MIAMI -- Frightened NFL players are carrying guns and hiring bodyguards as they seek to avoid becoming victims of violent crime which has already claimed the lives of two players.
Seven players told the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine, to be published on Friday, that the murders last year of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor and Denver Broncos defensive back Darrent Williams, had raised the alarm among some of the country's toughest sportsmen. "We are targets. We need to be aware of that everywhere we go," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner Ronde Barber.Taylor was shot during a botched robbery at his home in South Florida while Williams was shot and killed outside a nightclub in Denver on New Year's Eve 2007. This year, Oakland receiver Javon Walker was robbed and beaten unconscious in Las Vegas and Jacksonville Jaguars lineman Richard Collier had to have his leg amputated after being shot and left paralyzed below the waist.The response has been an escalation in security for the players and NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae, of the Tennessee Titans, estimates about half his teammates carry guns. "If I had to guess about our locker room, I'd say it's 50-50 when it comes to gun ownership," he told the magazine. "I don't own a handgun. I have a hunting rifle. My job is to protect my family. If someone comes into my house? Game's on," he said. Fred Taylor, a Jaguars teammate of Collier, said that not being able to carry guns at the team's facility makes him feel vulnerable. "I have all the security measures at my house -- systems, cameras, I can watch everything from my computer, but I still don't think I have enough. Who knows what is enough?" he said. "League officials tell us we need to take measures to protect ourselves. But the NFL says we can't have guns in the team facility -- even in the parking lot. Crooks know this. "They can just sit back and wait for us to drive off, knowing we won't have anything in our vehicle from point A to point B."Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the magazine that he now has a bodyguard with him at all times. "The one time I was scared the most, I didn't have anybody with me. I don't want to relive all the details, but this guy brandished a weapon in my face," he said. "I kept my cool and talked my way out of it. People showed up and helped get rid of the guy. That's when I decided to have someone with me all the time." Houston Texans corner Dunta Robinson suffered an armed robbery at his home, having a gun pointed in his face and being tied up, and says that was proof that even stay-at-home players, not just those who enjoy nightlife, can be at risk."It was the scariest moment of my life," he said. "You hear lots of stories of guys getting robbed and you say, 'Man, what were they doing, how did they get into that situation? Flashy guys. Rude guys, guys who act like they're better than everyone. I don't roll like that, and it still happened to me. "Big salaries, high profiles, and with easily available travel schedules make the players easy targets, but Dave Abrams, appointed as head of Denver's security following the murder of Williams, worries their families may soon be prayed upon. "What's the next layer? Wives and children: a kid kidnapped for ransom, or some other kind of craziness. I'm scared to death that's where criminals perceive the next vulnerability is for our players: their families."
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