Sports Blotter -by Matt Taibbi
TROUBLE WITH LARRY
The Lawrence Phillips saga continues. After spending a little
over a week as a fugitive from justice -- fleeing from San
Diego police who had issued two warrants for his arrest on
domestic violence charges -- the former sensational college
tailback was busted for assault with a deadly weapon in an
unbelievably bizarre incident involving a pickup football
game, public park, a black Honda automobile, and three freaked-out
Having been arrested countless times for the more garden variety/Isaiah-Rider-type
sports offenses -- weed, punching women, DUI -- Phillips waited
for his swan song arrest to add the Mother of All Sports Crimes
to his rap sheet. That's right: Phillips was busted for ramming
another human being with automobile, an exclusive crime committed
by just a few select individuals in pro sports history.
Typically, sports-rammers choose wives or girlfriends for
their victims. The most celebrated ramming case probably involves
Michael Pittman, who a few years back rammed a car containing
his wife, his son and his babysitter with his Hummer. The
Pittman incident came just a year after Pro Bowl tackle Victor
Riley, then of the New Orleans Saints, was arrested for ramming
a car containing his wife and infant daughter in Overland
The latter incident caused Riley to face the get-tough discipline
of NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who suspended Riley for
a whole game as a result of that incident. "The league
took one game from me and a one-game paycheck," complained
the 350-pound lineman at the time.
The only prominent non-football rammer is Jose Canseco, who
once rammed his wife, Esther. The 1992 incident resulted in
a sentence of community service and counseling.
In the Phillips case, the former Nebraska star was playing
in a pickup football game in Exposition Park in Los Angeles
when he apparently got into an argument with some of the players.
No one knows yet what Phillips, one of the great running back
talents of the last fifteen years -- a man once compared to
Earl Campbell -- was doing playing in a pickup football game
with a bunch of LA teenagers. Nor has anyone made public just
what it was that got Phillips upset that afternoon.
All that is known so far is the information in the police
report. And according to that, Phillips got into an argument
with some of the players, left the field, then drove back
onto the field in a black Honda. He then drive straight into
a group of players, striking three of them, two of whom were
aged 14 and 15.
kids were taken away with non-life-threatening injuries. Phillips,
meanwhile, was finally apprehended following a car chase after
Phillips ended up being charged with a handful of felonies--
seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of
child abuse, and one count of hit and run. Moreover, the black
Honda used in the assault had been reported stolen a week
before. If Phillips ends up being charged with the theft of
the car, that will put him in even more exclusive criminal
company. Only a handful of NFL players have ever been charged
with stolen-car beefs; the list includes Juran Bolden, Mark
Ingram, Tamarick Vanover and Bam Morris. Of those, only Ingram
appears to have stolen a car off the street for his own use;
the other crimes involved rings of stolen cars.
convicted, Phillips faces up to 13 years in jail, and it looks
like he will do serious time this time around. If that happens,
it will put to an end one of the most elaborate criminal careers
ever attributed to a major sports figure. In a world where
many athlete-crimes are of the harmless variety -- immature
young men given way too much money too early, and left unsupervised
near too many nightclubs -- Phillips was a vicious serial
woman-abuser who really should have been stopped earlier.
He once dragged a woman down a flight of stairs by her hair,
and allegedly also choked another to unconsciousness. In the
former incident, his college coach, Tom Osborne, was apparently
so upset by Phillips's behavior that he "almost"
didn't let him play in the Fiesta Bowl. That was par for the
course for Phillips, who made it to his 30th birthday without
facing real punishment, despite having been charged with over
a dozen felonies in his young career.
NOT ON KANSAS ANYMORE
Speaking of major college football stars who push women down
flights of stairs...
Bruce Ringwood, a former Kansas City high school football
legend and current member of the University of Kansas team,
was arrested last week in conjunction with an assault he allegedly
committed at, of all things, a Kenny Chesney concert.
According to police, Ringwood got into an altercation with
a married couple, both aged 45, during the middle of the concert.
Ringwood reportedly punched the man in the face over and over
again, and then, when his wife stepped in to intervene, punched
the woman and pushed her down a flight of stairs at the Kemper
As a high school player Ringwood was a Kansas City linebacking
legend; he was moved to fullback at Kansas, where he was set
to spend a redshirt year.
coach Mark Mangino immediately suspended Ringwood indefinitely
after the incident became public. Anyone want to take bets
that the suspension will end after Ringwood's redshirt year?
HAIL NATE NEWTON
There's no doubt that different sports inspire different types
of drug habits. Baseball, for instance, is clearly a game
for the upper consumer. Lawrence Taylor and Chuck Muncie notwithstanding,
a baseball player is far more likely to be an insufferable,
degenerate coke freak than a basketball player or a football
national pastime is weirdly suited for stimulants. There's
lots of downtime in the clubhouse before the action starts,
unlimited access to diet soda, and plenty of opportunities
in between innings to have those fevered conversations about
Hitler or your mother; beyond that, no one thinks it's strange
if you spend five consecutive hours frantically chewing on
something. Plus, with baseball, your heart is far less likely
to shoot out of your chest, Hank Gathers-style, if you do
a few lines or eat a handful of greenies before trotting out
to man right field.
Among basketball players, meanwhile, the only prominent coke
users are the ones who finish their careers belly up on court
in front of 15,000 stunned spectators with bite sticks in
their mouths. Since the days of Bias, Gathers and Reggie Lewis,
ballers prefer marijuana.
Weed use in the NBA is usually of the Damon Stoudamire variety:
carry a little stash wrapped in foil everywhere you go, blaze
up in the hotel suite with a couple of thong-wearing hood
rats after the game, then spend the afternoon playing late-generation
Play Station games while you get your hair braided by strangers
and your personal tattooist copies the Chinese symbol for
the word "DOMINATE" on your left ankle. The hoopster's
weed use is all about rest and relaxation. It may be combined
with acupressure and a flute of Cristal, but it never involves
machine guns or panel trucks.
For some reason, it's only in American football that you encounter
these stories about huge bales of Humboldt weed found by police
hidden in a used F-150 driven by your favorite NFL team's
former backup inside linebacker.
archetypal supernatural-quantity-of-marijuana story is, of
course, a football story -- the Nate Newton fiasco, in which
the portly former guard for the Dallas Cowboys (who once said
he'd considered having his jaws wired shut to cure his French
Fry addiction) was caught twice within six weeks with huge
duffel bags full of weed -- once in lonely St. Martinsville,
Louisiana with 213 pounds, and then again in Dallas, while
on bail for the first offense, with 175 pounds.
the Newton case was no freak occurrence. Stories of either
retired or struggling NFL players using their bonuses or booster
money to finance marijuana rings for purely monetary reasons
are weirdly common. There's something about football that
activates the John Holmes chromosome in men -- that weird
instinct that inspires those who once made it big on natural
gifts alone to try to take the easy road to big money once
the gravy train stops.
isn't even the most egregious offender of this lot, incidentally.
That honor belongs to former Arizona Cardinal fullback Dennis
McKinley, who in 2002 was charged with being the leader of
a Phoenix drug-trafficking ring; in that arrest, two tractor-trailers,
11 guns, $400,000 in cash, and some 1,500 pounds of marijuana
Other football players who have had the phrase "pounds
of marijuana" attached to their names in print include
running back Bam Morris (caught with six pounds; charged with
attempting to distribute 225) and former standout Arkansas
Razorback tackle Jermaine Brooks, who was once caught with
ten and a half pounds of weed and over $16,000 in cash stashed
in his dorm room.
Now, in just the last few months, we've had two more giant-weed-shipment/football
stories. The first came a few months ago, when Reuben Houston,
a promising starting cornerback for Georgia Tech, was arrested
in Atlanta for intent to distribute some 94 pounds of marijuana.
Then, last week, former Dallas Cowboy and Minnesota Viking
corner Derek Ross was arrested and charged with trafficking
marijuana after police found 25 pounds of weed in his rented
Chevy Impala. Ross, who played in 13 games last year for Minnesota
and had no interceptions, was caught in the style of Newton's
first bust -- in a dank rural hole near a state border, in
this case lonely Walhalla, South Carolina, near the Georgia
Ross joins a comically long line of former Cowboys who have
been arrested on marijuana charges. The 'Boys are now probably
the league's official cannabis squad -- with Newton and Ross
occupying two of the more celebrated arrests, and former guard
Mark Stepnoski being the only open legalization advocate among
current and former players.
AT IT AGAIN
Well, it's come to this-- finally. In a late-breaking story
that may or may not be resolved by the time this article goes
to print, former Nebraska Cornhusker standout and great NFL
bust Lawrence Phillips -- a former #6 overall pick -- is officially
a fugitive, wanted by San Diego police on two felony assault
charges stemming from incidents involving his girlfriend.
Phillips likely bests J.R. Rider, Bob Probert, Mike Tyson,and
Daryl Strawberry as the most incorrigibly criminal major sports
figure of this generation. He has been charged with more than
a half-dozen assaults against women and been involved with
dozens of other crimes. He had the talent to be the next Eric
Dickerson, but right now is probably under a bridge somewhere,
sharing a bowl of soup with Todd Marinovitch. We'll keep you
posted on his progress.