The Sports Blotter

by Matt Taibbi



A wise man once said that the one single underlying idea driving all commentary in the American mass media could be summed up thusly: “Isn’t that weird?” You know—did you hear that Brad and Jennifer are vegans? Isn’t that weird? That the surface of Mars is surprisingly dense? Isn’t that weird? Lesbians more reliably respond to pet food advertising? Weird, huh? And this was the immediate take, universally accepted even in the very first wire stories, about the Jamal Lewis flap. Another Lewis from the Ravens arrested in Atlanta, and represented by Ed Garland! How weird is that? Cue the Phil Mickelson highlights for the next story!

These stories really missed the larger issue lurking in the J-Lew debacle, and that was this: the possibility that Garland might become the country’s first nationally famous “I get star athletes off” trial lawyer. Certainly the J-Lew arrest is big news for Ravens fans, but outside of Baltimore, the news that a star running back from Tennessee has been arrested (attention, Travis Henry) automatically takes a back seat to the Garland story, a true advance in the sportscrime genre.

One could argue that Johnnie Cochran is the most famous “I get star athletes off” lawyer, but that reputation really comes from only one client. The actual arc of Cochran’s career follows two distinct sets of clients: in the early years, poor black victims of actual police brutality, and later, rich, formerly black victims of their own gross sense of privileged impunity, sold to juries as still-black victims of police brutality. From Todd Bridges to Michael Jackson to O.J., that was the common denominator, not sports.

There are, of course, a great many attorneys associated with athletes whose names are familiar—the Bob Woolfs, the Leigh Steinbergs—but these are all agents, not criminal attorneys. In fact, the criminal attorneys representing famous jock defendants almost always come from a grab bag of unprepossessing names. Who but the most incorrigible sportscrime addict has ever heard of Jon McMullen (Tonya Harding’s lawyer), David Rudolf (Rae Carruth) or even Pamela Mackey (Kobe Bryant)?

Ed Garland is different. In a relatively short time, his name has been attached to three prominent athletes mixed up in very messy national public criminal scandals: Ray Lewis (homicide), Thrashers star Dany Heatley (vehicular homicide) and now J-Lew (trumped-up, bullshit, four-year-old drug charge). His rise to prominence in this area was partly due to one of the more curious accidental features of sportscrime. Garland is a prominent Atlanta-based criminal attorney, and when pro athletes want to commit serious felonies, they almost always do so in Atlanta—just ask Otis Nixon. Just ask the Gold Room hostesses. Garland just happened to be there—and he happens to be very good at what he does. He is one of the very first attorneys to understand that there are actually three possible verdicts in criminal cases involving athletes: guilty, not guilty and so totally not guilty that he gets to keep his endorsements.

Garland had both of his Lewises take that third plea. He was successful in the first case and in the second raced to a quick head start. This past week, Garland was on the James Brown show on Sporting News radio protesting J-Lew’s unequivocal innocence before the indictment was even handed down. Two days later, Lewis himself appeared in court and announced to the judge: “I plead so totally not guilty that I get to keep my endorsements.” The trial is expected to take place before next season.

Garland has handled a number of high-profile cases and also handles business litigation, and even taught the representation of famous clients at seminars for defense counsel. One of his more famous clients was Dwight “Malachi” York, the head of a quasi-religious cult called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. York, who drifted between Islamic, Babylonian, Judaic and Sumerian theologies, was also known as Black Thunder Eagle during a period in which he was passing himself off as the chief of a Creek tribe. He was sued and indicted on criminal charges of sexual molestation of children in Georgia last year. Garland represented him in the civil case, in which York was accused of telling a young girl that she was about to have to have a “wonderful” experience that would have a profound effect upon her “spiritual development”; he then allegedly showed her a porno flick (sadly, we don’t know which one) and got down to business. Garland’s quote when the suit was filed was that his client was ‘’completely, totally and absolutely innocent of these charges.’’ Check the news reports of the J-Lew story to see if that sounds familiar. York was eventually convicted on 10 charges of child molestation and racketeering.

If Garland gets Lewis off—a strong possibility given the apparent weakness of the state’s case against the no-necked tailback—he will almost certainly ascend to rarefied air in the realm of famous sports attorneys. He might even start a new trend; athletes may pick criminal lawyers as agents, as a full-service eventuality. Just imagine the sales pitch at the combine: I got Terrell Owens a $17 million bonus, and got the death penalty off the table for the Florida Hog Trail killer…sign with me…


A tiny footnote to sportscrime history entered the books last week. An innovative law in Alabama that specifically prohibits abuse of a sports referee or official failed in its first major test; the trial of one William A. Martin, who was accused of yelling “I’ll kill you!” at referee David Whitehead during a football game of eight- and nine-year-olds.

The judge in the trial, held in Adamsville, AL, declared a mistrial after jurors, deliberating for the Herculean span of one and a half hours, announced they were hopelessly deadlocked. The vote was 9-3. “The only thing we agree on is that we can’t agree,” sighed juror Fred Powell.

The law was activated in Alabama in 2002 and prohibits the menacing, threatening or harassing of sports officials. The state, anxious to get the law its first scout badge, will be retrying Martin later this year.

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