in Korea, this beefy worker soon became a major star in Japan. As wrestling took off in the nation, Rikidozan was leading the way, creating the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance and several titles, including a Triple Crown. A great worker, he was quite popular and even as his in-ring time was winding down, it looked for sure like he would be able to continue promoting to put the nation on top. But December 15th, 1963, Rikidozan was attacked at a nightclub by a man who stabbed him. The blow didn’t seem too bad but it turned out the knife had been soaked in urine and thus the wound became infected. Just a week later, Rikidozan died, rocking the entire nation. His attacker, Katsuji Murata, was a member of the Yakuza reportedly upset he’d lost money on a match Rikidozan won. After a jail term, he has spent every year apologizing to Rikidozan’s family and visiting his grave to make amends for his crime.
16 MURDERER: Evangelos Goussis
In his prime, Goussis was notable for his work as a kickboxer and martial artist. The tough Soviet resident was impressive, becoming world champion and considered among the best of his time. However, Goussis had a secondary career working for infamous Aussie gangster Lewis Caine. He was pulled into the Melbourne Gangland Killings, a wild run of murders of underworld figures that rocked the city over a two-year period. In 2004, Caine was found murdered by a bullet to the head and Goussis arrested. He claimed it was self-defense but was found guilty of murder. Goussis was also found guilty of a club shootout taking place a few months earlier that killed gang leader Lewis Moran and found guilty as well. He may have been good with fists and feet but it was gunplay that ruined Goussis’ life.
15 MURDERED: Darrent Williams
A rising star in college, Williams was drafted by the Broncos in 2005 and showing some nice promise. His final game, in 2007, had him recording three tackles and returning two punts before forced out by a shoulder injury. At only 24, Williams appeared to have his whole life ahead of him. But on New Year’s Day, 2007, just hours after that game, Williams was riding in a limo containing some teammates and their girlfriends. Willie D. Clark, a member of the infamous Crips gang, pulled up alongside the limo and opened fire, hitting Williams in the neck and killing him almost instantly. It was some sort of gang beef with Clark ending up convicted and sent to jail for robbing the Broncos of a promising star.
14 MURDERER: Eric Naposki
His NFL career was hardly stellar. He played two seasons with the Patriots, then time with the Colts before a long stint with the Barcelona Dragons. He was okay but nothing special and notable and seemed just another ultra-forgettable player. But Naposki became far more famous in 2009 when he was arrested for the murder of financier Bill McLaughlin in 1994. Apparently, Naposki was involved with McLaughlin’s girlfriend, Nanette and killed McLauglin so she could cash in on his life insurance. He’d managed to hide the crime over a decade but finally found out. Despite a defense trying to muddle the case, Naposki was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to life without parole. He may not have had a big football career but Naposki showed you don’t have to be a star to get a major trial.
13 MURDERED: Trevor Berbick
While he had a good overall in-ring record of 49-11-1 with 33 KOs, Berbick will be remembered for two things: He was the last man to fight Muhammad Ali and he was the man Mike Tyson defeated to become champion. He faced some of the best boxers of his time and held his own well. Berbick was known for a rough temper and numerous run-ins with the law over the years, including sent to jail for five years for assaulting the family babysitter and deported twice. He also had a feud with Larry Holmes including the two caught on tape brawling outside the ring.
In 2006, back in his native Jamaica, Berbick was attacked and beaten to death with a lead pipe by his own nephew. It was truly a horrible twist of fate.
12 MURDERER: Lawrence Phillips
This man is the reason the NFL has psychological screenings for rookies. A very promising college star, Phillips was drafted by the Rams in 1996 but had issues from the start for his temper and drug use. When told he was going to be demoted for poor performance, Phillips had a blow-out with his coach and was let go. His time with the 49ers had him better behaved but lost a bit on the field. Let go, Phillips bounced around in arena football and Canada before being arrested of assault in 2005 and convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in 2009.
In 2015, Phillips killed his cellmate and was charged with murder once more. He ended up committing suicide 2016 and is seen today as a sad story of a man already troubled pushed even further over the edge to a dark fate.
11 MURDERED: Ben Wilson
Many believe he could have been one of the greatest NBA players of all time. In Chicago, Ben Wilson is still revered as arguably the finest high school basketball player the city had ever seen. He led Simeon High to win the Illinois state title and amazing to see on court. Colleges were falling over themselves offering scholarships and even rumors he could skip college to jump right to the NBA. Wilson was keeping quiet that his girlfriend had his child which added pressure and the two had a public fight. During it, Billy Moore and Omar Dixon literally bumped into Wilson, tempers flared and then Moore shot Wilson.
He died the next morning with Moore and Dixon getting convicted, spending years in jail but were released in 2005. Both talked on an ESPN documentary “Benji” and many NBA players have worn Wilson’s number 25 in honor of a young star cut far too short.
10 MURDERER: Oscar Pistorius
He went from the feel-good story of a lifetime to a total nightmare. When he was just 11 months old, his legs were amputated for disease. Outfitted with special metal legs, Pistorius became a track star, winning several medals in special games for the disabled and breaking records. It became a major story as Pistorius was invited to take part in regular track meets despite some controversy over his metallic legs. It reached its height when he competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics and while he didn’t win a medal, captured the world’s imagination and carried South Africa’s flag in the closing ceremony. He was being hailed as a champion and role model which made it more shocking when in 2013, Pistorius was arrested for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius claimed he’d mistaken her for an intruder when he killed her but some didn’t buy it. It was a horrible comedown as he was found guilty and has been spending time in prison since. Pistorius fought to prove someone without legs could be as capable as anyone else and sadly, that was proven true in crime.
9 MURDERED: Spider Sabich
This became a major story when it happened just for how wild it was. Vladimir Sabich was nicknamed “Spider” for his style on the slopes, twisting and sliding about as he slid down the races. He competed in the World Cup as well as the 1968 Winter Olympics and had promise to go more. But on March 21st, 1976, Sabich was shot by his girlfriend and fellow skier Claudine Longet and was pronounced dead at the hospital. The trial became a farce as Longet claimed she’d shot off accidentally while Spider was teaching her how to use the gun. She was found guilty of a misdemeanor and eventually just walked. It inspired a famous “Saturday Night Live” skit where clips of skiers falling are accompanied by gunshots and “he has been accidentally shot by Claudine Longet!” A lighter look at an otherwise freaky crime.
8 MURDERER: Aaron Hernandez
This is one of the sadder stories of recent times. Aaron Hernandez was a very promising All-American signed up by the Patriots in 2010 and one of the more dominant tight ends in the league. He was good on the field, helping the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2011 and the promise of many championship seasons to come. But in 2013, Hernandez was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a minor-league player who’d been dating Hernandez’s sister. Released by the team, Hernandez made headlines the wrong way with his murder trial that culminated in being found guilty in 2015. He was also indicted for a 2012 double murder although he was acquitted of that. But just five days later, Hernandez was found hanging in his cell. It was truly tragic to see this man collapse like this and destroy his name forever.
7 MURDERED: Dino Bravo
It’s become somewhat commonplace for wrestling blogs to talk about Dino Bravo being pretty bad. He wasn’t too terrible a worker but his thick French accent made his promos hard to understand. He was a breakout star in Montreal but his run in WWE didn’t do much good, too many bad angles and feuds and pushed too much as a strongman. He also didn’t make friends with his behavior, often into drugs and alcohol. As it turned out, Bravo was working with the Canadian mafia for illegal cigarette smuggling, a pretty lucrative business in Canada in the early 1990s. He used his fame to make connections and act as the go-between of various forces. This caught up with him as in 1993, he was found shot by 17 bullets in his home. No one was ever arrested as many believe Bravo made the mistake of trying to double-cross one of his criminal contacts. A sadly brutal end to a rough man.
6 MURDERER: Rae Carruth
Of all the acts of homicide on this list, this is perhaps the most sickening, as Rae Carruth, former Carolina Panthers receiver, was convicted of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and as a result of that nearly murdered his unborn child. The mother of the child, Cherica Adams, was shot four times by Van Brett Watkins Sr, an associate of Carruth.
Thankfully, the baby managed to survive after an emergency C-section at the hospital was done. It was ruled by the courts that Carruth had conspired to commit murder after Adams refused to abort the child. Carruth has been in prison for nearly 20 years but is scheduled for a release date in October 2018. He was not found guilty of first degree murder in the case and thus was spared the death penalty.
5 MURDERED: Andres Escobar
The fantastic “30 for 30” film “The Two Escobars” examines how in the 1980s, two men with the same last name came to fame in Columbia. One was Pablo, the man who basically helped invent the cocaine trade and built an illegal empire. The other was Andres, a fantastic soccer star and soon one of the most popular athletes in the field. He became massively adored by fans, his terrific play elevating the teams he was on and boosting himself majorly. When Columbia was invited to the 1994 World Cup, they naturally took Escobar with them, hoping to be favorites.
But in a controversial game, Escobar made a mistake and ended up scoring on his own goal, eliminating the team. Five days later, back in Columbia, Escobar was attacked by a trio of men outside a store who opened fire on him and killed him. Reports showed they were reacting to that goal and it’s sad that a man who brought so much passion to soccer ended up getting killed for it.
4 MURDERER: O.J. Simpson
He did it. That’s what everyone now accepts. O.J. Simpson committed murder and got away with it. The man had been a fantastic athlete, one of the best runners in all of football and hailed for his great work. He also became a star with the Hertz rental car commercials and various movie roles. Sure, some criticism over how he didn’t do much for the black community and such but Simpson was still regarded as a nice guy. But after his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Ron Goldman were found murdered in 1994, Simpson became the focus of one of the most amazing trials ever seen. Despite a mountain of evidence, he was acquitted which most saw as just “rich guy getting off” than justice done. Simpson was later found guilty in a civil suit and currently in jail for robbery. Yet to many, he should have been found guilty of that murder rather than free to hit the golf course.
3 MURDERED: Steve McNair
Breaking out well at a young age, McNair showed his skills as a quarterback, helping usher in a new era of quarterback play. He was the third overall pick in the 1995 draft by the Houston Oilers although it took until November of that year to actually play in a game. He was with the team as the Oilers transformed into the Titans and did well, leading them to a 13-3 record and the playoffs. But injuries limited his time and he was cut, leading to a lawsuit. He then played for the Ravens and a three-time Pro Bowler before retiring in 2008. On July 4th, 2009, McNair was found dead in his Nashville condo along with a female friend, who turned out to be his mistress.
The investigation showed the two had a brutal fight with her shooting McNair dead while he was sleeping before taking her own life. It was a sad end to a good life.
2 MURDERER: Chris Benoit
It’s been a decade but it still haunts over all of wrestling history. Chris Benoit was a fantastic performer, a genius in the ring with his technical mastery and great brawling. From ECW to WCW to WWE, Benoit was a true star who elevated his craft and made himself among the most beloved in wrestling. His reign as World champion in 2004 was a big moment for fans and he kept in the running with various other title runs. He was held up as a shining example of what wrestling should be in every way.
This made it so shocking when the word came out in 2007 of what happened. Benoit had killed his wife, Nancy, their eight-year old son and then took his own life. Arguments rage over the cause from head trauma to long-range mental issues but the fact remains that Benoit has hurt the entire wrestling business and forever tarnished his legacy to be remembered only for that terrible end rather than the life before it.
1 MURDERED: Vernon Forrest
Beginning training at just nine years old, Forrest was determined to be a star in boxing. He amassed a very impressive amateur record and soon pushed into the pro ranks. With his speed and deceptive strength, Forrest was soon on a winning track, a favorite to win the Olympic gold medal in 1992 before food poisoning ruined that. However, he kept right on going, including a major battle with Shane Mosley. In all, Forrest gained four welterweight world titles in two different weight classes and called one of the best fighters of his size around.
Intelligent and highly involved with charity, Forrest was quite well liked outside the ring. On July 25th, 2009, he stopped off at a gas station not far from his home in Atlanta along with his 11-year old godson. He was robbed at gunpoint and, a fighter through and through, exchanged shots with his attacker. Forrest was shot dead, a major blow to the boxing world as he was still champion it was a loss of a fine man.