- Intercepted: The Rise and Fall of NFL Cornerback Darryl Henley by Michael McKnight
For most of 1995 the O.J. Simpson murder trial was inescapable. The shocking nature of the crime and the stature of the accused as a sports celebrity captivated the country. Disturbing narratives of racism and investigative misconduct emerged from the courtroom and publically obsessed over. Coverage of the event transformed sports and news media while the former National Football League player's acquittal became a galvanizing moment in race relations that remains controversial to the present day.
At the same time Simpson was being tried for the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles, the fate of another black football player, Darryl Henley, was being decided in a nearby Orange County. The outcome was dramatically different. There were no electric allegations of race and misconduct, and Henley, who had been a cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams, was found guilty of drug trafficking charges.
Michael McKnight's book, Intercepted: The Rise and Fall of NFL Cornerback Darryl Henley is an in-depth examination of the former player's football career and the legal battle that ended with his incarceration. The book details how issues of race, celebrity, and politics played a large role in the investigation, prosecution, and portrayal of the case. While Intercepted is not a plea for Henley's exoneration, McKnight does paint Henley as a sympathetic figure; a man who made some enormously ill-advised decisions that placed him in the mercy of powers far beyond his control and for which he paid an enormous price.
Henley was a Los Angeles native who had been a standout player at University of California at Los Angeles in the late 1980s. In four seasons as a starter for the Rams, he earned a reputation as one of the best corners in the league despite his relatively small size for the position. His promising career was derailed in 1993 when his girlfriend, ninteen-year-old Rams cheerleader Tracy Donaho, was caught transporting suitcases full of cocaine across the country. The government charged Henley with masterminding a cross-country drug ring, and he was convicted two years later. While in federal custody in Los Angeles he bribed a guard, arranged a $1 million drug deal, and attempted to hire someone to kill Donaho and the federal judge in his case. In 1997 he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to forty-one years in prison.
In some ways, Henley's story was a tragic tale of timing. It worked in his favor as his family had been able to take advantage of the growing social and educational opportunities for blacks made possible by the changes wrought during the Civil Rights Era. It worked against him as his involvement in the drug trade occurred at the height of the "War on Drugs," when the government's interest in pursuing such cases was at an all-time high. McKnight argues that competition among investigators within the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seeking a career-enhancing case with a high-profile defendant fueled their pursuit of the case. [End Page 500]
Perhaps most importantly, Henley's case occurred at the same time as Simpson's. Both trials began in January of 1995. Henley's conviction came down in March while Simpson's case labored on to its conclusion with his acquittal in October. There were inevitable conflicts. One of Henley's defense attorneys juggled his time in the courtroom with his duties as a legal analyst for CNN's coverage of the Simpson trial. McKnight also argues that the pressure on the prosecutors in Henley's trial redoubled as the numerous missteps of the Simpson trial severely damaged the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. McKnight argues that Henley's case was as immersed in racial issues as Simpson's trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The fact Henley was...