Blood. Sweat. Sentence.
Athletes who became defendants. They moved crowds, played in the largest arenas in the world, won trophies and became idols of the sports world. But their career was tainted by crime.
O. J. Simpson
Football Star in Buffalo Bulls
Accusation: Double homicide
On the 27th of June, 1994, O. J. Simpson made the cover of Time.
Two weeks prior, the football player became the main suspect in the murder of his ex-wife and her alleged boyfriend.
A crime that was, of course, marked by the racial question: the victims were white and the suspect a black man.
A debate to which Time contributed, by darkening the picture of Simpson used on its cover.
The contrast became even more visible, when the rival publication Newsweek published the original image.
Time apologized publicly, but that didn't stop the accusations of racism.
The racial split generated from this episode marks the American society to the present day and is part of the popular culture of the country.
A new dose of controversy to a case that was already considered the "trial of the century", gathering an unprecedented media attention.
On the 17th of June, 1994, 95 million Americans were glued to the TV.
A white Ford Bronco sped through the streets of Los Angeles. O. J. Simpson was on the backseat, pointing a gun to his own head.
The former player, considered a suspect, had become the protagonist of one of the most iconic moments in television history.
The main national broadcasters interrupted regular programming to broadcast the persecution live.
Such was the number of cameras following the car that the signals of the different televisions stations were confused and broadcasted in the wrong stations.
The chase ended with Simpson’s arrival to his mansion, where he surrendered and was taken by the authorities.
In a press conference, Robert Kardashian, one of the defense lawyers, read a letter in which Simpson denied his involvement in the case and showed suicidal tendencies.
“First, everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole's murder”
The Americans watched his participation in the case, ignoring the fact that, 20 years later, the Kardashian offspring would gather more Media attention than O. J. Simpson himself, becoming a true phenomenon of popular culture.
The former football star of Buffalo Bulls, Simpson - nicknamed "The Juice" - had turned into an actor and commentator and was an admired personality by the American people.
But the public was about to meet a new side of the former sports star.
In court, he was asked the question the whole country had in mind.
Simpson was peremptory: “Absolutely, 100 percent not guilty”.
Away from the football field, Simpson fought now for the most important victory of his life: freedom.
With the start of the trial, the cameras arrived to the courtroom.
Fame, blood, power, violence ... irresistible ingredients to the public and, consequently, to the Media.
The “trial of the century” was invading the US media.
CNN dedicated a total of 900 hours of broadcast to the case.
In June 1995, America's eyes were on Simpson, when the former athlete tried the glove allegedly used during the crime.
“It makes no sense. It doesn’t fit. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”, stated the Defense Lawyer.
Adding to the controversy, doubts were raised about the influence that the presence of cameras in court, as well as the Media attention, had on those involved in the trial, particularly the jury.
16 months after the start of the legal proceedings, America stopped to hear the verdict.
On the 3rd of October, 1995, more than 150 million viewers - 57% of the population - saw Simpson get up and turn towards the jury’s direction to hear their decision.
“We, the jury in the above entitled action, find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder”.
From joy to despair, reactions across the nation reflected the confidence in the innocence - or lack thereof - of O. J. Simpson.
474 days later, the former athlete was a free man again.
“At least there was one moment of visible black-and-white unity last week. […] They were united, briefly, in an anxious silence of the heart. As soon as the verdict was read, however, they split apart; they could watch themselves do it on the split screens. On one side jubilation, on the other dismay,” wrote the Time.
The day after his release, Simpson spoke with Larry King on CNN. “I'm doing fine,” said the former athlete.
The in-depth interview would only arrive in January 1996. The meeting with the journalist Ross Becker was not broadcast on television, but sold on cassette.
“I realise now that the story, the ratings are more important than the truth and that is something that has become abundantly clear to me through this ordeal”, said Simpson.
The truth - or a version of it - was published in the controversial book If I did it: Confessions of the Killer, in which O. J. Simpson shows a “hypothetical” description of how he committed the crimes.
The Court gave its verdict, but, for millions of Americans, doubts about the case still remain, even more than two decades after the "trial of the century.”
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
World Boxing Champion
Verdict: 11 years in prison
On the 15th of January, 1976, Rolling Stone published an article on the "Night of the Hurricane", which gathered big names in music, invited by Bob Dylan.
“It was a special night – one marked by a cast that spanned two decades of political dissent and music – when Bob Dylan brought the Rolling Thunder Revue to Madison Square Garden”.
A very different environment from the place where the artist had performed weeks before: the prison where, for almost a decade, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was jailed, the man who inspired the latest Dylan's single and the performance at Madison Square Garden.
Carter was accused of a triple murder, which took place in June 1966. The victims were white.
One of the injured had mentioned that the crime had been committed by two black men, turning the attack into a racial issue, a subject that divided America.
The testimonies of two witnesses - who were trying to commit a theft in a nearby building - had put Rubin Carter and his friend at the scene.
A jury consisting of 12 members, all white, considered the defendants guilty. The sentence? Life imprisonment.
The condemnation had prematurely interrupted Rubin "Hurricane" Carter’s sports career.
Journalist Fred Cranwell witnessed one of his first matches as a professional.
“I like to use metaphors and I did that night. I called him the hurricane from Paterson.”
Throughout the year of 1963, Carter became a regular name at Madison Square Garden.
His chance to win the title came in late 1964, when he faced champion Joey Giardello.
The confrontation had been preceded by an article in The Saturday Evening Post titled “A Match Made in the Jungle.”
“Let’s get guns and go up there and get us some of those police. I know I can get four or five before they get me”.
The episodes of violence that marked Carter's life were not unknown to the authorities ... neither to the Media.
Determined to clear his name, the former boxer wrote the autobiography The Sixteenth Round from prison, published in 1974.
The book was read by George Lois.
One of the biggest advertisers of the time, he was convinced of Carter's innocence and decided to carry out a campaign for his release, starting with creating ads.
“I went to the New York Times, the ads, and told them I wanted to run them in their newspaper. It took a couple of days of them arguing but they finally gave in. When they did, I said, ‘OK can you run it on page two?".
The movement, called Hurricane Fund, gained prominence.
A support march, led by fellow boxer Muhammad Ali, gathered more than 10 thousand people.
“We got Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, Don King, Gay Talese, Hank Aaron, George Plimpton, Burt Reynolds, Ed Koch, Barry White, and Don King. I can’t believe some of the people who gave us support,” said Lois.
The most newsworthy moment of Carter's arrest would arrive with the release of the song "Hurricane", played by Bob Dylan.
The concert organised by the artist at Madison Square Garden was a landmark of the campaign for Carter's innocence.
“I'm not in jail for committing murder. I'm in jail partly because I'm a black man in America, where the powers that be will only allow a black man to be an entertainer or a criminal,” said Carter, in 1975, in an interview for Penthouse.
The Media support had left its mark: Carter was released for a few months and he was allowed to re-enter in trial.
But the unthinkable happened.
“He lost control of himself and slapped a female friend – a terrible thing. So the state figured they could publicize it and not only retry him, but also reframe him,” said George Lois.
The second trial sent Carter back to prison in late 1976.
In the 80s, Carter’s defense team met new supporters and, in 1985, he was released.
The judge, H. Lee Sarokin, considered that the charges had been based on "an appeal to racism rather than reason, concealment rather than disclosure.”
The former boxer was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Even without freedom, he wouldn’t hung up his gloves and has became an activist.
“No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn't give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people […] found me guilty did not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person.”
His story was portrayed in the film The Hurricane, 1999, which earned to Denzel Washington a Golden Globe.
"He's all love. He lost about 7,300 days of his life, and he's loved. He's all love," said the actor, when had received the prize.
Carter continued to devote himself to fighting for the rights of those who believed they were wrongly convicted.
In February of 2014, he published an article in the New York Daily News in which he defended the innocence of David McCallum, imprisoned for nearly three decades.
“McCallum was incarcerated two weeks after I was released, reborn into the miracle of this world. Now I’m looking death straight in the eye; he’s got me on the ropes, but I won’t back down.”
McCallum was released in October of this same year. Carter died six months earlier, on the 20th of April 20 2014.
Carlos Monzón 1988
World Boxing Champion
Verdict: 11 years in prison
"Monsoon Almost married"; "Together Again"; "Monsoon: Dad again"; "The new life of Monsoon".
In the 80s, Carlos Monzón was a recurring name on the pages of the Argentine press.
The romantic affairs of the former athlete turned actor gathered as much or even more attention than his sports achievements, years prior.
But if his sports career led him to glory and the title of world champion, his love life would, however, end in tragedy.
"I'm sure I did not kill Alice".
In 1993, Carlos Monzón received the cameras of Channel 9 in jail. The former world boxing champion had been jailed for four years.
The crime? His involvement in the death of his wife.
In the early morning of the 14th of February, 1988, Alicia Muñiz fell from a balcony and died.
With a history of domestic violence and after a night that culminated with a heated argument between the couple, Monzón was immediately considered the prime suspect.
The case shook Argentina, in that summery Sunday.
"Everyone was talking about how Monzón had killed Alicia. There was no mention of having been an accident," says Carlos Irusta, a journalist specialised in boxing.
With Alicia's death, the public watched incredulously the fall of one of the greatest national heroes.
In July of 1989, Carlos Monzón was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
"Killer, killer," the crowd shouted to the former boxer.
On the 22nd of March, Monzón gives his first interview behind bars.
He choose an Italian outlet, stating that the Argentine press “mistreats him”. “It hurt me that shout ‘killer’ at me”, he said.
In an interview with Cablevisión Los Toldos, he continued to claim his innocence. “My case was not a murder as everyone says, as Journalism judged me, it was an accident.”
He died on the 8th of January, 1995, in a car accident during one of his authorized days away from prison.
Argentina was stunned by his death.
At his funeral, thousands of people sang “Go champion, go champion!”
From “killer” to “champion” once more.
«Once champion, famous, movie star, and acquainted with the greatest personalities in the world and ended up in jail ...»
His life inspired the film Carlos Monzon, El Segundo Juicio (1996), marked by crime.
Bruno Fernandes de Souza
Goalkeeper from Flamengo
Accusation: murder Involvement
Verdict: 22 years in prison
"I'm hoping for her appearance."
On the 1st of July, 2010, Bruno Souza spoked for the first time to the press in a communication that is reminiscent of the speech of Ben Affleck's character in the 2014 film – Gone Girl.
Three weeks earlier, Eliza Samudio had disappeared, the mother of the player’s newborn child.
A week later, Bruno Souza was behind bars.
On the 13th of October, 2009, Eliza Samudio, five months pregnant, gave an interview to the newspaper EXTRA where denounced having been subjected to violence and threats by the player.
“He (Bruno) said this: ‘If you go to the police station or anywhere, I'm going behind you, kill you, kill your family, kill your friends.’”
At the height of his career, the goalkeeper denied the allegations in a statement to the press.
“It's not the first time she invents these lies to try to harm me. The other time it was proved to be nothing and it will be proved again, because she made up the whole story«.
Their son was born in February 2010 and Eliza took Bruno to court to recognise this paternity.
The result of the DNA test would only arrive in October, after Eliza's disappearance.
In Brazil, the trial was followed closely.
At the time of his arrest, Goleiro Bruno (“Goalkeeper Bruno”) was one of the great starts of Flamenco, desired by European teams.
The sordid contours of the case had made headlines around the world. The Media had already given its verdict.
"Indefensible," could be read, on the cover of Época.
On the 8th of March, 2012, Brazil listened to the sentence of the former Flamengo player: 22 years in prison.
In 2013, in his first interview from the prison, Bruno Souza was peremptorily: “The truth is that I didn't kill Eliza.”
His story continued to gain Media attention, even after the sentence was read.
“Let me play,” could be read on the cover of Placar, in March of 2014.
Two months earlier, the goalkeeper had signed with Montes Claros F.C., but Justice didn’t allow him to take the field.
The contract is for five years. His sentence is of 22 years.
Olympic Star and Paralympic
Verdict: 5 years in prison
186,616 publications per day, 7776 per hour and 130 per minute. On February of 2013, Oscar Pistorius was the most talked topic in Social Media.
The Olympic and Paralympic athlete was arrested for shooting his girlfriend. Reeva Steenkamp ended up dying.
It is estimated that only 4 percent of the debate on the case has occurring in traditional Media, with 85% focusing on Twitter.
In a week, 1,306,313 publications on the case had been posted on Social Media.
From his coverage, Barry Bateman, correspondent Eyewitness News, got more than 100 thousand new followers.
On Twitter, the hashtag #Pistorians gathered supporters of the former athlete, who had no doubts about his innocence.
But not everyone was so sure.
A terrible accident or a perfidious crime? Media coverage was marked by uncertainty.
In the morning after the shooting, the police gave an impromptu press conference.
“We have also taken cognizance of the media reports during the morning of an alleged break in or that the young lady was mistaken to be a burglar […] We're not sure where this report came from.”
The angle had changed. The suspicion of a crime rather than an accident became stronger. In the Media, the trial had begun.
"World Oscar shock at arrest," wrote the South American Cape Times.
But this was not the first time that Pistorius had trouble with the law.
In 2009, during a party, he was accused of causing indirect harm to a guest.
His detention led him to lose sports sponsorships.
Now the situation was even harder: his freedom was at stake.
“PR spin isn't going to keep Oscar Pistorius out of prison”, said Suarts Higgins, from the former athlete’s PR team, “but the truth might.”
Pistorius made history in 2012, by becoming the first disabled athlete competing in the Olympics.
The feat gave him an unprecedented level of international fame, making him a true hero in South Africa.
His sports achievements weren’t the only reason he made covers: his personal life was also in the headlines.
A week before her death, Reeva gave her last interview to Heat magazine.
“We haven’t been talking to the media because I don’t want to get it tainted […] You know what they do, they make things up.”
During Pistorius’ trial, the Media attention reached more than half of the total coverage from South African Media, surpassing events like the World Cup.
“The country is watching the court case unfold on television like it is a reality show. Only this is for real,” said Alex Crawford, from Sky TV.
The attention given to the case was such that the South African broadcaster DStv created a channel devoted exclusively to "The Oscar Pistorius Trial".
The Media attention began to bother the justice.
“It would appear there is somewhat a trial by the media houses of Mr. Pistorius”, warned the judge of the case, Daniel Thulare.
At the time of the verdict’s reading, a research was conducted on how the views of Twitter users would be changing throughout the day and according to the countries.
In 2014, he was acquitted of the charge of premeditated murder, but sentenced to five years in prison.
In late 2015, Pistorius was released on bail after being charged with murder.
The case has continued to break records on Twitter: in one hour, 21,000 tweets were sent with the hashtag #oscarpistorius.
From the myths to the facts that marked the news coverage, one certainty: Pistorius’ triumphs on the track were eclipsed, in the Media's sphere, for the crime.
Oscar Pistorius. “Man. Superman. Gunman.”
Football star in the Baltimore Ravens
Accusation: Domestic Violence
Verdict: Recovery Program
On the 8th of September, 2014, TMZ released shocking images of violence between football player Ray Rice and his fiancé.
Hours later, the Baltimore Ravens made Rice’s dismissal public and NFL announced his indefinite suspension.
After six seasons in NFL and winning championship, Rice's career was at risk of ending.
The episode of violence dated back to February this year.
Police had been called to intervene and the couple was arrested.
A few days later, on the 19th of February, TMZ released the first images that showed Rice dragging his fiancé, apparently unconscious, out of the elevator.
The coach of the Baltimore Ravens responded with a press statement two days later: “There are a lot of question marks. But Ray's character, you guys know his character. So you start with that.”
AThe team continued to express their support when, in late March, Rice's crime was considered by the judges a third-degree felony: "We know there is more to Ray Rice than this one incident.”
The next day, Ray Rice and Janay Palmer got married.
The athlete claimed his innocence and was placed in an intervention program for a year.
The couple spoke to the Media at a joint press conference.
“Failure is not getting knocked down, it's not getting up,” was one of the most controversial statements made by the player.
The official account of the Ravens on Twitter decided to bring to people’s attention Janay Palmer’s statements, where she took some of the blame for the episode.
The tweet was eventually deleted in September, when the second video emerged showing footage from inside the elevator.
Images that also contradicted the 'hypothetical' version of the facts raised by Rice's lawyer, Michael Diamondstein in May.
“Hypothetically […] the video comes out and the video shows — hypothetically speaking now, hypothetically speaking — shows that Ray wasn’t the first person that hit and Ray was getting repeatedly hit but just Ray hit harder, fired one back and hit harder,” he said in a radio interview.
In July, Rice was fined and suspended for two games by the NFL.
“I stand behind Ray, he’s a heck of a guy,” stated the Ravens coach, John Harbaugh
The crowd seemed to agree.
Rice was greeted with a standing ovation during the Ravens practice.
The team organised a new press conference, where the player apologised.
“The one thing that I wanna do today is apologize to my wife […] My actions were inexcusable.”
In his first statements to the media about the case, Roger Goodell, NFL President, defended his decision.
“I take into account all of the information before I make a decision on what the discipline will be.”
In late August, the NFL announced a new, tougher policy on domestic violence and violent behavior.
Goodell wrote a public letter admitting, indirectly, that he had not acted in the best way regarding Rice’s case.
“I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
The new policy would be tested the following month.
TMZ released footage from inside the elevator, which showed Rice assaulting his partner.
The video would lead to his dismissal and departure from the NFL.
“It's something we saw for the first time today, all of us,” said the Ravens coach, John Harbaugh. “It changed things of course. It made things a little bit different.”
The NFL also seemed surprised by the footage.
The NFL also seemed surprised by the footage.
“Did anyone in the NFL see the second videotape before Monday?” “No,” assured Goodell.
The Associated Press reported a different story.
The agency wrote that a secret source claims to have delivered the footage to the NFL in April, receiving a voicemail to confirm the receipt of the video.
NFL responded with a statement.
“We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”
The case was highly reported by the Media, but the coverage has been criticized, particularly regarding the difficulty of contextualising beyond the immediate consequences revealed by some outlets.
“Re-posting a video of a woman being assaulted isn't journalism. Seeking her story, or information that can put it in context, is,” tweeted Meredith Clark, a professor at Mayborn School of Journalism.
ESPN has suspended the commentator Stephen A. Smith because of his comments about domestic violence, saying that women should not "provoke wrong actions".
On Social Media, the hashtag #GoodellMustGo gathered hundreds of disgruntled fans, who demanded the resignation of the NFL president.
Discontent reached NFL sponsors, like CoverGirl, which was the target of the #CoverGirlCott campaign.
Hashtags #WhyILeft and #WhyIStayed were used by victims of domestic violence to share their stories.
Janay Palmer, the woman the world has seen being assaulted by her partner, reacted on Instagram.
“No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options [sic] from the public has caused my family. […] THIS IS OUR LIFE!”
A private life tarnished by a public crime, that TMZ revealed to the world.