DENVER - Even before Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed after a New Year’s Eve party, professional athletes worried about their safety.
Some have hired bodyguards and some own guns to protect themselves. Celebrities draw people, not all of them well-meaning. Displays of wealth can spur jealousy, and robbery was a motive in several attacks on athletes in recent years. Alcohol and testosterone can complicate the situation, especially late at night in bars and nightclubs. Some celebrity athletes go out only with friends, but some of those friends can feel overly important or empowered. The accidental bump can turn into a confrontation. “It’s everywhere,” Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said Wednesday of the possibility of being attacked. “Everywhere I go, I’ve got that in the back of my mind. You’ve always got to be on point. You’ve always got to be careful. “If you’re in a bar or a club and you see commotion, you want to get out. Anything can happen. They always say that bullets have no names.” Anthony said it’s “impossible” for him to hang out in public without being recognized. He said he doesn’t have security guards, but he never goes out alone. “I have people with me. I have my guys with me. Some people, when they go out, they might need security. I never felt comfortable with security. That’s just me, though,” said Anthony, who two years ago appeared in a homemade DVD in which a gang member from Anthony’s Baltimore neighborhood discouraged people from talking to police. Sunday night’s New Year’s Eve party at The Shelter nightclub in Denver included several professional athletes. The event was also promoted as a birthday party for Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. Police and others say a group including Williams was involved in a disagreement with another group at the club early Monday morning. Shortly after Williams’ group departed in a stretch limousine, police say an SUV drove next to the limo and someone began to fire into the limo. Williams was killed by a single shot to the neck, the coroner reported. Teammate Javon Walker was among the others in the limo. Denver police were still searching for the SUV and suspects Wednesday. Williams’ death was the third high-profile shooting involving a professional athlete in the Denver area since 2003. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who played at Colorado State, was a bystander when he was shot in the buttocks outside a Denver bar in 2003. Nuggets guard Julius Hodge was shot and wounded while driving on a Denver highway last April after leaving a nightclub. Porter and Hodge were not seriously injured. Professional athletes are aware that their money, fame and popularity can make them targets. “With all that fame comes a lot of hatred, and a lot of people want to do things to you just to try to make a name for themselves,” Nuggets center Marcus Camby said this fall. Camby said he does not own a gun and tries to avoid late-night places where trouble can occur. “Usually I’m in the house around those times,” Camby said. “As long as you’re in the house, things like that don’t happen.” In interviews this fall, Broncos defensive end Kenard Lang, running back Tatum Bell and defensive tackle Gerard Warren said they owned guns for protection. “I got it about 10 years ago,” Lang said. “I had just got drafted. I had been drafted for a little while and situations did happen where I was being confronted.” Lang said he keeps his gun in his house. He said he didn’t want to put himself in a situation where a minor problem might escalate. “I’d rather see another day,” Lang said. “I can replace my Nikes, my car, my Ford pickup. I can’t replace my life. That’s when you have to be smart.” Bell said he has two guns, the first of which he got in college. “Self-defense, basically,” he said. Warren said he has had confrontations, but he takes verbal abuse without responding. He said he couldn’t avoid the people trying to agitate him. “Of course, without a shadow of a doubt you’re a target if you don’t know how to blend into the scenery and not stand out as much,” Warren said. “I mean, 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, you’re going to stand out. You know you’re a target.” In 2001, Warren was arrested on a charge of carrying an unlicensed firearm in Pennsylvania. He said he was going to register it the next day and all of his guns are registered now. Warren said he kept those guns at his home in Florida. He said he bought some after former Falcons cornerback Elijah Williams, a college teammate and friend, was shot in the leg in 2001. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said part of his job is teaching his players how to act in public. He said the NFL does its part by educating the players on the dangers of being a celebrity at the rookie symposium, a mandatory fourday orientation held in the offseason. “We’re not naive as to what goes on out on the streets,” Shanahan said. “We understand that these athletes are celebrity status, what could possibly happen, so this is an ongoing process with communication between our organization and the NFL (to the players).” The Nuggets’ Hodge said he doesn’t go out much anymore. “You have to protect yourself,” he said. “I have a fiancee, and I have to make sure I’m doing the right thing all the time.” CONTACT THE WRITERS: Frank Schwab at 476-4891 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Brian Gomez at 636-0256 or email@example.com