Prosecutors, not just police, can also play a part in the abuse of black lives The exclusion of black jurors changes the game

 

Various players, during last weekend’s slew of NFL games, reignited the protest efforts against racial injustice. Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, for instance, sat on the bench during the national anthem and raised his black-gloved fist after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer. Before the game, his brother Reshaud led a Black Lives Matter rally through the streets of Seattle’s International District, chanting, “Black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

Now close your eyes and imagine what they demonstrated against. What scenes invade your mind? Most will picture episodes like what Bennett described as happening to him in Las Vegas — an officer forcing him to the ground, his nose smelling pavement, his ears filled with threats and a handgun aimed at his head — a scared and innocent black man fearing death was looming.

We generally finger cops and incidents like Bennett’s as the reason many people of color distrust the criminal justice system while ignoring a potentially far guiltier culprit — the prosecutor. With considerable authority in the legal system, many prosecutors have the ability to trample upon the constitutional rights of black criminal defendants. This malfeasance can reveal itself in a variety of ways, but one is when prosecutors deliberately make juries as white as possible.

Just last July, Washington state’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black criminal defendant after the prosecutor prevented the only potential black juror from serving on the jury. California’s Supreme Court in June overturned the convictions of three Latino criminal defendants, ruling that the prosecutor discriminated against prospective Latino jurors.

When players protest the national anthem, also envision this: Right now, at least one person of color, almost certainly many, in fact, is seated in the criminal defendant’s chair in a courtroom somewhere in America. That person will gaze over at the jury box and spot few if any nonwhite faces because the prosecutor wanted it that way.

Batson v. Kentucky

The prosecutor and defense attorney have “peremptory challenges,” the right to strike a potential juror from serving on a criminal jury without giving a reason. Each side winnows down the jury pool through these challenges until, in most jurisdictions, 12 jurors and four alternates are seated. Many prosecutors habitually exploit this tool by striking people of color based on race, resulting in disproportionately white juries.

This happened in the early 1980s, when James Kirkland Batson of Louisville, Kentucky, stood accused of second-degree burglary and receiving stolen goods. During jury selection, the prosecutor struck all four black potential jurors and all-white jury convicted Batson.

In 1986, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. This decision barred prosecutors from considering race when striking jurors, declaring unconstitutional a practice that had lasted more than a century.

Defense attorneys can now initiate a “Batson challenge.” This process generally begins after a prosecutor strikes two or more nonwhite people, often raising the eyebrows of defense attorneys, who can then argue they notice a racial pattern and tender supporting reasons. The judge, if convinced the defense has advanced a substantive initial case, will ask the prosecutor for race-neutral reasons for each reason to strike. If the prosecutor fails to convince the judge that race played no role, the judge will find a Batson violation.

The viability for the Batson decision to curtail this scourge hinged on whether discriminating prosecutors would be impeded by the requirement to proffer race-neutral explanations. Justice Thurgood Marshall in the Batson decision argued they could easily concoct reasons that courts would be “ill-equipped to second-guess. …” The Batson challenge, to Marshall, would falter because it “cannot prevent clever lawyers from using peremptory challenges to strike potential jurors based upon impermissible rationales as long as they pretend to use other, permissible bases.” This would mean that only “flagrant” abuses would be punished. Marshall concluded that “only by banning preemptories entirely can such discrimination be ended.”

Three decades of evidence validate Marshall’s pessimism.

 

Widespread Prosecutorial Jury Discrimination

A report from the Equal Justice Initiative, a racial justice organization in Montgomery, Alabama, exposes how prosecutors freely articulate discriminatory statements in open court. In a Louisiana case, for example, a prosecutor disclosed that he struck a juror for being a “single black male with no children.” One Alabama prosecutor struck black prospective jurors “because he wanted to avoid an all-black jury and asserted in other cases that he struck African-Americans because he wanted to ensure other jurors, who happened to be white, served on the jury.” A Georgia prosecutor challenged a juror “because he was black and had a son in an interracial marriage.”

Courts, in these cases, sided with the defendant. These are the blatant occurrences that Marshall figured courts could prevent. When prosecutors behave more cleverly, judges, as Marshall predicted, poorly guard black rights.

Judges routinely allow prosecutors to strike black prospective jurors because they have “low intelligence,” a “lack of education,” children out of wedlock, live in a “high crime area,” are unemployed, or rely on government assistance programs such as food stamps. A South Carolina court allowed a prosecutor to strike a black man because he “shucked and jived” as he walked. One prosecutor struck a prospective juror for “look[ing] like a drug dealer.” A Louisiana court condoned the rationale. An Arkansas judge allowed a prosecutor to rely on a hunch that a black woman would be “unfavorable to the state” even without the prosecutor ever questioning her to find out.

Zooming out from these details reveals a dispiriting tableau — rampant prosecutorial jury discrimination.

Barbara O’Brien and Catherine M. Grosso, two Michigan State law professors, examined at least one jury trial for each inmate on North Carolina’s death row as of July 1, 2010. Their study examined “strike decisions” for more than 7,400 potential jurors in 173 proceedings to discover how prosecutors used peremptory challenges in capital cases. Their data was clear — prosecutors were far more likely to strike potential black jurors.

Across all the proceedings, “prosecutors struck 52.6 percent of eligible black venire members, compared to only 25.7 percent of all other eligible venire members.” These disparities worsened in cases with black defendants. There, prosecutors struck 60 percent of black potential jurors versus 23.1 percent for all other races. “In every analysis that we performed,” O’Brien and Grosso recapped, “race was a significant factor in prosecutorial decisions to exercise peremptory challenges in jury selection in these capital proceedings.”

When asked what their research reveals about America writ large, O’Brien and Grosso responded by email, “from all the evidence we have seen — both experimental work and analysis of strike decisions in real-life trials — there’s nothing unique about North Carolina: Race is a huge factor in the decision to exercise peremptory strikes everywhere.”

Take the Peremptory Challenge Away from Prosecutors

The true number of defendants who have languished in prisons or died there after being convicted by a discriminatorily composed jury would likely startle even the most well-informed, although the exact total will forever elude us.

Society can best address this by pursuing the prophetic wisdom of Marshall: Strip the peremptory challenge from prosecutors, a power they persistently mishandle.

Take the former Montgomery County, Alabama, district attorney, for example. Her office had at least 13 of its convictions reversed for Batson abuses. She, nonetheless, held her job 21 years before stepping down in 2014. She kept enjoying re-election, and voters likely did not know or care she was habitually violating the rights of black criminal defendants.

Her victims, like that of any prosecutor who denied defendants their constitutional right to an impartially selected jury, suffered no police abuse that an onlooker recorded and posted online for the world to witness. But when black athletes conduct their national anthem protests, we should also keep in mind the image of the purposefully constructed all-white jury that could determine their guilt or innocence.

‘Ballers’ recap: When things fall apart Will Spencer deliver? Will Charles stay in the Dolphins’ front office? Will Ricky retire?

SEASON THREE, EPISODE NINE | “CRACKBACK” | SEPT. 17

Crackback noun / crack·back / ˈkrak-ˌbak / a blindside block on a defensive back in football by a pass receiver who starts downfield and then cuts back to the middle of the line. This is the definition, according to Merriam-Webster, of the word given to this week’s episode of Ballers. It’s a fitting title, because as season three draws to a close, every major character gets a blindside slap in the face.

Let’s start with the polarizing protagonist of the show, Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who’s been trying his hardest all season to be the man behind the move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. Last week, we saw Spencer and his partner, Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry), tell their team at Anderson Sports Management that they’ll be selling the company to go all in on relocating an NFL team to Sin City.

But maybe Spencer and Joe pulled the trigger too soon, because at owners meetings in San Francisco, he gets wind of the fact that there is a competing group also looking to move the Raiders to Vegas. The catch? This group is endorsed by the league, while Spencer’s is not. Fast-forward to a fiery exchange over drinks with Candace Brewer (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the sexy and tough NFL executive who advises Spencer that the best play is for both groups to join forces, with Spencer’s team taking a back seat in the deal.

This certainly isn’t what Spencer wants to hear — and, unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. Spencer receives a call from his business partner, Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg), who informs him that he’ll be giving his investment and huge plot of land to the NFL-endorsed group.

Back on South Beach, Larry Siefert (Dulé Hill) is officially fired as general manager of the Miami Dolphins, after his assistant general manager Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) went over his head and persuaded the team to hire Larry Csonka as head coach. Siefert anticipates that Charles is next in line to be Miami’s new general manager, although the team’s owner has different plans. Charles is told that he’ll remain in the No. 2 assistant general manager spot, forcing him to consider resigning.

Ricky Jerret (John David Washington) is on the brink of signing a new deal with the New England Patriots despite being recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The Patriots offer a huge two-year, $20 million contract, with $16 million guaranteed, but before putting ink to paper, Ricky confesses that he’s had a months-long concussion and wants to receive medical help before deciding whether to even play again. The Patriots immediately pull out of negotiations.

Will Spencer be responsible for delivering an NFL team to Las Vegas? Will Charles remain in the front office of the Miami Dolphins? Will Ricky retire? These are all questions to ponder after a blindsiding episode nine. Hope the finale has all the answers.

Marshawn Lynch was fined for flipping the bird and other news of the week The Week That Was Sept. 11-15

Monday 09.11.17

Musician Kid Rock, who is both the “KING OF DETROIT LOVE” and the creator of “Sweet Home Alabama,” said he is not racist because “I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE.” Right-wing radio host The White House, whose high-profile occupant believes the human body has “finite amount of energy,” went into lockdown after a yoga mat was thrown over the north fence. Cable morning show Fox & Friends, once compared to a children’s show by The New York Times, compared Sept. 11 memorials to those of the Confederacy. New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson, who averaged just 2.5 yards per carry during the preseason and 1.9 per carry last season, said he wanted to run the ball up the Minnesota Vikings’ “Donkey” after rushing for 18 yards on six carries. An employee of the Chelan County (Washington) Emergency Management Department posted a meme of a stick figure being run over by a vehicle with the headline “ALL LIVES SPLATTER.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was caught “liking” graphic pornography on his official Twitter account; the senator’s communications team said the “offensive tweet” was “posted” to Cruz’s account despite that not being how likes work on the social media platform.

Tuesday 09.12.17

Musician and habitual line-stepper R. Kelly attempted to promote new music by tweeting a message that said, “All it takes is one ‘yes’ to change your life” followed by a graphic of repeating “Noes” with a “Yes” nestled in the middle. A student loan refinancing company reportedly maintained a work environment where the (former) CEO slept with multiple employees who were not his wife; an executive drunkenly crashed his car after sexting a subordinate; and where colleagues had sex in parking lots and public restrooms, where multiple toilet seats had to be replaced. A separate company, once again proving you never eat at the company potluck, had one employee stop breathing and others fall severely ill after they ate a shrimp casserole. Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, definitely not mad online, released a new NBA Finals-themed shoe that includes every critique directed at him over the past year imprinted on the insoles. Former NFL wide receiver Steve Smith,

who had 2,641 yards and 12 touchdowns in his six-year career, was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame because voters confused him with five-time Pro Bowler Steve Smith Sr. Black conservative radio host Larry Elder, who once tweeted, “The welfare state has done more to destroy the black family than did slavery and Jim Crow,” tweeted, without a hint of irony, that “ ‘Uncle Tom’ is a more destructive pejorative than ‘n—–.’ The latter is an insult. The former stops blacks from independent thinking.”

Wednesday 09.13.17

The White House misspelled African-American Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s name as “Tom.” The Minnesota Vikings, a team that built a new stadium that kills a lot of birds, hired an 18-year-old author and public speaker to serve as its “Gen Z Advisor.” The New York media is upset that professional dancers and part-time athletes Odell Beckham Jr. and Russell Westbrook had a dance-off during a live Wyclef Jean performance. A day after Kid Rock told protesters in his hometown they “can protest deez nuts,” the Detroit Lions declined to comment on a season-ticket holder posting a photo of two African-American fans on his Facebook page with the caption “Ignorant n—–s.” A Shelby County (Tennessee) strip club, where in 2016 a man was shot in a restroom and left a paraplegic, turned out to be illegally owned by the county, a new lawsuit revealed; the establishment, formally named Babes of Babylon, was ordered shut down in 2011 after “drugs, assaults, and prostitution got so bad at the club.” Retired boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., outside of the strip club he owns in Las Vegas, told an inanimate Hispanic puppet that he has seven girlfriends because “having one is too close to having none.” Hawaii walk-on quarterback Hunter Hughes had to twerk to the sounds of a trombone at a WWE event to earn a full athletic scholarship.

Thursday 09.14.17

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who employed Michael Vick when the quarterback was released from prison after a dogfighting conviction, Riley Cooper after the receiver was caught on camera saying, “I will fight every n—– here,” and Wendell Smallwood after the running back was arrested for witness tampering related to a murder case, said he wouldn’t sign Colin Kaepernick because “I don’t think anybody who is protesting the national anthem … is very respectful.” Peterson, still not letting it go, said he “didn’t sign up for nine snaps” when he signed with the Saints this season despite the team already having a starting running back and a quarterback who threw for more than 5,200 yards last year. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, best known for repeatedly stating, “I’m here so I won’t get fined,” was fined $12,000 for “raising the middle finger on both hands” during last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Trump once called his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, disloyal and an “idiot” and told him to resign after a special counsel was appointed to lead the Russian investigation earlier this year. Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, who recently was awarded $31 million for a sex tape he willingly participated in, called those without water and power in Florida because of Hurricane Irma “crybabies.”

Friday 09.15.17

Two weeks after being traded to the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has had only 13 days to learn the playbook and plays a different style from starter Andrew Luck, is expected to start for the 0-1 team. A former St. Louis police officer who reportedly yelled that he was “going to kill this m—–f—–” before fatally shooting an unarmed black man was found not guilty of first-degree murder. In completely unequivocally unrelated news, Kaepernick was named the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP after the first week of the season. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon wears no fewer than three shirts at all times; “Never two. N-e-v-e-r t-w-o,” his spokesperson said. Police officers in a Chicago suburb sold $10 raffle tickets at a Labor Day festival for the chance to win an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle; the town banned assault weapons in 2013.

Life before Death Row: The brief football career of Suge Knight The scariest man in rap was a star lineman at UNLV — and a scab Los Angeles Ram

Marion “Suge” Knight’s original terrordome was the defensive line. It’s where he starred for four years at Lynwood High School, 20 minutes from Compton, California’s much-loved Tam’s Burgers. Knight faces murder (among other) charges stemming from a January 2015 incident at Tam’s in which he is accused of barreling a Ford F-150 into two men.

Knight’s friend, Terry Carter, 55, was killed. Cle “Bone” Sloan, 51, was injured. All of this followed an argument near a filming location for the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. For the better part of three years, Knight has been held at Los Angeles County Jail, where he awaits a January 2018 trial. He is claiming self-defense. “He left the scene,” attorney James Blatt said in February 2015, “because he was in fear for his safety, and life.” Knight has shuffled through more than four attorneys since.

Wealthy white kids at Hollywood high schools were often the target of Knight’s shakedowns when he was at Lynwood. During the early ’80s, however, Knight was far more focused on sports than thugging: He earned letters in track and football all four years.


Harvey Hyde became the head football coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1981. At the time, the UNLV Rebels (recently on the wrong side of the most lopsided college football upset of all time) were new to Division I. The school, established in 1958, had gained national prominence via basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian’s “Runnin’ Rebels” program. It was up to Hyde to make UNLV a two-sport school.

Hyde still calls Marion Knight “Sugar Bear,” Knight’s childhood and neighborhood nickname. They met on a recruiting trip that Hyde made to Los Angeles County’s El Camino Junior College, where Knight excelled in the defensive line’s trenches. The Compton native was 6-foot-2 with big hair and an imposing frame.

“How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

Hyde, a player’s coach, brought Knight to Las Vegas. As a junior, he started at nose guard and defensive tackle and immediately became one of the Rebels’ best defensive players. Knight was voted UNLV’s Rookie of the Year, named defensive captain and won first-team all conference honors. In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

“[Knight] played his butt off,” said Hyde, whose coaching portfolio includes NFL stars Randall Cunningham, Ickey Woods and 2017 Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. “[Knight] was a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy … the type of player any college football coach would love to have on his team.” Hyde was let go in 1986 after a string of damaging events for the football program, including burglary, the beating by a player of an off-duty policeman, the embezzling of video and stereo equipment, sexual assault and domestic violence, among other issues. Knight, a part-time bouncer at Vegas’ then-hot Cotton Club, wasn’t a blip on Hyde’s disciplinary radar. “He never, ever gave me a problem in any way.”

To many members of the UNLV team, and his close friend Tarkanian, Hyde was the scapegoat for a program he helped save. The lack of institutional control, they believed, wasn’t Hyde’s fault. Hyde has never spoken ill or shifted blame to anyone.

Knight may have been yes-sir-no-sir, but he was side-hustling: Books. Jon Wolfson, who in the early 2000s was a publicist for Death Row Records and is now the manager of Hall and Oates, recalls a conversation he had with Knight about his UNLV days. “He’d say something like, ‘Then I’d play the dumb athlete role and say, ‘Oh, Coach, I lost my books.’ ” The staff never second-guessed Knight, said Wolfson. “They’d give him brand-new books, and he’d sell them to make some extra cash.” Knight enjoyed two impressive seasons at UNLV in 1985 and 1986, lettering in both.

Yet, per Randall Sullivan’s 2003 LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, Knight’s demeanor became more ominous and reclusive during his senior campaign. Visitors from his hometown of Compton were frequently sighted, as Sullivan reported. Knight, too, moved in an apartment by himself, and was seen in several late-model sedans. And his reputation on campus evolved far beyond that of the friendly jokester he was the year before. He seemed a man involved in far more sophisticated situations.

Yet when Wayne Nunnely took over as coach in 1986, Knight’s athletic demeanor apparently remained consistent. “He wasn’t a problem guy at all,” Nunnely told the Las Vegas Sun in 1996. This was three days after Tupac Shakur was shot five times near the Las Vegas Strip by a drive-by assailant who remains unknown. Shakur and Knight were at the intersection of Koval Lane and Flamingo Road. Shakur, of course, died. Knight, by then better known as “Suge,” was then gangsta rap’s unquestioned, unrivaled and undisputed emperor. “You didn’t really see,” said Nunnely, “that street roughness in him.”

The gridiron roughness is something Knight didn’t hesitate to talk about. “I think the most important thing, when you play football,” Knight told comedian Jay Mohr in 2001, shortly after being released from prison for serving half of a nine-year sentence for assault charges stemming from the fight with Orlando Anderson in Vegas’ MGM Grand the night Shakur was shot, “you get the quarterback, you stick your hand in his helmet and peel the skin back off.”

He jokingly suggested, even after selling tens of millions of records and doing nearly a five-year bid, that he could still play in the league. “I think I could strap up and intimidate most of those [guys]. I think we could make a few deals and I’ll be like, ‘OK, look. Lemme get ’bout three, four sacks. I’ll let you get a few blocks. We’ll enjoy it.’ ”

According to teammates, Knight dropped out of UNLV before graduation. By 1987, he was back in Los Angeles. One of the biggest songs on the streets was Eazy-E’s gangsta rap bellwether “Boyz n Da Hood,” which dropped in March of that year. But before turning to hip-hop to plant the seeds of a future empire, Knight had one last gridiron itch to scratch: the National Football League.


The first overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft was Vinny Testaverde, who played until he was 44. The second overall pick was defensive stalwart Cornelius Bennett. There was also current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and Rod Woodson, the only Hall of Famer from this class. Former University of Oklahoma megastar linebacker Brian Bosworth and future Hall of Famer wide receiver Cris Carter were chosen in the supplemental draft. Marion Knight was not one of the 335 players selected. But the NFL eventually did come calling. The league was desperate.

As documented in the new 30 for 30 film “Year of the Scab,” NFL players went on strike shortly after the start of the 1987 season. Today, football players influenced by exiled Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick fight for their freedom of expression. Thirty years ago, players bucked back at ownership for freedom of agency. In 1982, players went on strike demanding 55 percent of revenue. The 57-day standoff cost the league seven games and $275 million in revenues. And another $50 million returned to networks. While united in both strikes, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) gained little ground in either.

“Free” agency in the 1980s wasn’t the spectacle it is today, with hundreds of players changing teams annually. “This was before free agency,” said veteran Los Angeles Times sports reporter Chris Dufresne. “[NFL players] really were indentured servants. They couldn’t go anywhere!” Players were, for lack of a better phrase, property — bound to teams for life. With rare exceptions, they did move to new teams, although many times those were star players with leverage, a la O.J. Simpson’s 1978 trade to the San Francisco 49ers.

Teams could sign free agents, but the cost was steep. The “Rozelle Rule” stated the NFL commissioner could reward the player’s original team with draft picks, often first-round selections, or players. NFL salaries did rise in the ’80s, primarily because of the brief existence of the United States Football League (an entity that featured team owner Donald Trump) and its willingness to lure NFL players with large contracts. But by 1985, the USFL was defunct. Even that era couldn’t hold a candle to the second strike. “The 1987 Rams season,” said Dufresne, “was the craziest I’ve ever had in journalism.”

In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

Training camp started with star running back Eric Dickerson warring for a new contract. On Aug. 21, 1987, running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, after drug issues that plagued him while with the Cleveland Browns and at USC, was arrested after being found in a field. “[He had a] trash can lid, pretending to be the Trojan Warrior,” Dufresne recalled. “That’s how the summer started.” White led the NFL in rushing that same strike season, with 1,374 yards.

The strike started after Week 3. Players said they wouldn’t show up for Week 4, owners called what they thought was bluff, and then had to scramble to fill rosters with replacement players: former college players, undrafted players, construction workers, bartenders, even ex-cons. Replacement players, otherwise known as “scabs,” were ridiculed.

Somewhat like Faizon Love and Orlando Jones in 2000’s The Replacements, Knight was one of those replacement players. Dufresne, 30 years later, doesn’t recall the future head of a gangsta rap empire. “I have no recollection of Suge being there. I must have seen him,” he said. “[But] why would I remember him? How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

The strike lasted only a few weeks, but it got ugly. It sounds ridiculous to say Knight was bullied, but such was life in the NFL during the 1987 lockout for “scabs.” Knight, a man who would evolve into an intimidating pop culture tour de force, had eggs thrown at him. First-year Rams offensive tackle Robert Cox smashed the window of a van carrying replacement players after union players began rocking the van.

These incidents were common throughout the league. Frustrations were at a boiling point. Once stars such as Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett, San Francisco’s Joe Montana, the Oakland Raiders’ Howie Long and Seattle’s Steve Largent crossed the line, the NFLPA recognized the ship was sinking. “They had a weak union compared to the baseball union,” Dufresne said. “But the things they were fighting for were real.”

The strike lasted 24 days. Knight officially played two games as a Los Angeles Ram, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and against the Atlanta Falcons. Although Knight’s official stats are all but lost to history, this YouTube video compiled his official NFL stat line: eight plays, zero sacks, zero tackles and one penalty. John Robinson, Rams head coach from 1983-91, said the team had too many bodies that year between union and replacement players. He, too, has no recollection of coaching Knight.

“Suge,” said Dufresne, “was just an anonymous nobody in the surroundings.” The anonymity wouldn’t last long.


In October 1987, as the regular NFL players reported back to work, Knight’s rap sheet ballooned and his boogeyman persona began to take shape. In Los Angeles, Knight was charged with domestic violence after grabbing future ex-wife Sharitha Golden (whom he’d later implicate in Shakur’s murder) by the hair and chopping her ponytail off in the driveway of her mother’s home. That Halloween, he was arrested in Vegas for shooting a man in the wrist and in the leg, and for stealing his Nissan Maxima. With felony charges looming, Knight skated away from any serious penalty in part because of a contrite courtroom appearance and his history in the city as a famed football player. The felonies were reduced to misdemeanors: a $1,000 fine and three years probation. “I shot him with his own gun,” Knight told The Washington Post in 2007.

Three years later, in Vegas once again, he pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon after pistol-whipping a man with a loaded gun and breaking his jaw. Knight again evaded serious penalty.

Knight by then was immersing himself in the music industry, serving as a bodyguard for superstars such as Bobby Brown. He eventually maneuvered his way into the circles of rappers like The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Knight partnered with Dr. Dre to create Death Row Records in 1991. Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic (Death Row/Priority) and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope) the following year became instant pop gospels and solidified Knight and Death Row as not only major players but also undeniable and controversial cultural focal points.

It’s been years since Coach Hyde has seen his former player. He’s not sure if he will again, but, “You can’t get me to say anything negative about Suge Knight,” he said. “Whatever somebody is accused of, he’s still a football player of mine. He’s still part of the family when I was at UNLV.” Hyde pauses momentarily, then continues, “I’m not endorsing all the certain things they accuse him of, because I really don’t know. I have no idea! He doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge him. We just have our old feelings of each other. I just think that’s what it’s all about. You don’t forget people.”

“When I watch the news, it’s like I’m watching someone else,” Jon Wolfson said. “That’s not the guy I know.”

As for Dufresne, he’s not on either side of the aisle. He’s more shocked that Marion Knight, a guy he only mentioned in passing through roster lists, morphed into Suge Knight, the Death Row Records impresario who was once worth more than $100 million. Suge, he recalled, wasn’t the only notorious figure to come about during his time covering the Rams. Darryl Henley, a former cornerback for the Rams (1989-94), was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1995. He is currently serving a 41-year prison term for conspiring to murder the federal judge who presided over his trial, as well as the former Rams cheerleader who testified against him. And the Rams’ 1996 first round pick, running back Lawrence Phillips, received a 31-year sentence for domestic violence, spousal abuse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft and was later charged with first-degree murder of his cellmate. Phillips committed suicide in 2016.

Dufresne recalled the bitterness of rap in the ’90s, the “East/West thing” as he dubbed it. And he remembered the personal sadness that followed Shakur’s murder. Yet, it wasn’t until this phone call where he put one and one together. Marion is Suge. Suge was Marion. Suge Knight was a replacement player during the most untamed year of my career.

“Marion Knight, out of UNLV, who did what a lot of guys did and had a dream to play [in the NFL] and maybe didn’t understand what the players were fighting for, he was just another guy,” he said. He stops, as if he’s shocked. “Little did we know.”

‘Ballers’ recap: Which will go down first — Spencer having a child or an NFL team in Las Vegas? Also, Travis Scott is homeboys with Wayne Hastings Jr., and we’re here for it

SEASON THREE, EPISODE EIGHT | “ALLEY-OOPS” | SEPT. 10

Spencer Strasmore takes a deep breath, gazes into the distance and summons the courage to mutter into the phone the question that’s on his mind: “It’s not cancer, is it?”

The voice on the other end of the line responds without hesitation. “The test was for sperm count,” the doctor’s office receptionist says.

Remember, in the first episode of this season of Ballers, when Spencer’s realization that he’s never had a single pregnancy scare leads to a trip to the fertility clinic to see if he’s even able to have children? Well, seven episodes later, the results are in. But, before we get to the verdict, a much-needed update on the NFL-to-Las Vegas situation, for which Spencer (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is willing to sell his professional baby, Anderson Sports Management, to come up with the needed capital.

In the scene after his conversation with the receptionist, Spencer dials his business partner and Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg), who’s pouring up with a group of women and none other than rapper Travis Scott. In this moment, one of life’s most important questions is answered: When a phone rings, how does Travis react? Our hopes and dreams are fulfilled when Wayne’s phone goes off and Travis exclaims, “PICK UP THE PHONE, BABY!” — the first line of the chorus to his hit 2016 track “Pick Up the Phone.” Thank you, Ballers writers, for this wonderful moment.

On the call, Spencer pressures Wayne to find an area in Sin City where an NFL stadium can be built so the Oakland Raiders can be relocated. Soon, the Las Vegas mogul delivers a video, showing a huge plot of land directly behind the Vegas strip, which officially puts the sale of Anderson Sports Management into motion and cements the reality that Spencer and his partner, Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry), will have to break the news to their staff and beloved clients.

Two of those clients, Ricky Jerret (John David Washington) and Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller), really could use some advice from Spencer and Joe right about now. After finally deciding to seek help as a result of taking too many hits to the head in the NFL, Ricky is officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on medication that he’s afraid will affect his daily life on and off the field.

And, in the throes of NFL front-office life, Charles’ interview for the open general manager job with the Los Angeles Chargers is canceled after someone with the Miami Dolphins receives word that Charles is looking to move on. There’s no doubt that the party pooper is Miami’s tyrant general manager Larry Siefert, with whom Charles has butted heads all season long.

Spencer eventually makes the long-awaited visit to the fertility doctor, who informs him that he has functioning swimmers, though they’re “more Ryan Lochte than Michael Phelps.” What that means is his sperm count is declining and the window to have kids is rapidly closing. The news seems to weigh heavily on Spencer, who ends the episode in a passionate sex scene with his girlfriend Chloe.

After things get superhot and heavy, Chloe asks Spencer, “Did you just …”

Yup, he did, Chloe.

Michael Bennett had gun pointed at his head by police and other news of the week The Week That Was Sept. 4-8

Monday 09.04.17

Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler, who signed a $72 million contract with the Houston Texans last year and went on to complete just 59 percent of his passes and throw 16 interceptions, said signing with Houston was like “when you’re a little kid and your mom, you know, she tells you, ‘Don’t touch the hot stove.’ So, what do you have to do as a curious kid? You’ve got to go touch the hot stove, and you learn real quick how nice that stove is when it’s not hot.” The Jacksonville Jaguars are so lacking in quality players that

they named a tight end and offensive lineman as team captains. New Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward, once arrested for throwing a glass mug at a female bartender in a strip club, said his former team, the Denver Broncos, were “completely unprofessional” in how they cut him from the team last week. The Buffalo Bills signed quarterback Joe Webb; the 30-year-old played wide receiver last season. The Oakland Raiders are engaged in a $4 million “contractual standoff” with their … kicker.

Tuesday 09.05.17

Motivational speaker Sean “Diddy” Combs said, among other things, to “be a f—ing wolf … eat people’s faces off … [and] never apologize for being awesome.” Former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, once accused of assaulting a female reporter, will serve as a visiting professor at Harvard this fall; the school’s Institute of Politics said Lewandowski will engage in “dynamic interaction with our students.” President Trump, who rescinded an immigration policy that protected children of undocumented immigrants, pardoned a former sheriff who was accused of violating the civil rights of Hispanics and wants to spend billions of dollars on a wall along the border, said, “I have a great heart for” those affected by his most recent immigration policy decision. Former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke, once a highly regarded law enforcement official and rumored Department of Homeland Security deputy secretary nominee, will serve in the distinguished role of spokesman for a pro-Trump super PAC. The Boston Red Sox, who, yes, hail from the same region as the New England Patriots, admitted to stealing hand signals from the New York Yankees using an Apple Watch. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said the Lord told him to only sign a one-year, $24 million contract with the team this year; no word on whether the Lord also told him to throw two interceptions in a season-ending loss to the New York Giants last year.

Wednesday 09.06.17

A Pennsylvania man, attempting to keep it real, will be charged with disorderly conduct for asking Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) if he knew “whether or not your daughter Bridget has been kidnapped?” Former Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, actually keeping it real, said, “I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better” by trading the All-Star to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A Hawaii football assistant coach, whose team has won just

20 games over the past six seasons, fractured his wrist and dislocated his elbow while celebrating a blocked kick last weekend. A Florida sheriff, showing tremendous dedication to protecting and serving, is threatening to detain people with warrants who attempt to seek shelter during Hurricane Irma. Also getting this whole compassion thing down, Trump told a North Dakota crowd, “You have a little bit of a drought. [Texas] had the opposite. Believe me, you’re better off.” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, and creator of aptly named song “I Ain’t Bulls—-in’,” Luther Campbell told Florida residents that “you all can die” if they plan parties during Hurricane Irma.

Thursday 09.07.17

Waffle House restaurants, violator of many health code violations, are used by FEMA as a barometer for how an area will recover from a natural disaster. A Las Vegas police union, in trying to defend two officers accused of assaulting Seattle Seahawks defensive player Michael Bennett, brought up Bennett’s national anthem protest, the height of a barrier he allegedly jumped over and the racial identity of the officers instead of explaining why at least one of the officers aimed his weapon at the player’s head. Brooke Hogan, the daughter of wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, said fellow legend Ric Flair, weeks removed from being placed in a medically induced coma, sounded like he was “full of piss and vinegar” and could return to the ring at the ripe age of 64. Former NFL player Steve Smith Sr., best known for his subdued temper and for once predicting there’d be “blood and guts everywhere,” now works at a Taco Bell. There’s a supervolcano underneath Yellowstone National Park that could kill us all. Commissioner Roger Goodell, paid over $30 million a year to run the National Football League, said he is not a “football expert.” In “racism is in the past” news, Texas A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin received a letter from an unknown sender this week that read: “You suck as a coach! You’re a n—– and can’t win! Please get lost! Or else.”

Friday 09.08.17

The NFL finally got around to adequately suspending 38-year-old free agent placekicker Josh Brown for allegedly abusing his ex-wife. Three days after proclaiming that Hurricane Irma is “a desire to advance this climate change agenda” by the “drive-by media,” right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh will evacuate from Florida. Despite the continued unemployment of national anthem protester Colin Kaepernick, NFL ratings are still down. A Washington Redskins-themed restaurant, staying on brand, was forced into bankruptcy after just one year in operation. Florida Atlantic football coach Lane Kiffin thinks the Bible, like The Simpsons, predicted hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Golden State Warriors guard Nick Young caused the infamous locker room duel between Washington Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton in 2009.

Daily Dose: 9/7/17 Gucci Mane’s long walk to freedom

Just want to thank everyone who tuned in to Around The Horn on Wednesday. It was a long, fun trip to get there, for those of you who don’t know. Also, I filled in Thursday on The Dan Le Batard Show, if you want to check that out here.

Hurricane Irma is already doing major damage. In the Caribbean, the storm has basically destroyed Barbuda, and 13 people are already dead. This event has brought quite a bit of turmoil to the sports world already, with various games and things having been moved around because meteorologists are calling it basically the biggest storm of all time. In Miami-Dade County, Florida, alone, it appears that 400,000 people are at risk of getting hit by the winds and rain. That Miami Dolphins-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game might not be the only one delayed in the coming weeks.

New York City is an interesting beast. Having lived there when I was 18 years old, I didn’t love it. Before that, having visited and stayed for so many times with family, I had. But now, being an adult and it being a necessary part of life, I can deal with it. But the so-called charm of the city versus what it actually has to offer is always an interesting battle. That said, taxicabs are still the domain of reality when it comes to basically all walks of life. This interview with a New York cabbie who photographed his customers for decades is really a fun one to watch.

Gucci Mane’s come-up is officially complete. We all know the story. After landing himself in jail for his longest stint yet, he decided to make a turnaround. He relied on his girl Keyshia Ka’oir, a fitness-product maven, to help him revamp his life, and now it’s in the clear. According to Fader, Big Guwop has done so well on his probation that it is being terminated entirely in September. To be honest, I didn’t even know this was a thing. What a year it’s been for East Atlanta Santa.

The Los Angeles Clippers are going full Hollywood. That sounds odd, of course, because they’re already in Los Angeles. But when it comes to the bright lights and famous people, that’s usually the territory of the Los Angeles Lakers. But that doesn’t mean the Clips can’t make it happen when they need to. Instead of having the usual scorers table setup, they’ve broken that up to create something they call “star seating.” While in theory this looks like a decent idea, in practice I imagine it’ll be a logistical disaster on many levels.

Free Food

Coffee Break: For all of the things that people had to say about the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett and everything that happened in Las Vegas recently with the police, there are still plenty of people who have to explain why they’re protesting, to make people happy.

Snack Time: A$AP Rocky never ceases to amaze me. His newest exploit is a signature luxury line of vape pens that even have the wood grain finish. For the distinguished smoker, presumably.

Dessert: Even though I am one of these people, reading this gives me anxiety.