NFL players by the dozens have been implicated in a Yahoo Sports investigation into how a University of Miami booster, now in prison for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010.
And, for the most part the NFL players — an all-star lineup that includes Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, Kellen Winslow Jr., Devin Hester, Willis McGahee, Antrel Rolle and Frank Gore — have little or nothing to say about a program they left years ago.
“I'm not really worried about that right now,” Vilma, now a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, said. “You have a guy that's in jail. Whatever his motive is right now, I don't know. Honestly, I don't care. You know, I'm gonna move forward and keep working with the Saints.”
He allegedly received food and beverages and was entertained at by booster Nevin Shapiro. He also was given $2,500 in bounties for hits on opposing quarterbacks.
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Wilfork is at the high end of those alleged benefits. “[I asked Wilfork] ‘What’s it going to take for [you] to sign with Axcess [Sports, Shapiro’s agency]?’ ” Shapiro told Yahoo. “We gave him $50,000 in cash. He was in the middle of his junior [season]. After that, I was at the draft day party with him — which we put together for him.”
Wilfork is no longer represented by Axcess and he declined to comment on the matter.
Hester allegedly received cash gifts, money for rims for his sports utility vehicle, about $3,000 for an engagement ring, tickets to a Miami Heat-Detroit Pistons playoff game, drinks and VIP access at nightclubs, food, drinks, entertainment, lodging, clothing and shoes — and $7,500 in bounties.
“Devin Hester was a really introverted kid,” Shapiro said. “Very quiet. [I] saw him sitting outside [Miami Coach] Larry Coker's office, where he was unsure if he was ever going to play a down of football ... . [I] started off taking him for lunches, meeting him for dinner, coming to my house often. He stayed at my house a few times, but was in my house often. I bought him rims for his [Lincoln] Navigator, I believe it was. It was a truck. ... I was giving Devin cash. Three hundred here, 400 there, 200 there, 400 there.”
Hester had nothing to say Tuesday after practice with the Chicago Bears. “If this is about the Miami thing,” he said, via the Associated Press, “I ain’t got nothing.”
Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, in an interview on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” talked about his days at the U. “Back in the day, if someone came up to me and offered me a thousand dollars, I might've taken it because I came from a situation where we had no money. I'd never seen a hundred dollar bill,” he said.
But Kelly wasn’t excusing players.
“When you start talking about some of the things that he was offering these guys and they were accepting them, they've gotta know that this is not right,” Kelly said. “That sooner or later you have that many players involved in this, that somebody's gonna find out, you're gonna get caught and you're gonna take 'The U' down with you. You have to have some belief in your own heart and mind that this is not right.”
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