Extortion sounds like a funny word, doesn’t it? Say it a few times really slowly, you’ll see what I mean. Extortion. It’s a kind of meaningless word too, serving only really as a more professional way of saying blackmail. Either way, it’s actually a nasty thing to find yourself in the middle of, and we’ve learned through the years that celebrities and athletes are especially vulnerable to it. They do tend to make a lot of money, after all, and they aren’t in weird, crazy cults that protect them like super-rich businessmen are.
Perhaps athletes are more likely to be the victims of extortion than celebrities are. Many celebrities don’t care how they’re portrayed by the media. They don’t care if some nudes get out or if they’re seen partying or drinking somewhere they aren’t supposed to be. But athletes? Athletes are some of the most buttoned up, strict people in the world. Look no further than the people condemning Cam Newton for simply dancing or Johnny Manziel for wearing a shirt that says “Merry Manziel” on it. The sports world is just a more conservative culture and everything is made out to be terrible.
That might be why we see so many cases of extortion in sports. Guys most of us have never heard of to world famous athletes like Tiger Woods have all suffered at the hands of an extortionist. Not to mention all the times when we never find out.
So, let’s kick off this new year with 15 stories about athletes suffering at the hands of criminals. How else would anyone want to start the year off?
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15 Ronnie Belliard
In 2007, news broke that an unnamed St. Louis Cardinals player was the victim of extortion. This led everyone to suspect Albert Pujols (remember him?) was the target. A week later, we found out that it wasn’t nearly that interesting. Instead, it was Ronnie Belliard, a journeymen who wasn’t even on that team anymore in 2007.
Belliard was being threatened by a guy who claims Belliard knocked up his girlfriend and was threatening to go public with the story if Belliard didn’t pay him $150,000. The story ended up getting out anyway and the boyfriend, George Edwards, was sent to jail. Edwards was an ex-con, not so much an “ex” at that point, who likely targeted Belliard because he’s married with two kids.
14 Mike McFarland
As we all know, no offense, according to the NFL, is more serious than smoking marijuana. Players have been suspended for entire seasons because of it while those who beat their wives get a slap on the wrist. Given how it’s legal in several states and will be legal nationwide within a decade, this is a strange policy. You could understand a player who occasionally lights up not wanting to let his habits go public.
Such was the case for Mike McFarland, a practice squad Texans player who had photos of him smoking pot taken by a con man, Chaz Davis. Davis tried, and succeeded, in extorting not McFarland himself, but the Texans director of security, Emmett Baylor, for $3,000.
Davis was eventually caught, McFarland cut from the team, and the Texans looked silly for paying so much money over something that literally no one cares about. Good job once again, NFL.
13 Robert Griffin III
RGIII took the NFL by storm in his rookie year in 2012, a year after winning a Heisman in college. Everything was looking up for him, until a man named Richard Hurd showed the young gun he was in for a rough time for the next few years.
Richard Hurd, a basketball player at Baylor the same time RGIII was playing there, threatened to release “damaging information,” whatever that means, about the quarterback if he didn’t play him $1 million. Hurd relayed the threat to Griffin’s agent, who then contacted the FBI, who formed a settlement with Hurd for $120,000.
Hurd was eventually caught, forced to pay a $1,000 fine, and sentenced to 18 months in jail. The article doesn’t say, but he likely had to forfeit the $120k as well, otherwise I’d argue he actually won this one.
12 Michael Trope
Michael Trope isn’t an athlete, per se, but he is a sports agent. He’s on this list to show that even the rich can try to extort the rich, and sometimes politicians can be the extorter, not the extortee. Are those words?
A prominent agent throughout the 70s and 80s, Trope represented over 2,000 NFL players and was known as a super-agent of his time. Senator Joseph B. Montoya of California heard about him, and several others including Ed Asner, and using blackmail gained over $5,000 in campaign money from Trope in the early 80s. Montoya asked Trope to pay him the money in regards to a bill that essentially would have given sports agents more power over their clients. Along with the endorsement, the money also bought silence.
Montoya was eventually caught, tried, and indicted in 1989, four years after Trope retired as a sports agent. He’s a lawyer now, go figure.
11 Carl Pavano
Why stop at demanding money when you can get a car out of the deal as well? That’s what Christian Bedard allegedly did to Carl Pavano in 2012. Bedard, a former classmate of the pitcher, threatened to release personal information about the pitcher if he didn’t pay him money and give him “a navy Range Rover with tan leather.” Suddenly images of a seafaring SUV armed with torpedoes spring to mind.
The personal information in questioned turned out to be a physical relationship between Pavano and Bedard, as if it mattered.
An investigation was launched into the claims of extortion, but it came up with nothing because the Pavano family wouldn’t cooperate. Who knows if they paid the guy off or if they just wanted it all to go away. Either way, the information is out there now anyway.
10 Liliya Shobukhova
Liliya Shobukhova, a Russian Olympian, is one of several Olympians who were allegedly extorted by Russia during the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics. The allegations go that the Russian anti-doping federation, and the IAAF (International Associations of Athletics Federation), worked in conjunction to drug Russian athletes for the Olympics and bribe or blackmail anyone who opposed into silence.
Shobukhova is allegedly one of those athletes. According to reports, she was on steroids when she competed in the 2012 London games. She then paid Russian officials linked to the IAAF $520,000 to keep silent. However, she was discovered and banned anyway in 2014, and her husband was sent $345,000 back as some kind of refund.
These are shocking allegations against a country that has been doing shady things for a long time. Shobukhova allegedly cheated, so you will likely be people saying it was her fault, but officials of a governing body established to fight cheating and corruption can’t be doing those things itself.
9 Mathieu Valbuena
It’s an amazing thing when an athlete tries to extort another athlete. Such is the case, kind of, with Mathieu Valbuena and former Liverpool player and teammate Djibril Cisse. Somehow, somebody got their hands on a sex-tape staring Valbuena and were trying to blackmail him with it. As a result of a police investigation, Cisse was arrested in connection with the plot.
Police believed Cisse wasn’t the one with the footage, but they did suspect he knew of the plot and the people involved. He has since been released and no news has come to light yet. However, a few days after the arrest, Cisse announced his retirement.
As it turned out, it was another former teammate who was involved with it, Karim Benzema. Benzema was allegedly acting with someone and repeatedly tried to talk Valbuena into paying the blackmailer. Eventually, Mathieu got suspicious, reported him to the police, and it was discovered he was allegedly involved all along.
8 Mark Jackson
Some may remember his days of playing in the NBA, but younger fans likely remember Mark Jackson as a former NBA coach and current NBA analyst. Still, perhaps there are some that remember him as the guy who was the victim of an extortion attempt by a former stripper.
The details are just about what you’d expect. Jackson was having an affair with a stripper and years later (2012), she was with some new guy who convinced her to extort money out of him to keep it quiet. Jackson contacted the police, and after cooperating with the FBI, the stripper and her new boy toy were arrested.
Jackson did go to the police, but not before paying up $5,000 to the boyfriend for a folder containing nekked photos. He says that the boyfriend wanted the money to “fix his teeth and get his car out of an impound lot.” Some men want to watch the world burn, others just want braces.
7 Jaromir Jagr
Jarmir Jagr, who's still an All Star caliber forward, is a 43 year old man who slept with an 18 year old model. No big deal, who cares, right? Well, the model took a picture of the two in bed while Jagr was sleeping and threatened to post it online if he didn’t pay her $2,000. While this is nothing new, here’s where this one gets funny. Jagr, at the time at least, was single. No wife, no girlfriend, and the woman was 18 years old. He literally told her “I don’t care,” and kicked her out. Sure enough, she posted the photo and… no one else cared either.
Except the model’s boyfriend, who we guess she didn’t care about. Her boyfriend was Domink Rudl, an up and coming Czech hockey star who played on the Junior National Team and idolized Jagr. I wonder if he got mad at his girlfriend for sleeping with him, or fell more in love with her.
6 Damian Williams
The case of Tennessee Titans receiver Damian Williams and his ex-girlfriend Shelley David is a sad, yet interesting one. David filed a domestic assault complaint against Williams in early 2011. She then threatened to take the case further if he didn’t pay her $5,000. Williams informed the police, who put a wire on him and sent him to meet with her. After the meeting, their arrested her and charged her with extortion.
The report makes no mention on whether or not Williams did assault David. Still, this feels like one of those times where there is no clear victim. If Williams did abuse David, then not much would have likely have come from it, especially not from the NFL in 2011. But trying to blackmail someone for cash isn’t right either.
It’s almost like the world isn’t some fantasy story book and there are a lot of moral gray areas and it’s hard to tell who’s a victim and who’s a criminal or something!
5 Chris “Birdman” Andersen
You remember Birdman, right? The white guy with all the tattoos and 90s fohawk? He was part of the 2013 Championship with the Miami Heat. You’d think that offseason would be great for him, but instead it was filled with misery.
It’s a long story, but the gist of it is that a woman from Canada stole Andersen’s identity, catfished a 17 year old woman from California, who later got creeped out and called the cops on “Andersen,” which led to police searching the real Andersen’s house for sexual content involving minors. This lead to Andersen getting cut by the Nuggets before joining the Heat.
It finally ended in 2013 when the woman from Canada was caught and charged with identity theft, among other things. Andersen’s lawyer called the case “Manti Te’o on steroids,” perhaps a poor chose of wording, but it’s one I’m inclined to agree with.
4 Hines Ward
Paying for sex is illegal in the United States, for whatever reasons we won't argue here. Nevertheless, there are a few hero vigilantes who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure people who hire prostitutes are brought to justice. Such is the role of one man who threatened former Steelers WR Hines Ward with leaking evidence that he paid for sex. Clearly that justice could only be served one way: with a $15,000 fine.
Of course, average citizens can’t collect fines, so what he was doing was blackmailing Ward. Blackmailing is also illegal.
Joshua Van Auker was arrested in 2012 after trying to get the $15k from Ward’s personal assistant. Ward didn’t even know about the incident until after the man was arrested.
3 Leonys Martin
So far, everyone on this list has had it relatively easy. The people blackmailing them have been doing just that, blackmailing them. They were threatened with going to the police over some small crime or releasing embarrassing photos to the public. But extortion isn’t always like that, sometimes your life is being directly threatened, or worse, the lives of your family.
Such was the case with Rangers center-fielder Leonys Martin. Martin was born in Cuba, and was smuggled out before the easing of tensions between the US and his homeland. But he didn’t sneak out on a rickety boat. Oh no, instead, he was basically kidnapped at gunpoint, along with hundreds of other Cubans, and beaten and tortured until they got to Mexico.
From there, the gang that smuggled him out continued beating and threatening the young MLB prospect until he signed on with a team. When that happened, he was forced, at gunpoint, to sign over 35% of his earnings to them or they would come find him. The man responsible for the whole thing? He was already in jail and was still giving out orders to harass and extort Martin.
2 Adam “Pacman” Jones
Way back in 2008, former Titans CB Adam “Pacman” Jones grabbed headlines not for his play on the field, but what happened off it. Jones was at a strip club when there was a shooting that left a club employee paralyzed. You probably heard about the story before, as it led to Jones getting suspended and almost kicked out of the NFL.
What you might not know is that the story is a little more complicated.
The shooting happened before a confrontation between Jones and Edwards. After the shooting, a man named Arvin Edwards contacted Jones and demanded payment for what he called “services rendered,” implying that the shooting was some kind of job. He wanted $15,000 or Edwards would “go after Jones, his mother and daughter.” Jones ended up paying the money in two installments, but Edwards was later caught and Jones identified him in a lineup.
1 Rick Pitino
Okay, so he’s not an athlete but so what? This is a good story. It seems like a day can’t go by without Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino getting involved in some crazy, sex fueled scandal. In 2009, the scandal of choice was an extortion attempt from the estranged wife of a former team equipment manager.
The story goes about how you would expect, this wife alleged that Pitino had an affair with Pitino, which she threatened to expose if Pitino didn’t pay up. She started calling Pitino in February 2009 and the calls continued throughout March Madness.
In 2011, Karen Sypher was sentenced to seven years in jail for attempting to extort money from Pitino. No sum was given for how much she was trying to get, but you can bet it was at least five figures. Who knows what it is about Pitino, but he always seems to find a way to stay in the headlines and not because of basketball.
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