Several high-profile NFL players with University of Miami ties were in the media spotlight Wednesday over their connections to Nevin Shapiro, the imprisoned former Hurricanes benefactor who's at the center of a scandal involving allegations of gross misconduct with student-athletes.
Shapiro, 42, told Yahoo! Sports he gave money, cars, yacht trips, jewelry, televisions and other gifts to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010. He also claimed he paid for nightclub outings, sex parties, restaurant meals and, in one case, an abortion for a woman impregnated by a player.
|Andre Johnson (5) celebrates a touchdown with Jeremy Shockey during the 2002 Rose Bowl. Johnson, now with the Texans, has denied alleged ties to booster Nevin Shapiro. Shockey, now with the Panthers, wasn't implicated in the Yahoo! report. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)|
While most of the NFL players implicated in the Yahoo! story have declined to comment, a few did speak out Wednesday, including New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who's alleged to have accepted thousands of dollars in cash, a $7,500 watch, multiple trips to strip clubs and nightclubs and other impermissible benefits.
In comments made to ESPNNewYork.com, Rolle didn't deny the truth of Shapiro's claims.
"Right now, to me it doesn't matter what's true and what's not true," Rolle said. "Like, there's really nothing for me to comment on with this guy. Obviously he's on a rampage to cause, you know, havoc. And, you know, I'm just going to let him do his talking because right now it's really irrelevant and it (doesn't) concern me at this point.
"I'm not going to comment on him," Rolle continued. "I'm not going to comment on the things that he may have or may not have tried to do. To me, right now, that guy is irrelevant."
Shapiro currently is serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme.
"He's angry. If you get 20 years in prison and you know certain things like that happen, you're going to find someone to take it out on, right?" Rolle said. "I guess we have to bite that bullet."
Rolle, who said he hasn't read the Yahoo! report, added that his mother is worried over the way his relationship with Shapiro was portrayed in the media Wednesday.
"My mom has been calling me and saying they keep showing him with my jersey on, and I'm like you know, I didn't give him the jersey," Rolle said. "When I saw him, he supposedly had jerseys each and every week, so I just happened to be the jersey he had on during the Florida State game. And, you know, he represented me. I played ball down there. He should ... wear the number 6 jersey."
Another player mentioned in the report, current New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, addressed the controversy after practice Wednesday night.
"I feel it's unfortunate that things are being brought up right now from a guy who's in jail," Vilma said. "You can go back and forth with someone who's in jail and try to explain yourself. I really don't want to do that. That's very unnecessary. I'll leave it at that."
Vilma declined to give an opinion on former Miami players who have backed up some of Shapiro's allegations.
"That's their business," Vilma said. "You're talking about nine years ago, eight years ago. (I've) moved on from that. Far removed from that right now, especially with what's going on with the Saints. I feel like we have a very good team. I feel like we have a very good chance of getting to the playoffs and repeating what we did in '09 (when New Orleans won its first Super Bowl)."
The player alleged in the report to have received the most money, New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, declined to comment when contacted by Yahoo! Sports. "I'm not interested, buddy," Wilfork said before hanging up.
On Wednesday, Wilfork tweeted: "I am aware of the report that has claims that involve me while at the U ...... ...While the NCAA and the U conduct their investigations @Mrs75 (his wife) and I believe that it is not appropriate for us to comment."
The Yahoo! report states Wilfork received a $50,000 lump-sum payment during his junior season. Shapiro said the payment was made to secure Wilfork's commitment to his agency, Axcess Sports, which he co-owned with then-NFL agent and current UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue.
Huyghue denied that claim to The Associated Press on Tuesday. "It's just fantasy," Huyghue said. "He never had any role in my company."
Houston Texans All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, who starred for the Hurricanes from 2000-02, is in the report, but he's only mentioned by Shapiro for receiving drinks in the VIP area of some clubs.
"It is what it is, man," Johnson told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday. "I really don't have much to say about it. The guy's in trouble, and he's trying to take everybody down with him. I'm really not worried about it.
"I don't know about everybody else; I can only speak for myself. I wasn't in the clubs too much when I was in college, so I don't know about that."
Like other NFL players, Johnson is attempting to put distance between himself and the allegations.
"You kind of get upset about it, but at the same time, you can't control what anybody says," he told the Chronicle. "He knows and I know what really happened. It's over. It's done with. The NCAA is handling it, and we'll just move on.
"To be honest with you, it was a surprise to me," Myers said about Shapiro's allegations. "I was there five years. I knew the guy was around, but I didn't know all that stuff was going on.
"Every story I read is new stuff to me. It's a shame, but it's a one-sided story right now. I'm anxious to see how it all pans out. He's in prison. He can say anything he wants to say. It's a real shame, dragging down a program right now. There's always two sides to every story.â
Winston received All-American recognition with the Hurricanes before the Texans drafted him in the third round in 2006.
"I heard the name (Shapiro), but I didn't know him, and I couldn't pick him out of a lineup," Winston told the Chronicle. "Anytime you have a guy who, obviously, has the character he has and gets that close to the program it's worrisome.
"Sure, you're surprised when something like this comes out. It's unfortunate that a guy like that got as close as he did with the program, but a lot of colleges are dealing with the same kind of thing. It's unfortunate, but we have to deal with it as a program, as a family and keep pushing forward.â
The three Denver Broncos named in the scandal declined to talk about the allegations Wednesday.
Asked if he wanted to comment on the Yahoo! investigation, McGahee said: "I ain't talking about Miami. I'm out of Miami."
Other NFL players who were seriously implicated by the report but haven't offered comment include San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore, Chicago Bears wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester and Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason.
CBSSports.com reported Wednesday that the NFL has held discussions with the NCAA and the NFL Players Association about possible sanctions against players who are found guilty of violating NCAA rules. The website cites multiple league sources in reporting the NFL would like to enact fines and possibly even suspensions for a player once he enters the league if he's found to have broken rules while in college.
The NFL, NFLPA and NCAA had discussions several months ago regarding how to stop agents from infiltrating campuses and targeting players.
"The agents and the runners are a significant problem," one league official explained to CBSSports.com. "But so are the players. One thing we want to stop is a player believing he can take impermissible benefits and then use the NFL as an escape hatch."
The NCAA said Wednesday it has been investigating the relationship between Shapiro and Miami for five months, and the allegations -- if true -- show the need for "serious and fundamental change" in college sports.
"We were well aware of it and weren't surprised by the sensational media coverage," NCAA president Mike Emmert said Wednesday in an interview with ESPN Radio. "We've been on top of it for a while, gathering information and collecting data."
Emmert said typical investigations take six to seven months to complete.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.