Former Washington and Denver Broncos running back Clinton Portis was sentenced to six months in federal prison and an additional six months under house arrest for his role in a scheme to defraud a benefits fund for retired NFL veterans.
Portis pleaded guilty back in September after he was charged for filing false claims for medical equipment that was not provided. He obtained nearly $100,000 with the false claims.
In his nine NFL seasons Portis earned over $41 million. It’s wild that he’s going to jail over $100K. But, you do the crime …
Portis was the biggest name involved in the 15-player ring. Other former players that were also charged and sentenced, include: Joe Horn, Tamarick Vanover, Robert McCune, Carlos Rogers, Correll Buckhalter, James Butler, Ceandris Brown, John Eubanks, Antwan Odom, Etric Pruitt, Darrell Reid, Anthony Montgomery, Frederick Bennett, and the late Reche Caldwell.
The former players filed false reimbursement claims totaling about $2.9 million from the plan. The NFL established the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan to help retired players pay for medical expenses. The account provides up to $350,000 in benefits per player.
Of course what Portis and company did was illegal and wrong, but they also violated a code. They stole from their fellow NFL brethren. Being a member of the NFL fraternity is something players hold sacred, and stealing from a fund designed to help players who sacrificed their bodies is low.
Now the question should be asked, why did these players steal? Are they all hard up for money?
Portis repaid the money he illegally obtained just before sentencing. Former Saints wide receiver Joe Horn repaid the $149,775 he obtained as well.
If it’s a case of poor money management while active players, then that’s on them. But if other external factors outside of their control forced them to pilfer from the fund, then those causes need to be examined.
Pro football, unlike the other major professional sports, doesn’t offer guaranteed contracts. A signing bonus and roster bonus are the only portions of a contract that get paid in lump sums, and teams can still sue and take that money back for a variety of reasons. With the average NFL career lasting only three seasons, it isn’t a life of riches for most players.
Former professional athletes getting caught up in fraud cases is nothing new.
NFL legend Brett Favre accepted $1.1 million from the state of Mississippi for speeches he never gave. The money was classified under the state’s welfare funds, received from the Mississippi Community Education Center. Favre has since repaid the entire sum and stated he did not know the money he received came from welfare funds.
If athletes committing fraud is about greed they don’t deserve any sympathy for the punishments they receive.
But if it’s about something else, something more problematic with how players are compensated while active, then the league needs to look at ways to address it.
Because if necessity caused former players to steal from each other, that’s a big problem.
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