Sports Illustrated Special Report: 7% of College Football Players Have Criminal Records

Sports Illustrated LogoWell, duh.

We could have told you that. Most of YOU could have told Sports Illustrated that an increasing number of college football players on scholarship have criminal records. But, the fact that this vaunted publishing institution actually took the time and did the research (something we have been too lazy to do in 11 years) is great for everyone. Now the debate about whether there are actually more jock criminals these days will end, but our guess as to why it is happening and what to do about it is only just beginning.

The real surprise is how few Top 25 football schools have any kind of policy in place to screen recruits for anything beyond their athletic ability. True, some young men–given a second chance–rise above their past mistakes to become a shining example for everyone. Then again, more programs are finding out that a bad seed can not only turn into bad fruit, it can spoil a whole program.

Here’s more from the story in the issue of SI currently on the newsstands:

Few football programs had a more difficult season in 2010 than the University of Pittsburgh. Led by running back Dion Lewis, a Doak Walker candidate, the Panthers were the preseason pick to win the Big East and go to a BCS bowl. But things quickly began unraveling — on and off the field.

In a span between mid-July and late September, four players were arrested for four separate, violent crimes.

First, senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after allegedly throwing a man through the glass door of an art gallery. Authorities told SI that even after an officer arrived on the scene, Sheard continued to punch the victim in the face as he lay on his back, bleeding. Sheard was suspended from the team. But after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct on Aug. 4, 2010, he was reinstated for the 2010 season.

In an interview last month, former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who resigned after his team finished a disappointing 8-5, defended Sheard, saying he was just trying to come to the aid of another player and break up a fight.

On Sept. 12, redshirt freshman running back Jason Douglas was charged with aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence. According to court records, Douglas hit a male pedestrian, whom police found lying in the street, bleeding from open wounds to his head and throat. As Douglas was handcuffed he said: “Hey I play for Pitt football … please don’t arrest me.” He was suspended from the team and has pleaded not guilty.

On Sept. 18, sophomore offensive lineman Keith Coleman was charged with aggravated assault and harassment. Police records indicate that in an incident on the street near the Pitt campus he beat up one man and body slammed another who attempted to intervene. One of the victims was treated for a broken shoulder. Coleman was suspended indefinitely. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is awaiting trial.

Finally on Sept. 22, police responded to a 911 call reporting that a man was choking a woman at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Officers found Donna Turner bent over on a porch, crying and vomiting. She identified her attacker as Jeffrey Knox, a freshman defensive back at Pitt.

“Knox … open handed slapped Turner in the head with such force that she was thrown to the ground,” the police report states. “Knox then jumped on her, grabbed her by the throat, picked her up by her throat and slammed her head into the wall. He held her against the wall, continuing to choke her.”

When two female witnesses tried pulling Knox off Turner, he allegedly threw punches at them and knocked them down. He then left the scene before authorities arrived. A day later, Knox was dismissed from the team after being charged with assault and reckless endangerment.

“The charges are garbage,” Knox’s attorney, Martin Scoratow, told SI. “They don’t reflect the incident. There was something between the two of them. But it was like a teenage spat.”

When asked about Knox, Wannstedt said, “He did things he never should have done and was dismissed from the team.”

Knox will be formally arraigned on March 3 and could stand trial later in the spring.

Before this rash of arrests, Pitt had no procedure for screening football recruits for past trouble with the law. But after Knox’s arrest Pitt’s athletic department implemented a new policy requiring coaches to seek more detailed background information on potential recruits.