7 Athletes Who Went Directly To Jail

Getty Images
Getty Images

It's been a rough week for former NFL players on the judicial circuit. O.J. Simpson couldn't beat a robbery and kidnapping charge and now faces life in prison. Former first-round bust running back Lawrence Phillips got slapped with a 10-year prison sentence following his own checkered career on the wrong side of the law. These sentences may come as a surprise to cynical fans who think there's no way a famous athlete could end up in prison, but sports figures serving hard time isn't exactly uncommon. Here are seven who did not pass go, did not collect their $200, and went directly to jail.

1. Craig MacTavish

As an NHL player, MacTavish was a solid center who enjoyed a long career that spanned from 1979 to 1997. He even won four Stanley Cups. However, he missed the entire 1984-85 season because he was incarcerated. MacTavish had been driving drunk on January 25, 1984, when he was in a wreck that killed a 26-year-old woman. MacTavish was found guilty of vehicular homicide and spent a year in jail before resuming his career. He's currently the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

2. Rae Carruth

Perhaps the most infamous of all NFL players, Rae Carruth's career as a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers actually got off to a promising start. During his rookie season in 1997, he caught 44 passes, including four touchdowns, and made the NFL's all-rookie squad. In 1999, though, everything unraveled for him. His pregnant girlfriend was caught in a drive-by shooting. Despite four shots being fired in the car, she managed to call 911 and describe Carruth's role in the assault. The receiver apparently blocked her car while a shooter in a separate car fired the shots. Carruth posted $3 million bail, but after his girlfriend died, he took off. He was eventually found in Tennessee, hiding in the trunk of a car with a huge pile of cash, some snacks, and a bottle to hold his urine. He's currently serving no less than 18 years, 11 months in prison following a conviction for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

3. Ugueth Urbina

Baseball fans remember Urbina as a solid right-handed reliever with a nice fastball/slider combo that helped the Florida Marlins win the World Series in 2003. Fans of Venezuelan jurisprudence remember Urbina as the man behind a horrific assault. Urbina was convicted of attempted murder in 2007 following an incident in which he allegedly attacked five workers on his Venezuelan farm with a machete and then tried to douse them in gasoline. Urbina maintains that he was asleep during the attack and that he is innocent. Nevertheless, he received convictions for attempted murder, illegal deprivation of liberty, and violating a Venezuelan law that prohibits taking justice into your own hands. He's serving a 14-year prison term.

4. Mike Danton

Lowly players have been known to run afoul of the law, too. Take Mike Danton, a fairly low-level NHL center who played for the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues. Danton racked up 141 penalty minutes during the 2003-04 season, but off the ice he didn't do his own dirty work. When he wanted his agent, David Frost, dead in 2004, he didn't want to get his own hands dirty. Instead, he tried to hire a hitman to do the job for him. Unfortunately for Danton, his "hitman" was actually a police dispatcher. Danton pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and is currently serving a 90-month term in federal prison.

5. Denny McLain

Denny McLain's career as a Major League pitcher was brilliant. He won two Cy Young awards, an American League MVP award, and a World Series ring during a career that ran from 1963 to 1972. He's still mentioned on baseball broadcasts as the last man to win 30 games in a season. McLain wasn't quite a masterful off the field, though. He had a penchant for gambling, which led him to make underworld connections and even run his own bookmaking operation. These troubles eventually led to the end of his baseball career, at which point McLain veered further afoul of the law. He worked for a Florida financial services company with rumored Mob ties, which led to a 1985 conviction for racketeering, extortion, and drug trafficking. He spent a couple of years in jail on that charge, and then bought a Michigan meat-processing plant in 1994. Two years later the plant went bankrupt, and McLain and his partner were charged with looting $12.5 million from the company's pension fund. McLain spent six years in federal prison for the theft and was released in 2003.

6. Darryl Henley

Darryl Henley was enjoying a nice career as a starting cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams until 1995, when he was convicted for cocaine trafficking. He received a 20-year sentence for those charges, which quickly ended his NFL career. He made things worse for himself by then attempting to hire a hitman to murder his ex-girlfriend—a former Rams cheerleader and a witness in the trial—and the judge. His sentence then ballooned to 41 years, and he won't be eligible for parole until he's 65 years old. To his credit, Henley has realized the error of his ways and now runs a website and charity to try to help other athletes from falling victim to the same forces that brought him down.

7. Don King

Don King may be known for his trademark fright-wig hair and his inimitable diction, but before he became boxing's most powerful promoter, he served time. In fact, he killed two different men before his rise to fame. The first case was judged justifiable homicide; King shot a man who had attempted to rob the illegal bookmaking joint he ran. The second killing, though, occurred when King beat to death an employee who owed him money. King was convicted of second-degree murder for this killing, but the charges were later reduced to manslaughter. He ended up spending around four years in jail for the killing.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys. He is aware of both Mike Tyson and Michael Vick and their troubles with the law.

See also...

A Brief History of Stadium Naming Rights
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How Sports Owners Made Their Money
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10 Bizarre Athlete Superstitions
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7 Famous Athletes Who Now Sell Food
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The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History
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Quiz: Mr. Burns' Softball All-Stars

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Fast Facts About Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Robert Riger/Getty Images

Wilma Rudolph made history as a Black female athlete at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. The 20-year-old Tennessee State University sprinter was the first American woman to win three gold medals at one Olympics. Rudolph’s heroics in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4 x 100-meter events only lasted seconds, but her legend persists decades later, despite her untimely 1994 death from cancer at age 54. Here are some facts about this U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member.

1. Wilma Rudolph faced poverty and polio as a child.

When Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tennessee, she weighed just 4.5 pounds. Olympic dreams seemed impossible for Rudolph, whose impoverished family included 21 other siblings. Among other maladies, she had measles, mumps, and pneumonia by age 4. Most devastatingly, polio twisted her left leg, and she wore leg braces until she was 9.

2. Wilma Rudolph originally wanted to play basketball.

The Tennessee Tigerbelles. From left to right: Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Wilma Rudolph, and Barbara Jones.Central Press/Getty Images

At Clarksville’s Burt High School, Rudolph flourished on the basketball court. Nearly 6 feet tall, she studied the game, and ran track to keep in shape. However, while competing in the state basketball championship in Nashville, the 14-year-old speedster met a referee named Ed Temple, who doubled as the acclaimed coach of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track team. Temple, who would coach at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, recruited Rudolph.

3. Wilma Rudolph made her Olympic debut as a teenager.

Rudolph hit the limelight at 16, earning a bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. But that didn’t compare to the media hype when she won three gold medals in 1960. French journalists called her “The Black Pearl,” the Italian press hailed “The Black Gazelle,” and in America, Rudolph was “The Tornado.”

4. After her gold medals, Wilma Rudolph insisted on a racially integrated homecoming.

Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, who supported racial segregation, intended to oversee the Clarksville celebrations when Rudolph returned from Rome. However, she refused to attend her parade or victory banquet unless both were open to Black and white people. Rudolph got her wish, resulting in the first integrated events in the city’s history.

5. Muhammad Ali had a crush on Wilma Rudolph.

Ali—known as Cassius Clay when he won the 1960 Olympic light heavyweight boxing title—befriended Rudolph in Rome. That fall, the 18-year-old boxer invited Rudolph to his native Louisville, Kentucky. He drove her around in a pink Cadillac convertible.

6. John F. Kennedy literally fell over when he invited Wilma Rudolph to the White House.

President Kennedy, Wilma Rudolph, Rudolph’s mother Blanche Rudolph, and Vice President Johnson in the Oval Office.Abbie Rowe/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum // Public Domain

In 1961, Rudolph met JFK in the Oval Office. After getting some photos taken together, the President attempted to sit down in his rocking chair and tumbled to the floor. Kennedy quipped: “It’s not every day that I get to meet an Olympic champion.” They chatted for about 30 minutes.

7. Wilma Rudolph held three world records when she retired.

Rudolph chose to go out on top and retired in 1962 at just 22 years old. Her 100-meter (11.2 seconds), 200-meter (22.9 seconds), and 4 x 100-meter relay (44.3 seconds) world records all lasted several years.

8. Wilma Rudolph visited West African countries as a goodwill ambassador.

The U.S. State Department sent Rudolph to the 1963 Friendship Games in Dakar, Senegal. According to Penn State professor Amira Rose Davis, while there, Rudolph independently met with future Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers, a nationalist youth movement. She visited Mali, Guinea, and the Republic of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) as well.

9. Denzel Washington made his TV debut in a movie about Wilma Rudolph.

Before his Oscar-winning performances in Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001), a 22-year-old Denzel Washington portrayed Robert Eldridge, Rudolph’s second husband, in Wilma (1977). The film also starred Cicely Tyson as Rudolph’s mother Blanche.

10. Schools, stamps, and statues commemorate Wilma Rudolph’s legacy.

Berlin, Germany, has a high school named after Rudolph. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp celebrating her in 2004. Clarksville features a bronze statue by the Cumberland River, the 1000-capacity Wilma Rudolph Event Center, and Wilma Rudolph Boulevard. In Tennessee, June 23 is Wilma Rudolph Day.