Usually, when a professional athlete walks away from sports, it either has to do with that person not being able to dominate any longer, like Michael Jordan, or leaving after suffering a tragic injury like Bo Jackson, who retired from pro football after getting hit in a 1990 playoff game. Or maybe the sports star just doesn’t get enjoyment out of the game anymore, like former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck admitted when he retired at 29 years old.
There are other pro athletes, however, who were forced to stop playing their sport after being accused of committing a heinous crime, and then receiving a lengthy prison sentence for it. In many cases, it seems like those crimes were attached to the former athlete having financial difficulties, while others seemed to let love and romance get in the way of their freedom. But really, in most cases, no one knows the true motive of a person’s criminal act besides the perpetrator, and that person is often accused of masking their reason with lies.
Regardless of why some athletes have turned to crime, we’ve listed a few of their stories and explained why these sports stars are currently in prison.
Former sports star Eric Naposki was involved in a love triangle
If there’s one thing that can be learned from former NFL player Eric Naposki’s case, it’s that time won’t necessarily shield you from being held accountable for a past crime. On May 20, 2009, Naposki — who was a linebacker for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts — was arrested in Greenwich, Conn. for killing millionaire businessman Bill McLaughlin 15 years prior, as Oxygen describes.
But let’s back up. As police were conducting their initial investigation inside McLaughlin’s Newport Beach, Calif. home in 1994, his girlfriend, Nanette Johnston, arrived and was emotionally distraught. Authorities didn’t have any solid leads until they stopped Naposki’s vehicle on a traffic warrant and found a notebook with McLaughlin’s license plate number written inside of it. However, nothing came of the case at this point, and Naposki resumed his football career, playing for the Barcelona Dragons in Europe’s World League, then settling down in Connecticut with a wife and two kids. Still, things eventually caught up to him.
And remember Johnston? Per Oxygen, Police later said that she was romantically involved with Naposki while engaged to McLaughlin, and that they “conspired to kill McLaughlin for his money.” In 2011, Naposki was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison, while Johnston received the same sentence one year later. Admitting to making “poor” yet “not violent” choices in the ’90s to Sports Illustrated, Naposki denied his guilt to CBS News, referring to himself as “collateral damage” in the case.
Darren Sharper lived a dark life behind the scenes before landing in prison
Darren Sharper started his professional sports career as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Then he played for the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, where he won a Super Bowl, before retiring in 2011 and becoming an analyst for the NFL Network. But these days, Sharper is most known for raping at least 16 women in four states, and in 2016 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
According to USA Today, Sharper was first indicted for rape in New Orleans in 2013, after it was said he drugged and raped two women with his friend, Erik Nunez. The New Orleans Advocate reports that Sharper plied women with drugs like Valium, Ambien, Xanax, and Ecstasy before sexually assaulting them. He was also accused of drugging and raping women in California, Arizona, as well as Las Vegas. Besides Nunez, former police officer Brandon Licciardi was also named as an accomplice, as he reportedly supplied the drugs, as well. Licciardi was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2016, while Nunez received 10 years.
In addition to his 20-year sentence, Sharper was also sentenced to 18 years and 4 months by a Louisiana state judge, and his sentences will run concurrently.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.org for additional resources.
Randall Woodfield became known as the I-5 killer
Former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Woodfield eventually developed a nickname that made headlines, per Sports Illustrated. But the name had zero to do with being a member of the Packers, because he was cut in training camp. Instead, Woodfield was dubbed the “I-5 Killer” for committing several murders in Oregon, Washington, and California, because I-5 is the name of the highway that connects all three states.
Woodfield began committing crimes early on and was arrested in high school for “exposing himself in public,” according to The Bozho. After being cut by the Packers, he worked for a truck company in Wisconsin, before returning to his home state of Oregon, where his I-5 crimes began. By the time Woodfield was convicted in 1981 of shooting and killing 20-year-old Shari Hull in an office building, he was linked to five additional murders through DNA, per Oregon Live. However, it’s suspected that he may have killed many more.
At 30 years old, Woodfield was sentenced to life in prison, plus 90 years, which he’s been serving out in the Oregon State Penitentiary.
Dave Meggett went from a Super Bowl champ to a prison inmate
In November 2010, Dave Meggett, who was a running back and punt returner for the New York Giants, New England Patriots, and New York Jets, was sentenced to 30 years for first-degree criminal sexual conduct and first-degree burglary after raping a female college student in South Carolina, per ESPN. However, legal problems for Meggett began shortly after he stopped playing in the NFL: In 1998, he was arrested in Toronto for assaulting an escort, but the trial ended in a hung jury. He was later accused of sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend in North Carolina and received two years of probation for it in 2007.
According to The Post and Courier, the aforementioned college student, who gave testimony during the 2010 trial, said that she and Meggett had consensual sex eight months before the assault, and that he had also loaned her $200. But on Jan. 13, 2009, he asked her to return the money, but she couldn’t afford it. According to the victim, “He told me he was going to take a down payment now,” before attacking her.
In 2013, it was reported that Meggett wanted the conviction in his 2009 rape case to either be thrown out or to have a new trial, per The Post and Courier. The disgraced football player claimed that his attorney didn’t properly prepare during the trial, thus making him “ineffective” counsel. However, Meggett’s request was shot down.
Sports star Oscar Pistorius admitted to shooting his girlfriend
It seems like sprinter Oscar Pistorius was surrounded in success one second, and the next, he was sobbing in South Africa’s Pretoria High Court. On Feb. 14, 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in his Pretoria home, but claimed that he thought she was a criminal intruder. There was a media frenzy surrounding his trial, which makes sense since Pistorius, who’s a double-amputee, was a decorated athlete who wowed crowds at both the Paralympic and Olympic Games.
At the end of his trial, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide and was initially given a five-year prison sentence, per Reuters. After serving just 10 months, he was given permission to serve the rest of his time on house arrest. However, Justice Minister Michael Masutha eventually blocked his release, saying there was “no legal basis” for the parole board to free Pistorius. In 2016, after prosecutors claimed that the initial sentence was too lenient, the Supreme Court of Appeal upgraded the sports star’s charge from culpable homicide to murder, and a judge sentenced him to six years.
But that wouldn’t be the last time Pistorius would be sentenced for shooting Steenkamp, because the Supreme Court of Appeal handed him a sentence of 13 years and five months after the government contested his six-year sentence, according to NPR. Today, Pistorius remains in the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria, South Africa, and will be eligible for parole in 2023.
Hardbody Harrison was convicted of sex trafficking
When former pro wrestler Hardbody Harrison’s career didn’t work out as planned, he allegedly became a pimp, got into sex trafficking, and is now serving a life sentence in prison. After getting an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in 1995, the Georgia native became a jobber — a person who often loses matches to a wrestler who’s a main draw — in World Championship Wrestling, per Sportscasting. Unfortunately, despite winning the heavyweight championship in 2000 on FX’s Toughman, Harrison wasn’t offered a new contract when the WCW was bought by the WWE’s Vince McMahon the following year.
Eventually, Harrison turned to a life of crime to make ends meet. According to Sportscasting, he would bail women out of jail, offer them a place to stay at his house in Cartersville, Ga., and then make them to work as sex workers. At the time of his arrest, it was said that several women lived in his home against their will and were forced to do sex acts in addition to doing household chores. Pro Wrestling Stories reports that the former sports star created a debt system to keep them under his reign.
Harrison served as his own lawyer during his trial and claimed the women lived with him because they were training to be wrestlers. But his argument didn’t sway the jurors, who found him guilty of several charges, including sex trafficking, aggravated sexual abuse, and forced labor in 2007.
Jon 'War Machine' Koppenhaver was sentenced to life behind bars
Although Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver made a name for himself as a mixed martial artist in Bellator and the UFC, he’ll probably forever be associated with severely beating his ex-girlfriend, Christine Mackinday, and her boyfriend, Corey Thomas, on Aug. 8th, 2014. Rolling Stone reports that Koppenhaver and Mack dated for years before the vicious crime was committed, but things ended because the ex-fighter allegedly had a bad temper and was physically abusive.
On the night of the attack, it’s said that Koppenhaver entered Mackinday’s Las Vegas home without permission and beat up Thomas, leaving him with several injuries, including a broken nose and dislocated shoulder. Koppenhaver then told Thomas — who was a castmate on VH1’s Megan Wants a Millionaire — to leave, and he began savagely beating Mack, leaving her with a badly ruptured liver, fractured rib, broken nose, broken teeth, and 10 broken bones, as HuffPost reported.
The fallen fighter was eventually arrested in a hotel room in Simi Valley, Calif., and is now serving his life sentence in Nevada’s Ely State Prison.
Bertil Fox fell from bodybuilder grace to life in prison
Former bodybuilder Bertil Fox’s fall was a major one, considering he had a 25-year career and won titles with the National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association and Amateur Athletic Union, before being convicted of murder in 1998. It was reported that on Sep. 30, 1997, Fox shot and killed his former fiancée, Leyoca Browne, and her mother, Violet, on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, where he was born. The shooting took place in “Violet’s dress shop,” according to Sports Illustrated, but Fox claimed that his gun went off by mistake when he and Violet were fighting for it.
Fox was convicted of the double murder on May 22, 1998, and was sentenced to be hanged — but that was halted after a successful appeal was made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Instead, he was given a life sentence. “I’ve never been in prison before,” the former Mr. Universe told Sports Illustrated. “I’m locked up all day. I come out to shower in the morning and come out to shower at night. I work out in the cell. That’s all there is to do. I’ve never been in trouble in my life. Overnight, I’m a monster.”
Clifford Etienne lost his freedom after going on a crime spree
For a while there, former boxer Clifford Etienne turned his life around after being sent to prison for armed robbery, then being paroled in 1998. While he was locked up at Louisiana State Penitentiary and Winn and Dixon correctional centers, he took up boxing and got pretty darn good at it. In time, Etienne won the state prison boxing championship, according to WAFB 9, and his success continued after he was released because he fought professionally. Eventually, he racked up an impressive record of 29 wins, four losses, and two draws. He even fought Mike Tyson on Feb. 22, 2003, but got “knocked out.”
Despite the loss, Etienne would probably refer to that time of his life as the “good old days,” because just three years later, he was convicted of several charges, including attempted second-degree murder, after stealing nearly $2,000 from a check cashing business in Baton Rouge, La. ESPN reports that he also stole a couple of cars that were occupied by children at the time, and he tried to shoot two police officers, but his gun jammed.
During his trial, Etienne’s legal team claimed that he was high on drugs while committing those crimes and couldn’t discern right from wrong due to having brain trauma from boxing. The jury didn’t buy it, however, and he was sentenced to 150 years behind bars. This sentence later got reduced to 105 years due to some sort of “technicality,” per Sportscasting.
Sports star Gavin Grant was said to be involved in gang activity
Gavin Grant overcame a lot since he grew up in a tough part of London’s Harlesden section to play for the pro soccer teams Millwall, Wycombe Wanderers and Bradford City. But everything came crashing down for the rising sports star, who many said had loads of potential, because he was convicted of murder in 2010 for shooting 21-year-old Leon Labastide, per The Guardian. Grant was given a sentence that has a minimum of 25 years, while two others, Gareth Downie and Damian Williams, were also convicted for the shooting and given the same amount of time.
The Guardian reports that Labastide was killed in a “tit-for-tat” shooting, as the neighborhood used to be a hotbed for gang activity. Labastide and a group of others reportedly stormed into the house of Grant’s best friend, Romain Whyte, and stole £20,000. Grant, Downie, and Williams then went looking for Labastide, and when they found him, he was shot six times.
“Leon was a keen footballer who shared his passion for the game with all who knew him. He loved life,” said Labastide’s mother in a statement that was published by BBC News. “His senseless killing by so-called friends who grew up with him has left it hard for me to understand the futility of snatching Leon’s future whilst, in the same breath, destroying their own.”
Keith Wright found himself behind bars after getting into home invasions
When Keith Wright was selected by the Houston Texans in 2003 as the NFL’s final pick of the sixth round, per ESPN, there probably weren’t a lot of people who suspected he’d take such a long downfall, but that’s exactly what happened. He’d been a standout defensive lineman at the University of Missouri before being drafted to the NFL. After his run with the Texans, he played for the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Arizona Cardinals, before crossing the pond and playing in NFL Europe. He ended his career in 2006 with the Detroit Lions.
In 2013, Wright received a prison sentence of 234 years and 8 months after committing three home robberies in Sacramento while armed. In addition to stealing money and people’s belongings, according to CBS Sacramento, Wright reportedly sexually assaulted one of his victims after making her drive him to two ATMs to get money. Thankfully, he was caught after trying to exchange some foreign currency he took from one of the residences. There were also stolen items found in his home.
In the end, Wright was charged with armed robbery, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, false imprisonment, and forcible oral copulation.
Sports star Craig Titus and his wife became fugitives
In 2008, bodybuilder Craig Titus was given a prison sentence of between 21 and 55 years for killing his personal assistant in Las Vegas. His wife, former Ms. Fitness America Kelly Ryan, was also arrested. That’s because in 2005, the couple’s 28-year-old assistant, Melissa James, was found killed and burned inside of Ryan’s Jaguar. According to True Crime Daily, James had also been injected with a fatal dose of morphine. Meanwhile, Oxygen reports that a taser was used on her, and she was beaten.
Titus later claimed to police that his assistant injected herself with morphine, and the couple played dumb when they learned she was found inside the Jaguar. But surveillance footage caught Ryan buying “seven bottles of lighter fluid” at a Walmart not far from the murder scene. The couple then left Las Vegas for Boston, and according to Sportscasting, eventually claimed that James was accidentally killed during a “drug-fueled fight,” but admitted to burning her body. Their reasoning? They didn’t want the body to be found or identified because it would sully their careers. Prior to the gruesome crime, Titus and Ryan were a power couple — and not just because they both had bulging muscles — who were well-known in the fitness world, often landing in magazines together.
For her role, Ryan was sentenced to between six and 26 years behind bars, but was released on parole in 2017. Her husband will be eligible for parole in December 2026.
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