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The Sports Blotter

by Matt Taibbi


WILLIE WILL'S PROM NIGHT

This is one of those uplifting stories that shows you that the American system of criminal justice is not quite so intractable as is sometimes reported. It can even show leniency toward African-Americans, provided of course that they show 4.6 speed and are equally stout against the run and the pass.

BEAST readers may recall the inspirational tale of Willie Williams, the highly sought-after Florida high school football player who set some kind of record last year when he allegedly committed three separate and completely unrelated crimes in the space of five hours and still managed to hold on to his scholarship offer from the University of Miami. Williams, a standout linebacker from Carol City High, was on a recruiting trip to the University of Florida last year when he decided to let his hair down. In the space of five hours, he set off a series of fire extinguishers in the hallway of his hotel in Gainesville, then allegedly grabbed a woman against her will in another part of the hotel, then reportedly struck a man in the hotel bar. Gainesville authorities ended up charging Williams for the fire extinguisher and woman-grabbing incidents, triggering a parole violation for a 2002 burglary case in his hometown, one of the 10 previous arrests in his record. Mysteriously, Williams had until that time somehow managed to conceal his arrest record from UF, Florida State, Auburn and Miami, the four schools that were lobbying for his services. Or so the schools say, anyway. In any case, despite the fact that the fire extinguisher count alone threatened to put Williams away for five years, none of the four schools turned their back on Williams after the Gainesville incidents, and all four left their scholarship offers on the table.

Williams ended up choosing Miami. In the meantime, authorities in Broward County confined Williams to house arrest in response to the parole violations, fitting him with an electronic ankle bracelet. Williams apparently had difficulty understanding the house arrest concept, as authorities were repeatedly called in when he left the house to "talk with friends or take out the garbage." Despite his repeated failure to comply with the extremely lenient terms of his parole, Williams felt emboldened three weeks ago to ask Broward Circuit Judge Michael Kaplan for permission to attend his high school prom.

Kaplan was down with that. He ruled last week that Williams can indeed go to his prom, but only if his football coach drives him to and from the event. Whether or not a black 10-time loser in Broward County would get the same treatment if he wasn't the next Ray Lewis or Dan Morgan is the kind of question that could keep Philosophy faculties busy for decades.

The Broward prosecutors, naturally, were prostrate before the decision, which made their jurisdiction the instant laughingstock of the sports radio nation.

"The prom is really the last place we think Mr. Williams needs to be," Assistant State Attorney Spencer Multack said. "He's going to have plenty of times in his life to be celebrating. I think he could forego this one occasion on this one time due to the nature of the circumstances."

Williams's decision to attend Miami ends what might have been the most storied recruiting tour in the history of high school football. Everywhere he went, Williams made news. At Florida State, Williams told reporters: "Coach Bowden was cool, but Ms. Bowden was the bomb. I swear, she must be related to Betty Crocker or something."

At Miami: "UM looks like it has a real good business school. After going on these trips and living like King Tut, I think business is something I want to get into."

At Auburn, when Williams was made to wait too long for his food at a restaurant, only to be served bread and spinach dip as an appetizer: "Man, I ain't no animal," he said. "I ain't eatin' no freakin' plant."

Pending the results of his Gainesville cases, Williams should play for the 'Canes next year (unless he is redshirted for legal reasons), giving the state of Florida a remarkable criminal linebacker tandem: Williams in Miami, Channing Crowder in Gainesville. Florida State, meanwhile, has yet to issue an apology to its fans for its failure to recruit a player with such impeccable legal credentials.


THE SKINS GAME, CONTINUED

Speaking of Florida State, yet another famous CrimiNole is in hot water again. Baltimore Ravens defensive back Corey Fuller, arrested on draft weekend for allegedly hosting high-stakes poker games at his house, has been slapped with an additional weapons charge in connection with that charge.

The charge, use of a firearm during the commission of a felony, essentially boils down to Fuller having a gun on the premises while he ran a high-stakes game of "Georgia Skins" at his house. When police raided his Tallahassee home in April, they discovered Fuller running games with pots that sometimes reached $100,000. Police allege that Fuller, who has been under surveillance by Tallahassee police dating back to his days as a star corner with the Seminoles, was charging a 10 percent vig on the games. Fuller denies all the allegations.

In January of this year, Fuller was reported to have been involved in a shootout with an "intruder" outside his house in an incident that at the time was described as a home invasion. Over 20 shots were fired in that affair, but no one was hurt. Police now say they are not sure if the incident was related to the card games. One thing is certain, however; the shooting incident inspired police to send undercover operatives into Fuller's house to participate in the games. Arrest affidavits say two different agents participated in Fuller's "Georgia Skins" games over the late winter and early spring months.

After the April raid, Fuller was charged with a misdemeanor gambling chargeóoperating a gambling house. The weapons charge is far more serious and could land Fuller in jail if convicted.

Fuller now joins running back Jamal Lewis as Ravens who have been granted full-time leave while they take care of their legal issues. Lewis has been charged with cocaine trafficking in connection with a four year-old case, and is expected to get off. Fuller, who enters the season as the Ravens' third corner, looks to be in a little more trouble