7 Athletes Who Went Directly To Jail

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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
*
Quiz: Mr. Burns' Softball All-Stars

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

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Apple

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A Deaf Football Team Invented the Huddle—Then Stopped Using It

RobMattingley/iStock via Getty Images
RobMattingley/iStock via Getty Images

The football huddle was still unusual enough in the 1920s that it made fans at college games wonder what was going on and led to complaints about the game being slowed down. There are a few different stories about how the huddle originated (in 1918 at Oregon State, in 1921 at the University of Illinois, and in 1924 at Lafayette College are a few of them), but it was first used in the 1890s when Paul Hubbard, the quarterback for Gallaudet—a Deaf college in Washington, D.C., which is now a university—had his offense form a tight circle so that they could discuss plays without the other team seeing what they were signing.

Another Gallaudet football innovation was the giant drum on the sidelines that would be used for the snap count (the players could feel the vibrations), but these days they use a "silent count system, which relies on the sense of touch and a good ol’ hand-to-buttocks tap."

In 2005, the same year Gallaudet abandoned the drum, they also did away with the huddle. Now, the athletes just sign their plays out in the open, since the teams they play now likely don't know sign language anyway. As current coach Chuck Goldstein says,

"My philosophy is if you're going to take the time to learn sign language and be able to interpret what we're doing in 25 seconds, then more power to you," head coach Chuck Goldstein told ESPN in 2013.

This story has been updated for 2020.