Athletes in the slammer

At a Manhattan nightclub early in the morning on Nov. 28, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress allegedly shot himself in the leg by accident. According to a witness quoted in court documents, Burress then said, “Take me to the hospital” and a bloody gun dropped from his pants.

Fortunately for the nine-year NFL veteran, the injury wasn’t serious, and he was quickly discharged. But he won’t be able to shake off his legal problems so easily.

Burress did not have a permit to carry the weapon in a city with stringent anti-gun rules. “If we don’t prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, I don’t know who on earth we would,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The billionaire politician appears to be getting his wish. On Monday, Burress was charged with two counts of criminal handgun possession. The charges carry a mandatory sentence of 3 1/2 years.

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In Pictures: Athletes in the slammer

He’s hardly the first high-profile athlete to find himself in trouble with the law. But his problems are nothing compared with other pros now making their homes behind bars.

O.J. Simpson was sentenced Friday to at least 15 years in prison after his conviction on charges of armed robbery and kidnapping. Prosecutors had recommended 18 years for the former star running back .

In September 2007, Simpson and four other men entered the hotel room of two sports memorabilia dealers. Two of Simpson’s group had guns. They left with thousands of dollars in collectibles.

Simpson says he was just trying to recover stolen personal items. A jury didn’t agree. In October, nine women and three men convicted the former star running back. Thirteen years ago, he was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and a friend.

Simpson’s conviction came long after his playing days, but other athletes headed to jail in their prime. Mike Danton was once a center for hockey’s St. Louis Blues. The Canadian is now serving seven and a half years in prison for a murder-for-hire plot.

Danton pleaded guilty in 2004 after prosecutors alleged he tried to hire a hit man to kill his agent, David Frost. According to court documents, Danton feared Frost would sink his hockey career by publicizing unflattering details about his personal life.

Danton was arrested when he was only 23. The center, known for his aggressive play, had just notched his third season as a pro.

The career of one of the most electrifying college football players of the past decade ended even sooner. In his freshman year at Ohio State, running back Maurice Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns.

His standout season couldn’t have ended any better. In double overtime at the Fiesta Bowl, Clarett plunged into the end zone on a five-yard run to win the game. With the victory came Ohio State’s first national title in 34 years.

It was Clarett’s last game in the red and white Buckeyes jersey. A suspension and a failed attempt to get into the NFL early left him ineligible to play college ball for the next two seasons. The Denver Broncos selected him in the 2005 draft. He was cut four months later.

After his career collapsed, his legal problems mounted. In January 2006, Clarett was accused or robbing two people at gunpoint outside an Ohio bar. In August police tried to pull him over after they spotted a car driving erratically. Clarett didn’t stop. The cops finally stopped the chase by spiking his tires. They found three handguns and an AK-47 assault rifle in his car.

Later that year, Clarett pleaded guilty to charges relating to both incidents. The judge sentenced Clarett to seven and a half years in prison, with the possibility for parole after three and a half.

After the sentencing, Clarett’s judge offered some advice valuable to any of these troubled stars. “Your athletic skills are well known, but you have some potential that goes far beyond your athletic skills,” said the judge, David Fais. “I hope you expand your abilities so you can become an active, productive citizen.”

Five notables:

1. Rae Carruth: Slideshow
2. Maurice Clarett: Slideshow
3. Mike Danton: Slideshow
4. Darryl Henley: Slideshow
5. O.J. Simpson: Slideshow
6. Michael Vick: Sildeshow

In Pictures: Athletes in the slammer

Updated Friday, Dec 5, 2008