Comma self

This week's sports blotter
By MATT TAIBBI  |  March 29, 2006

The “comma self” murder has for decades been one of the most important innovations in American-headline literature, a testament to both our national fascination with verbal brevity and to our sociopathic, codependent relationship to deadly violence: FLA. MAN KILLS WIFE, DOG, MOTHER, ACCOUNTANT, SELF. There’s also the modern version: GUNMAN SLAYS 19, SELF; CITES “FRUSTRATIONS.” And while sports crime and even sports murder are no less characteristic sicknesses of our time, the two phenomena have, oddly, never collided before. Despite decades of increasingly horrific pro- and major-college-sports violence — in the years spanning O.J., Rae Carruth, and Ray Lewis — there has never been a sports murder-suicide. Until now.

In an incident that for some seemingly inexplicable reason has escaped the attention of the national media, a former star college-football player and onetime Baltimore Raven was involved last week in a ghastly double-murder–suicide. Richard Howard, 32, a 330-pound offensive guard who played for the University of Tennessee and also for the Ravens in their 1997 rookie camp, was found dead near the bodies of his two young daughters, whom he also apparently killed.

FOOTBALL STAR KILLS KIDS, SELF was the headline announcing the Howard affair in the Oak Ridger, a small-town newspaper for the onetime “secret city” of the American atomic-energy program, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. According to the paper, the Howard incident transpired in the following mysterious fashion: Howard, who had already murdered his two children and put their bodies in the back seat of his Crown Victoria, sat in his parked car near a gravel pit next to the Bull Run Fossil Plant in nearby Claxton, Tennessee — “on the upper side of Edgemoor Road where the coal is piled,” as the paper put it. A policeman, spotting Howard’s car, approached and asked him what he was doing. Howard answered that he had run out of gas and was waiting on someone. When the policeman went back to his car and ran Howard’s plates, he discovered that the mammoth ex-lineman had outstanding rape and statutory-rape warrants hanging over him. By the time the patrolman returned to the car, Howard had blown his brains out, leaving a note by his side.

In a strange twist to the story, only a month before, Howard had been featured in a “Where are they now?”–type column in that same Oak Ridger, and he had been shown in that feature with his two daughters, ages two and three, sitting on his knee. After a knee injury ended his football career, Howard had worked as a correctional officer and bounty hunter in the area. The rape charges, according to local police, involved someone who was “younger than 18 but older than 13” and who was not a blood relative. The details of the suicide note have not yet been released.

Money Problems: Mark GuerraThe longest strike
In a story straight out of The Longest Yard, a former Minor League Baseball player from the Houston Astros system pleaded guilty last week to accepting checks worth $1400 from the Florida Department of Corrections for work that he never did. Mark Guerra, a former pitcher in the Astros system, apparently took money from the library of the Apalachee Correctional Facility in exchange for playing as a ringer on the softball team of Florida Department of Corrections secretary Jim Crosby.

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