A year earlier in Venezuela, the mother of Detroit Tigers pitcher Ugueth Urbina, Maura Villarreal, was kidnapped and spent nearly six months in captivity before being rescued.
"Kidnapping is a very real threat. Certainly it's a growing threat, even in this country," says Larry Wansley, CEO of Infinite Security and a consultant to the Dallas Cowboys. "You go to some places, kidnapping is part of the national economy. People with celebrity status have to be on guard. I don't say that to heighten paranoia, but to heighten awareness."
Rising concerns about safety have led some pro athletes to arm themselves. Wansley cautions those who do that.
"A weapon is for only one purpose, and that's to kill someone," he says. "If you're going to arm yourself, make absolutely certain you've been trained properly."
NFL policy forbids having firearms on league property or at league functions, and the league is trying to make sure players don't misuse guns when they are off the job.
Last season, the Houston Texans arranged a three-day firearms training course. Former Houston receiver Eric Moulds, now with the Tennessee Titans, says 40 to 45 players were instructed by about 15 local police officers.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs says gun safety is "addressed non-stop" from the start of training camp.
Kelly Davis, a Chicago police officer who worked for three years as the bodyguard for flamboyant NBA player Dennis Rodman, says, "If you feel like you need to carry a gun … you need to hire security."
During the Chicago Bulls' championship years in the 1990s, he says, stars Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper, Rodman and coach Phil Jackson had bodyguards. "Just because a guy is 6-9 and 300 pounds doesn't mean he knows how to handle a situation," Davis says. "The world has changed, and professional athletes are targets. They are the lambs, and there are plenty of wolves out there."
Contributing: Mike Dodd in Chicago; Sean Leahy in Ashburn, Va.; Michael McCarthy in New York; Roscoe Nance in Washington, D.C.; Bob Nightengale in Nashville; Dick Patrick in McLean, Va.; Larry Weisman in Baltimore; Skip Wood in Jacksonville