MIAMI — It's been more than 20 years since Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before he played in the Super Bowl for the Atlanta Falcons. But his cautionary tale still looms large as the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to play the San Francisco 49ers at the Super Bowl Sunday in Miami Gardens.
Robinson was caught soliciting a prostitute in Miami, a city notorious for its never-ending night life, rife with bars, dance clubs, strip clubs and anything else party-goers are looking for. While both teams are expected to counsel their players about the perils of Miami's streets and the importance of staying in their team hotels, the lure of the pulsing beats in the "Magic City" are hard to ignore.
The Miami metro area has had by far the highest number of NFL player arrests and citations since 2000, according to a database of more than 950 such incidents compiled by USA TODAY Sports. Over that time, at least 60 active NFL players were arrested or cited in the Miami metro area, with only a third of those playing for the Miami Dolphins. The next biggest hot spots for NFL player trouble are metro Atlanta, New York, Denver and Minneapolis, each with a little more than 40.
South Beach figures to be a popular spot for NFL players and party-goers in the week leading up the Super Bowl LIV. (Photo: Cliff Hawkins, Getty Images)
Fifty-six of the 60 incidents around Miami involved African-American players. Three were Polynesian, one Hispanic, and none were white. In the NFL, team rosters since 2000 have been about 60% to 70% African-American and about 30% white, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Such lopsided numbers raise an issue that former players say is a major reason Miami leads the league in arrests: a long-standing pattern of racial profiling in South Florida. But they concede that there's another important factor.
"Guys come down here and they lose their mind," said Antrel Rolle, a former University of Miami All-American cornerback who went on to win a Super Bowl with the New York Giants. "The women. The free access you have wherever you want to go. They don’t know how to have just one, two, three drinks, they have six, seven, eight and they find themselves belligerent."
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All of those possibilities will be in full bloom this week with clubs throughout the region battling to throw the biggest, loudest, craziest parties possible. Luther Campbell, the frontman of 2 Live Crew, is throwing what he's calling the "Best (Expletive) Concert" the night before the game in North Miami. Lizzo is performing on Miami Beach, Shaquille O'Neal is hosting a concert with Pitbull and Diddy in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, and former Patriot Rob Gronkowski is hosting a beach bash with Diplo and Rick Ross.
Former Miami Hurricanes running back Edgerrin James is co-hosting a four-day series of concerts that will culminate with a "Stripper Bowl" the night after the game.
"You have more athletes and celebrities who want to come to South Florida than any other place," said Randall "Thrill" Hill, a Miami native who played receiver for the Hurricanes and Dolphins. "Why do you think the Super Bowl has been in Miami so many times?"
Besides the party scene, Rolle said he knows from firsthand experience that race plays a factor in the high arrest count.
Before his final year at UM, a fight broke out in the street late one night in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood. Some started banging on Rolle's SUV, which prompted a pair of white police officers to approach him.
Rolle, the son of a police chief in his hometown of Homestead, Florida, said he could tell immediately that the cops were after him and him only.
"I had a throwback NFL jersey on, a Cuban link chain, a black Yukon with black tints," Rolle said.
Before long, Rolle was in handcuffs at the City of Miami Police Department, where he said he heard the officers bragging about landing the "big fish." Rolle was quickly suspended from Hurricanes football team and his status as a first-round draft pick was immediately thrown into question.
Rolle maintained he did nothing wrong and complained that the charges filed against him were flawed from the start. Among the charges were battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer without violence.
"How does that make sense?" he said.
Less than a month later, prosecutors dropped all charges, his arrest was expunged and Rolle went on to become the eighth pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Rolle said that experience showed him that he has to be extra careful to avoid scrutiny – warranted or not – from police in Miami.
"You honestly have to be scared," he said. "I have three black children, one a black boy. My son is getting up there in age, and I’m gonna have to talk to him about the law. That's wrong."
For all its mystique as an international destination where different cultures seamlessly blend together, Miami remains one of the most segregated cities in America, according to Billy Corben, a documentary filmmaker.
The Miami native has detailed the city's seedy past with "Cocaine Cowboys" and the city's complicated sports scene in "The U" and "Screwball." Corben says that in most of the United States blacks are still routinely treated as second-class citizens. But given that Miami-Dade County's power structures are dominated by white people who've lived there for generations and Cuban-Americans who quickly established themselves economically and politically, Corben said blacks are treated more like third-class citizens.
"So you have a level of policing on the African-American community that is disproportionate to the rest of the county’s population," Corben said. "Maybe you could get away with certain shenanigans in Las Vegas. But here, if you’re an African-American, particularly an African-American male, if you’re driving a nice car through a nice neighborhood, odds are you’re going to get pulled over."
'Difficult for outsiders to understand'
Of the 60 NFL player incidents in Miami, 21 originated with traffic stops, which is common for NFL player arrests in all cities. In the Miami cases whose resolutions could be determined, about a third ended up with dropped charges or acquittals, a rate that is on par for NFL criminal cases in other cities. The rest resulted in punishment or diversion programs.
That was the case for former Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals running back Mark Walton, a Miami native who was arrested four times last year alone. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor weapons charge to settle three of those cases.
But other arrests raise questions. Ty Law, who won three Super Bowls for the New England Patriots, was arrested on Miami Beach in 2004 after police pulled him over in a Rolls Royce due to an alleged lane violation. He was also charged with failure to obey a police officer, but all charges were later dropped. Law's attorney at the time said it was a classic case of "driving while black."
Fred Taylor, the former Jacksonville Jaguars running back, was forced out of a car at gunpoint by officers outside a Miami Beach nightclub in 2008. He was accused of being uncooperative during a search, but those charges were also dropped.
A similar scene played out in 2017 for Robby Anderson, the New York Jets receiver, who was arrested at the Rolling Loud music festival and accused of fighting with security staff and police. Those charges were later dropped.
In 2018, a study conducted by the University of Miami and the ACLU found that black residents of Miami-Dade County are arrested far more frequently than their white and Hispanic neighbors. The study found that even though blacks make up 18% of the county's population, they account for 38% of arrests.
The U.S. Justice Department has gotten involved, too, launching an investigation in 2013 after City of Miami police officers shot seven young black men during an eight-month period between 2010 and 2011. That investigation resulted in a 2016 agreement between Justice and the City of Miami to appoint a federal monitor to oversee reforms to the department.
"It's difficult for outsiders to understand that dynamic," Corben said. Rather than the proverbial melting pot, he says Miami is "more akin to a TV dinner where the peas sometimes fall into the mashed potatoes."
Law enforcement officials in South Florida say accusations of systemic racism are false.
City of Miami police officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, Miami Beach Police Department Officer Ernesto Rodriguez said the agency has purposefully hired a multicultural force to better respond to the broad cross-section of tourists who flood the barrier island. For example, the city's population is only 4% black, but its 400-officer police force is 14% black.
The city of Miami Beach has fewer than 100,000 residents, but Rodriguez said the island can be inundated by more than 200,000 tourists on any given night. And with many of them looking to experience the South Beach lifestyle they see on TV, Rodriguez said it shouldn't come as a surprise that many end up in jail.
"We stand by the arrests all of our officers make, whether they’re a sports figure, a celebrity or Joe Citizen," he said. "We’re the party capital, so a lot of times when these sports players come down here, they’re here to have a good time. It happens to anybody. Sometimes people exceed their limits, and that’s when they get into trouble."
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: [email protected]
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