Man, just what the hell is going on in the sports world? For all the jokes and riffing about jocks in handcuffs, murders used to be extremely rare. To the extent that sports crime has ever been funny, the joke has always involved inevitable conflicts between strapping, overindulged lower-class teenagers and staid, silent-majority-type middle-class communities that give these kids fast cars, booze, and wads of cash in the desperate pursuit of on-field glory. Sometimes those communities get a little too desperate and give too much too soon to kids who aren’t ready for it — and sometimes, the moment when they realize their mistake, when their 19-year-old jock-savior ends up in the clink (with his fingernails cracked from the drunken night he just spent ripping off car mirrors in the country-club parking lot near campus), that moment is a little bit funny, in a sick sort of way.
But murder sure as hell isn’t funny, and the sports world has seen yet another one this month, adding to an unusually high number of sports-murder cases in the papers of late. This time, the suspect is a cornerback for the University of Montana Grizzlies football team. James “Jimmy” Leon Wilson, 20, was arraigned in a Los Angeles–county courtroom this past week on charges of shooting Kevin Smoot, 29, who allegedly was romantically involved with Wilson’s aunt. Smoot was shot in the right eye while standing in his driveway on June 2, apparently having an argument with Wilson’s aunt. Wilson fled, then turned himself in to police in Lancaster, California, on Tuesday.
The news about Wilson came on the heels of yet another serious case involving Big Sky state football: an affidavit bringing drug-trafficking charges against former Montana State University wide receiver Rick Gatewood. His was the latest charge to grow out of a massive drug/sports scandal that engulfed MSU last year, when former football player John Lebrum and former basketball player Branden Miller were arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of Jason Cody Wright, a cocaine dealer whose body was found at a university agronomy farm June 23, 2006. Those cases are still pending, as are three others involving MSU athletes; it’s also worth noting that former assistant head football coach Joe O’Brien recently did four years in prison on methamphetamine charges.
Anyway, back to the more worrisome transgressions. Already this year, we’ve seen Arizona State running back Loren Wade convicted of murder and Penn State linebacker Lavon Chisley put on trial for the same, as well as the arrest on murder charges of mentally unwell former Michigan State and New Orleans Saints defensive end Hubert Thompson. And let’s not forget that Michael Vick’s dog-fighting case grew out of an investigation into the murder of a dog fighter named Thomas Weigner.
And if that wasn’t enough . . .
Another sports-murder trial kicked off this past week, this one in Chowchilla, California. The defendant? James Curry, a 49-year-old former standout for the Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders football teams. Curry was a star defensive lineman for the University of Nevada Wolfpack in the late ’70s, went un-drafted after graduation, and then tried to hook on with the 49ers, but ended up in Canada, where he had a long career. After retiring, he fell off the US map, more or less, until this week — when he arrived in court for the first murder trial in the tiny north-of-Fresno town of Chowchilla since 1995.