A friend’s mistake changes football player’s destinyWritten by Matt Sussman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Loren Hargrove was arrested on cocaine charges in May, a fair number of media outlets reported it.
When Hargrove was proven innocent by the justice system, only one newspaper gave him a chance to tell his side of the story.
So here’s another chance.
Hargrove, a former BGSU linebacker who graduated in 2007 with high expectations to play in the NFL, drove to Shelby County to pick up Melvin Cole, another ex-Falcon football player and his former roommate. Cole was en route from Cincinnati to Bowling Green, and Cole’s then-girlfriend drove him from Cincy to Botkins, where Hargrove met the two.
While there, police seized cocaine in Cole’s luggage, which was in Hargrove’s truck. Cole admitted to the police at the scene of the crime, before any arrests were made, that the cocaine was his and not Hargrove’s or his girlfriend’s.
This helped the girlfriend, who drove home that night and was not arrested. The same couldn’t be said for Hargrove, despite Cole’s admission (which was documented in one police report). They were both arrested for drug trafficking, a fifth-degree felony.
Hargrove knew he was innocent. He knew his friend confessed to owning the cocaine. And yet he was still going through the legal system.
“The night I went to jail, I asked the officer, ‘why am I here?’ ” Hargrove said in a phone interview. “[The officer] read the report that had him admitting to it and the officer said to me, ‘You shouldn’t be here too much longer.’ The next thing you know I spent four days in county jail.”
His theory is that he was arrested because authorities wanted to seize his vehicle, in which the cocaine was found.
“They just wanted me to give up things to let me off, but I chose to fight it because I knew I was innocent.”
He also fought so he could continue his dream of playing in the NFL. Yet the stigma of being just another punk football player still lingers with him to this day, especially since a small handful of his former BGSU teammates also ran into legitimate legal trouble in the past few years, such as Marques Parks, Orlando Barrow and Jacob Hardwick.
“They tried to classify Bowling Green as having a bunch of thugs,” Hargrove said of the media coverage. “My story wasn’t being told truthfully at the time.”
How come it wasn’t being told properly? For one, he was advised to stay away from the media until the charges were cleared in September. Three weeks later, only one newspaper interviewed him for a story. But the damage was done.
Hargrove had worked out with the Cleveland Browns prior to the NFL draft, and although he wasn’t selected, he was aiming to sign as a free agent with somebody. That goal took a detour as the free agency period overlapped with his legal battle.
“Who’s going to sign a free agent with cocaine case pending?” Hargrove asked.
Cole’s fate was much worse. Combined with an unrelated set of charges of drug trafficking, he began serving a five-year, eight-month sentence earlier this year.
Throughout this ordeal, Hargrove has been training and staying in shape. He participated in BGSU’s pro day, where NFL scouts examine incoming talent. His goal is the same as it was before he drove to Shelby County: to be an NFL free agent and play professional football on Sundays.
His dream is shared by many other young men, and while many of them have had tragedy in their life, Hargrove has experienced more than his share. His mother passed away three years ago after a battle with cancer, and his uncle, former Cowboys running back Ron Springs (father of NFL cornerback Shawn Springs) has been in a coma since 2007.
Hargrove said his successful battle with the legal system may not give him an advantage over other players with the same dream. But it does separate him from athletes who did break the law. If anything, his only mistake was befriending someone who dealt with cocaine.
Last I checked my big book of laws, that is not a crime, but he knows it should not happen to him again. After all, the NFL cracks down on troublemakers with its squishy “conduct policy” and will suspend players if they want to — even if charges are dropped or never filed.
“This was a very serious life lesson for me,” he said, “and I have been very careful with the company that I keep.”
After hearing his story, I might just take that same advice.
Matt Sussman blogs regularly at www.toledofreepresscom.