Pirates' ransom

The fun in Oregon is over, as east-coast athletes go on a kidnapping spree
By MATT TAIBBI  |  March 24, 2010

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Well, enough of the funny stuff with the Oregon Ducks’ recent crime wave. This week, we’re back into the world of straight-out, nasty, pointless, idiotic violence, committed by young athletes with everything to lose and only a few bucks to gain.

About a month ago, we covered a revolting series of crimes that had been investigated near The Citadel, the military academy in South Carolina. It turns out that the school’s star quarterback, Miguel Starks, had allegedly joined up with a former Citadel linebacker and three others to commit a series of home-invasion armed robberies.

The group used the Clockwork Orange tactic of knocking on a door, claiming an accident had just happened, and asking to come in to use the phone. And, just like in the movie, the group sexually assaulted a female resident in one of the cases while robbing and assaulting a male victim. Starks and four others were arrested for those crimes at the end of February.

That case seemed like an outlier — we don’t see too many armed home invasions committed by major-college or pro athletes. But then, just this past week, two basketball players were arrested in New Jersey for committing a strikingly similar crime.

Robert “Stix” Mitchell, a 23-year-old junior on the Seton Hall Pirates basketball squad, was dismissed from the team just before Selection Sunday after making comments critical of coach Bobby Gonzalez. Apparently he was upset with a drop in playing time. “It’s hard to stay consistent as a player,” he said, “when the coach isn’t consistent.”

Gonzalez promptly axed him, and the following Tuesday Mitchell was arrested by Newark police and charged with kidnapping, robbery, burglary, and weapons possession. Authorities allege that Mitchell, along with 27-year-old former Pirates standout Kelly Whitney, entered a home in South Orange, New Jersey, with guns, duct-taped eight residents inside, and proceeded to rob the place of cash, debit cards, and digital cameras.

Insult was added to injury almost immediately after Mitchell’s arrest, as senior Pirates forward Herb Pope whacked a Texas Tech player in the cojones during an NIT game that night. Seton Hall, apparently fed up, fired Gonzalez after the game. (No word yet on whether Gonzalez has sought to have Pope’s head removed and stuck in a box as compensation for losing what will likely be his last major-college coaching job.)

Both Mitchell and Whitney are insisting they are innocent. Whitney was tracked down in a Ramada at Newark Liberty International Airport — about as bad a place to spend your last few hours of freedom as can be imagined. He talked to his mother before his arrest, and she went to the trouble of speaking to reporters, insisting that her son was not involved and is only being picked up because of his friendship with Mitchell.

“He’s nothing but a marshmallow,” his mother, Sharon, said. “He doesn’t have that kind of malice in him.”

Marshmallows or not, both guys are in it deep. You don’t often hear the words “eight counts of kidnapping” in conjunction with NCAA basketball. Let’s give this one an 85, more news pending.

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