Men of conviction

STEPHEN RIPLEY

, Last Updated: 1:58 PM ET

On any given Sunday this fall, while Joey Harrington is tossing balls to the guys on the other team, his predecessor in the Atlanta Falcons backfield may be tossing the salad of his cellmate in federal prison.

Unfortunately for Michael Vick, justice officials apparently consider running a dog-fighting ring a lot worse than, say, assault causing bodily harm (hello, Todd Bertuzzi) or vehicular homicide (Dany Heatley). Which means he'll likely end up behind bars instead of resuming the pampered, privileged life of a professional athlete.

But being able to skate fast or hit a baseball doesn't always guarantee a cushy community service sentence. Soon Michael Vick -- along with the 10 cons and ex-cons on this list -- will be able to attest to that.

10. Darryl Strawberry

After several arrests and wrist-slap sentences of probation and house arrest, the former New York Mets and Yankees star was finally fitted for an orange prison jumpsuit for a 40-day stint in 2000. That sentence -- for violating his parole by taking drugs -- was followed two years later by a longer prison term for a similar offence.

9. Rick Fox

Don't remember Canadian NBAer Rick Fox running afoul of the law? Then you never watched HBO's gritty series Oz, in which he played basketball star Jackson Vahue, who was sent to Oswald State Penitentiary after being convicted of attempted rape and assault in the first degree. He was eventually paroled and later survived an assassination attempt by a jealous guard.

8. Pete Rose

In 1990, baseball's all-time hits leader spent five months in a federal penitentiary for tax evasion after failing to declare income he earned signing autographs and betting on horse racing. He had previously been banned from baseball for placing bets while managing the Cincinnati Reds -- something he only 'fessed up to a couple of years ago. Despite his sins, it's a travesty Rose has been kept out of the Hall of Fame.

7. Craig MacTavish

A promising young centre with the Boston Bruins, MacTavish's career was derailed in 1984 when he was convicted of vehicular homicide in the drunk-driving death of a 26-year-old woman. After serving nine months behind bars, he was released from his contract in Boston and signed with the Edmonton Oilers, with whom he would win three Stanley Cups and go on to a successful coaching career.

6. Dave Hilton, Jr.

A member of Canada's famous fighting Hilton family, Dave Jr. won the WBC super middleweight title in 2000 but was stripped of the belt in 2001 when he was convicted of sexually abusing his two daughters. Hilton was paroled in 2006 after serving two-thirds of a seven-year sentence.

5. Denny McLain

The last major league pitcher to win 30 games in a season, McLain's promising career was cut short by his association with gamblers (he once missed six starts because a foot injury that had been inflicted by gangsters collecting on a debt). Trouble followed the ex-Detroit Tiger into retirement, when he was convicted of drug trafficking, racketeering and extortion, leading to several years in prison during the late '80s and early '90s.

4. Art Schlichter

Running back turned armed robber Maurice Clarett broke a lot of records at Ohio State, but not the one for career convictions held by ex-Buckeye quarterback Art Schlichter. At last count, the one-time Ottawa Rough Rider had spent a total of 10 years in prison in 44 different institutions on charges of fraud and forgery stemming from a lifelong gambling addiction.

3. Mike Tyson

The youngest boxer to hold a world heavyweight title, Tyson's career was undone by a series of bizarre incidents, including the 1991 rape of a contestant in the Miss Black America pageant. Tyson served three years of a six-year sentence and was released in 1995, having converted to Islam and adopted the name Malik Abdul Aziz.

2. Mike Danton

Speaking of bizarre, there's Mike Danton -- formerly Mike Jefferson -- who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder after trying to hire a hitman to kill his agent, David Frost. The ex-St. Louis Blue and New Jersey Devil, whose close relationship with the agent led to his estrangement from his family, was sentenced in 2004 to 71/2 years in a U.S. federal penitentiary with no chance for parole.

1. Rae Carruth

What? No O.J. Simpson? Well, although he did spend time in jail awaiting trial, the Juice was never convicted and is therefore ineligible for this list. So his place goes to Carruth, a former receiver with the Carolina Panthers who is now serving a 19-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder in the 1999 shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend. The baby -- Carruth's child -- had to be delivered early by Caesarian section and subsequently developed cerebral palsy. Throw away the key.


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