Athletes at Risk: Leagues, Players Scramble to Stay Safe

Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL Players Association, says that killing heightened his belief that athletes are being targeted. Upshaw says when a dispute flared at a nightclub, Williams responded exactly as he had been trained to during seminars provided by the NFL and the players association.

"They were trying to get out. They were in the limo," Upshaw says. "He still lost his life. We all look back at that."

Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass says his team often addresses players' safety.

"If you look at some of the worst incidents that have faced NFL players, they tend to be bars or nightclubs where there's a lot of drinking, a lot of people and a sort of macho environment where people are trying to take on an NFL player," Cass says. "That's exactly the environment you want to avoid."

New York Rangers forward Sean Avery, a combative player who twice has led the NHL in penalty minutes, says confrontations don't always involve money.

"There's always that guy that wants to go home and say they either beat up Sean Avery — or got beat up by Sean Avery," he says. "It's a lose-lose situation."

Nelson Mercado, a bodyguard whose clients have ranged from entertainment figures Spike Lee and Stevie Wonder to Hall of Fame baseball players Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew, says athletes have to be careful about the status they gain as they excel on the field.

"The guy goes to the same nightclub he used to go to, and suddenly he gets more attention," says Mercado, who works for the CTU security firm in Newport Beach, Calif. "He checks out a girl, and they come running over. Well that creates a lot of jealousy. … And soon you have danger."

But Taylor's death occurred at his home, as has been the case with other crimes against high-profile athletes.

In September, two men broke into the home of Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson, tied him up and stole jewelry.

Last summer two NBA players, New York Knicks center Eddy Curry and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Antoine Walker, were robbed at their Chicago-area homes. Los Angeles Clippers guard Cuttino Mobley also lost $500,000 in cash and jewelry in a burglary.

"It now goes beyond going out," Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison says. "You have to take precautions now as far as being at home. We really have to take proper precautions in terms of protecting our homes and making sure our families are safe."

Playing in a league in which 21 players had salaries of $15 million or more last season adds to the risk, Jamison says.

"Every year the amount of money we make is in the newspaper, so people know we have money," he says. "Our faces are everywhere. That makes us a big target."

Kidnapping is 'a growing threat'

Increased crime against professional athletes isn't limited to the USA. In Africa, champion distance runners have been targeted.

Ondoro Osoro, the 1998 Chicago Marathon champion, was shot in the neck during a 2000 carjacking with his pregnant wife and young daughter present. Lameck Aguta, the 1997 Boston Marathon champion, was severely beaten while being robbed of $10,000 last summer and was left comatose for three months.

Tom Nyariki of Kenya, winner of several major international races, lost sight in his right eye during a 2003 carjacking at his home.

In 2005 in Mexico City, coach Ruben Omar Romano of the prominent Cruz Azul soccer team was kidnapped as he left practice in broad daylight and held for two months before he was rescued.

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