The Professional Athlete as Target: 'Am I Next?'

Adewale Ogunleye was tired of running. It was time to meet his fate.

A few minutes earlier, the Chicago Bears defensive end had pulled his Bentley out of the parking lot of a Miami hot spot and noticed he was being followed.

Every time he turned, the car behind him turned. Every time he sped up, it sped up. It was a few minutes after 3 a.m., an up-to-no-good hour that did nothing to ease the nerves of the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Pro Bowler. So he tried everything he could think of to shake his pursuers.

"I was doing illegal things -- speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, doing everything to get away," Ogunleye said. "But they just wouldn't leave me alone."

So he gave up. He stopped his Bentley, rolled down the window and nervously prepared for the worst. But before he could say a word, the other car pulled up and two guys started talking. Turns out they were big fans. Had their own band. And wanted to give Ogunleye a CD so he could listen to it and e-mail them his thoughts.

All those nerves -- the sweaty palms, the racing heartbeat, the dilated pupils -- were for a CD.

"And in the back of my mind, I was thinking, 'Somebody is trying to rob me or kill me,'" Ogunleye said of that night a few years ago. "It still scares me. What if somebody would have had a gun? What if that would have been some crazy person chasing me down? It's scary.

"We may not look like it on Sundays, but we're human like anybody else. We bleed, we laugh, we cry and we have fear."

No matter where professional athletes are -- at home, out with friends, in their cars -- they know they are targets, and they perhaps have never been more uneasy about their personal safety than they are right now. The slaying this week of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor during what investigators are calling a "random burglary" at his house in Palmetto Bay, Fla., is the latest in a string of armed home invasions that has shaken the sports world since the summer.

In July, three armed robbers approached Antoine Walker, then with the Miami Heat, outside the garage of his Chicago mansion, duct-taped his hands and feet together, then stole thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry, as well as Walker's Mercedes. A friend who stumbled into the robbery also was bound with tape and held captive.

Later that month, police said they believed the same group taped and tied up New York Knicks center Eddy Curry, his wife and a Curry employee in Curry's suburban Chicago home. That group fled with $10,000 in cash and several pieces of jewelry.

And in September, a pair of men tied up and robbed Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson at gunpoint inside his home in a gated community in suburban Houston. They, too, escaped with thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry.

"There's no question we're targets," said Bears rookie tight end Greg Olsen, a teammate of Taylor's for one season at Miami. "We're high-profile people. They want what you have, and they're willing to do whatever they have to do to get it."

Police have arrested four men they believe are connected to the Walker and Curry robberies, and one man in the case involving Robinson. The Taylor case still is under investigation. On Wednesday, Taylor's boyhood friend, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antrel Rolle, scoffed at the suggestion that Taylor's death was part of a random burglary attempt, saying his friend had been targeted for years.

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