It’s a little early to tell yet, but it looks like a new statute is getting ready to leapfrog the open can of beer on the passenger seat, the unregistered pistol found in the hotel room during a soliciting arrest, and the simple assault of a pregnant wife to become the infraction du jour among professional athletes. As is appropriate given the theme of this issue, the new fad is the charge of “making terroristic threats,” which has more and more often been lumped in with the standard litany of multiple felony charges police generally bring when a recreating athlete short-circuits and goes haywire in a public place. In the past week, no fewer than two well-known professional athletes have been racked up on the terroristic threat charge— with one of them being Buffalo’s own Charlie Rogers, that once-promising wide receiver/kick returner pickup who may soon be calling for faircatches in the shower room of a New Jersey prison.
Probably not even God himself really understands what “making a terroristic threat” really entails, but according to government spokesmen close to God, the law reads, in New York State, something like this:
“1. A person is guilty of making a terroristic threat when with intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination or kidnapping, he or she threatens to commit or cause to be committed a specified offense and thereby causes a reasonable expectation or fear of the imminent commission of such offense.
“2. It shall be no defense to a prosecution pursuant to this section that the defendant did not have the intent or capability of committing the specified offense or that the threat was not made to a person who was a subject thereof. Making a terroristic threat is a class D felony.”
There was no doubt that the “reasonable expectation or fear of the imminent commission” clause applied to former NBA MVP Allen Iverson, who among other things was charged with making terroristic threats following the soap opera of ambiguous armed confrontations and embarrassing marital hijinks that left him on the front pages of every paper in the country last week. Clearly, Tawanna Iverson knew the Answer well enough to believe him fully capable of carrying out a threat to menace a civilian population (though it is questionable whether the Philadephia population really qualifies as civil). After all, he said he’d put out a rap album once, and he did that. No one knows exactly what threats Iverson made, but they must have fallen short of exploding Tawanna with a thermonuclear device, as the terroristic threat charge Pennsylvania brought was only a misdemeanor.
Rogers, meanwhile, had an excellent night out last Tuesday. Things started off in cliché fashion, with Rogers refusing to leave the scene (failure to leave the scene being another very common athlete arrest; ironically, leaving the scene of a traffic accident is another) after police ordered patrons of a nightclub out of the parking lot. Rogers shouted at police, which was also so far within accepted athlete norms, but then things got completely out of control and he ended up punching a policeman in the shoulder and hitting him in the chest with an elbow… a loyal girlfriend held the officer down during this process in attempt to allow Rogers to use his open-field speed to escape, but she failed when police played the pepper spray card and soaked them both. Subsequently, Rogers allegedly spit at one of the policemen and made his mysterious “terroristic threat,” which presumably involved the attempt to “influence the policy of a unit of government”— probably asking police to roll up the windows when they drove past Elizabeth. The charges seem bogus to us. For one thing, after you’ve been sprayed with pepper spray, what else can you do but spit?
Other athletes long before this week had set the tone for the making of terroristic threats. Jim Brown has always been a trend-setter; once upon a time, he was the first black actor to perform in an interracial love scene for a major Hollywood movie. Three years ago, he became the first high-profile athlete to go to jail for making a terroristic threat, in this case against his wife Anita. He got out not long ago. We like Jim Brown and hope someone else can pick up the slack for him from now on. Where’s O.J. when you need him? Can he really be that far behind?