It’s strange to think that there was a time when we were shocked to learn that our favorite athletes were involved in some kind of crime. After all, these men and women are often presented as superheroes when we see them in person or on TV, so why shouldn’t they also be superheroes in real life? Of course, we now know better. We know that the fast-living world of the professional athletes proves to be fertile ground for all manners of unbelievable criminal activities. It’s almost impossible to be shocked by a story of a famous athlete doing something criminal.
While the idea of a famous athlete doing something illegal may not be as shocking, some of the criminal actions that famous NFL players have performed over the years certainly qualify as shocking. Whether it's a case of a world famous player deciding to make a little money on the side by having dogs fight to the death or an obscure former player who soon became a racial cult’s number one hitman, there is a select group of NFL players whose prison sentences managed to remind us that we can indeed be shocked by a famous athlete doing something criminal. These are the top 15 shocking prison sentences for NFL players.
15 Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson - Using Substances With Underage Girls
Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson quickly helped the Dallas Cowboys establish their larger than life identity when he joined the team in 1975. Henderson’s nickname came from his flashy play and high-roller lifestyle. He loved to terrorize teams on the field and loved to have a good time off of it. The extent of Henderson’s good times became clear to millions when he was arrested in 1983 for smoking cocaine with two teenage girls and allegedly sexually assaulting them after threatening the girls with a gun. Henderson claims that the cocaine was actually given in exchange for consensual sex. The jury didn’t really care either way and sentenced Henderson to 28 months in prison. Following his release, Henderson sobered up and actually won a $28 million lottery in 2000. He’s since founded a youth outreach charity.
14 Rae Carruth - Arranged the Murder of His Pregnant Girlfriend
Rae Carruth NFL career is pretty forgettable. Despite being selected by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 1997 NFL draft, Carruth never quite lived up to his billing. He was a decent wide receiver whose injuries kept him from reaching the next level. Carruth NFL career came to an abrupt end in 1999 when he was accused of arranging the shooting of his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams. Carruth turned himself in upon Adams’ death. He soon learned the baby had survived but had been diagnosed with permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy. Carruth argued that he was just caught up in a drug deal gone bad, but the prosecution stated that Carruth had arranged the hit after Adams refused to have an abortion. While Carruth avoided the death penalty, he was sentenced to 18-24 years in prison.
13 Anthony Smith - Torturing and Murdering Four Men
In 1990, the Oakland Raiders (then the Los Angeles Raiders) gleefully added standout defensive end Anthony Smith to their team. Smith was considered to be a top 10 prospect - he actually fell to the Raiders with the 11th overall pick - and one of the best defensive players available that year. In his first three seasons, Smith compiled 36 sacks and looked to be on his way to a special career. However, Smith’s production dropped off shortly thereafter and he retired abruptly in 1997. He had multiple run-ins with the law after that, but his conviction came in 2011 when he was found guilty of murdering a business associate named Maurilio Ponce. While awaiting a retrial, Smith was charged with the torture and murder of three other men. It was even alleged that Smith had impersonated a detective in order to kidnap and torture two of his victims. In 2016, Smith was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
12 Ryan Leaf - Multiple Counts of Felony Robbery and Possession
Many NFL fans are well aware of Ryan Leaf’s football career. After three brilliant seasons at Washington State, Leaf entered the 1998 NFL Draft neck and neck with some guy named Peyton Manning in terms of who was the top prospect. Leaf turned out to be a huge bust, had an emotional breakdown, and was out of the league in a few years. While Leaf actually managed to pull himself together for a time and embrace an average life, he soon began to face a series of charges related to felony burglary.
Leaf was able to dodge conviction for a time but was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison for felony robbery and drug charges. Despite multiple run-ins with the law and condition violations, Leaf is currently released from prison and under the supervision of a parole facility.
11 Mercury Morris - Twenty Year Sentence for Cocaine Trafficking
This is one of those convictions that has been forgotten about over the years. During his prime, Eugene “Mercury” Morris was the centerpiece of the vaunted ‘70s Miami Dolphins dynasty. He and fellow running back Larry Csonka helped the Dolphins win two Super Bowls and achieve that fabled perfect season the ‘72 Dolphins like to remind us about every year. Then, in 1982, Morris was convicted of cocaine trafficking and sentenced to twenty years in prison. During the trial, it was revealed that Morris had acted as an intermediary for some rather large cocaine deals. Morris claimed that he was simply a patsy whose own cocaine habits had been exploited by people close to him. Four years later, his conviction was overturned because the court found that potential evidence of entrapment was not properly submitted during the trial.
10 O.J. Simpson - Armed Robbery of Sports Memorabilia
As you know doubt know, this is a bit of a two part story. In 1994 O.J. Simpson was charged with the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. What followed is what some have described as the trial of the century and the biggest media event of all-time. While Simpson wasn’t convicted at that time, he proceeded to be charged with an array of crimes over the years. Eventually, Simpson was charged with robbing a casino of valuable sports memorabilia. The charges involved with the case grew to include kidnapping, armed robbery, and assault. Following an extended trial, Simpson was eventually sentenced to 33 years in prison over various charges related to the robbery. He is currently eligible for parole in July, 2017.
9 Darryl Henley - Attempted to Murder a Judge and a Witness Involved in His Cocaine Trafficking Trial
Darryl Henley flew under the radar of most NFL fans during his brief career in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He was a good, but not great, cornerback who managed to occasionally bring in a spectacular interception. In 1995, Henley went on trial for charges related to cocaine trafficking. It was a bad situation that became much, much worse when Henley had a cell phone smuggled into the jail cell he occupied during the trial. On this phone, Henley made a deal with a mafia member. If Henley agreed to participate in a heroin deal, the mafia member agreed to murder Henley’s judge and a witness. The mafia member, as it turned out, was a DEA agent. All told, Henley was sentenced to 41 years in prison for his various crimes.
8 Michael Vick - Involvement in a Large-Scale Dogfighting Ring
This may be one of the most famous trials on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking. In order to fully appreciate how shocking this conviction was, you have to understand just how big of a star Michael Vick once was. The man’s exciting style of quarterback play helped revolutionize the game and made Vick a global star. He was on the cover of video games, the star of a Nike ad campaign, and one of the NFL’s highest paid players. Then, in 2007, Vick plead guilty to his involvement in a large dogfighting ring. The nature of this crime was shocking to many who had never really heard of such a large dogfighting ring and couldn’t understand how one of the most famous athletes in the world could ever be involved with something so stupid.
7 Keith Wright - Home Invasion, Sexual Assault, Kidnapping, False Imprisonment (200+ Year Sentence)
Most players drafted after the third or fourth round of the average NFL Draft never really generate much buzz. There have been some notable exceptions to this rule, of course, but in order for a late round pick to really make a name for themselves, they have to do something truly notable. While Keith Wright didn’t do much notable on the field while he was a member of various NFL teams, he did manage to enter the national spotlight in a big way in 2011 when he was put on trial for multiple cases of home robbery. As the trial progressed, it was revealed that Wright had participated in three shocking home invasions. One of these robberies even saw him kidnap a woman, sexually assault her, and force her to drive to a bank to withdraw money. Wright was sentenced to 234 years in prison for his crimes.
6 Aaron Hernandez - Homicide
People sometimes forget this, but Aaron Hernandez entered the NFL with quite a bit of legal baggage in tow. In 2007, Hernandez was reportedly involved in a bar fight and shooting that left some teams feeling quite uncomfortable about drafting the standout tight end. The New England Patriots took a chance on him and, for a time, it looked like they made the right decision. Hernandez’s stellar NFL career came crashing down, though, when he was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013. During the trial, the full extent of Hernandez’s criminal lifestyle was suddenly made public.
Hernandez simply never escaped his dark past. The fallout of Hernandez’s lifetime conviction was stunning as the NFL, the Patriots, and the Florida Gators essentially erased all records of his career. Earlier this year, Hernandez committed suicide shortly after being acquitted of 2012 double murder charges.
5 Darren Sharper - Numerous Counts of Sexual Assault
This one is still hard to swallow. During his prime, Darren Sharper was arguably the greatest safety in the NFL. As a member of the Green Bay Packers, Sharper was an absolute defensive terror who helped ensure that teams thought twice about going deep against the Green Bay defense. Even in his later years, Sharper remained one of the league’s best. He seemed like a surefire Hall of Famer when he retired in 2010.
In 2014, however, multiple people stepped forward to accuse Darren Sharper of sexual assault. The extent of Sharper’s assault history was shocking. He had apparently used his fame, wealth, and heavy travel schedule to commit numerous sexual assaults all across the country over a period of years. Sharper was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison.
4 Cecil Collins - Broke Into Homes to Watch People Sleep
Cecil “The Diesel” Collins was not necessarily a highly-prized college player. He was thought of as a good running back whose skill and character issues would probably keep him from ever becoming great in the NFL. The Miami Dolphins decided to take a chance on Collins during the 1999 NFL Draft. The Dolphins discovered that Collins was actually a pretty decent runner who showcased star potential during his rookie season. Whatever career Collins may have had came to a head when he was charged with home invasion and burglary during his rookie year. The case was bizarre.
Collins had previously been charged with breaking into apartments during college but wasn’t formally convicted. This time, he claimed to have broken into a woman’s home just to watch her sleep. When it was all said and done, Collins was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
3 Eric Naposki - Served as a Hired Hitman
It’s hard to imagine that there are many fans out there who remember Eric Naposki for his on-the-field contributions. Naposki’s road to college football and the NFL wasn’t exactly high-profile or filled with incredible moments. He was a serviceable linebacker. Naposki essentially fell off the planet sometime in the mid-nineties, but surfaced again in 2011 when he became the subject of an absolutely bizarre court case. Over the course of a prolonged investigation, it was revealed that Naposki had served as a hired gun for his lover, Nanette Packard McNeal. McNeal married a very wealthy entrepreneur named William McLaughlin and had Naposki murder McLaughlin in order to collect his estate. Many have stated that Naposki’s mannerisms during the trial suggested that he may actually be downright evil. Naposki was eventually convicted to a lifetime sentence.
2 Lawrence Phillips - Drove Into A Group of Teenagers/Multiple Counts of Assault
Lawrence Phillips is one of the most interesting cases of a college star whose potential never quite materialized in the NFL. Phillips turned heads when he rushed for 1,818 yards for Nebraska in 1994. During this time, Phillips was also charged with violently assaulting a female basketball player. The Rams decided to take a chance on the troubled Phillips when they selected him number six overall in 1996. Unfortunately for them, Phillips never really contributed anything more substantial than an occasionally decent performance. Phillips didn’t last long in the NFL and didn’t really make headlines again until he was arrested for assault in 2005.
What began as an already shocking charge involving Phillips allegedly driving his car into a group of teenagers was soon compounded by charges of domestic abuse, grand theft auto, and more. Phillips was ultimately sentenced to 31 years in prison, allegedly killed a man while in prison, and is believed to have killed himself in 2016.
1 Robert Rozier - Killed and Dismembered Seven People in Service of a Black Supremacist Cult
Robert Rozier almost didn’t even qualify for this list. After all, he only played six NFL games before being released over supposed drug charges. Shortly after his release, Rozier joined a Miami group known as the Temple of Love. Now, this group called themselves many things, but what they really were was a black supremacist cult. Rozier eventually decided to join the cult full-time. Doing so required him to murder a “white devil” and return one of his victim’s body parts to the cult’s leader as proof.
During Rozier’s eventual trial, he admitted to murdering seven people and dismembering them in service of the cult. In exchange for testifying against the cult, Rozier received a 22-year prison sentence. He served 10 years of that sentence before being released and placed in the witness protection program. Eventually, Rozier was busted for writing bad checks. As this was his third legal strike, he was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life. He’s still serving that sentence today.