Bob Hayes, a student at Florida A&M, was eating dinner in the university’s student union building when he heard that the campus police wanted to speak to him. When he found the police, they told him they were taking him to jail for robbery.
According to Hayes’ autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, a friend named James Vickers said that he and Hayes had robbed a fellow student. Vickers held up a plastic gun and got what the student had: eleven cents and two sticks of gum. Hayes said he had no idea what the police were talking about, but he was carted off to the city jail, where Hayes stayed for 7 days without showering and changing clothes. With no money, no lawyer, no idea what to do, Hayes said he signed a confession and pleaded guilty in the hopes of getting out of jail.
When it was time for sentencing, Hayes’ coach, Jack Gaither made an appeal to the judge: “If you give me this boy for four years, I guarantee you he won’t get in trouble and he’ll make you proud of him.” Hayes was put on probation for ten years and had to report to a probation officer once a month. All that for eleven cents and two sticks of gum, taken with a plastic gun, by someone else.
Thanks to Gaither, Hayes had a fruitful college football career. He then went on to win two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, be crowned the fastest man in the world, and win a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, the first of only two people to have reached such heights. Retired from sports, Hayes anticipated a trip to the NFL Hall of Fame, thanks to the way he revolutionized American football, stretching defenses with his speed. Bob Hayes was on top of the world. Until the police came calling again.
It was the middle of the night in March, 1978, when the police banged vigorously on Hayes’ door. The police arrested him for selling drugs, and carted him off to the local jail. A man named Denny Kelly, described as an airline pilot and an undercover policemen in the Dallas area, where Hayes was living, apparently befriended Hayes, and little by little would ask for drugs. Hayes wrote that first he provided Kelly with methaqualone (also known as Quaaludes), and connected Kelly to people who could sell him cocaine. Hayes introduced Kelly to another person who would end up selling Kelly cocaine. As conversations and video of Kelly and Hayes were recorded, including one at Hayes office at a computer company he was working at.
Two pills of Quaaludes, apparently “sold” to Kelly when Hayes borrowed ten dollars from Kelly to pay for gas, as well as five grams of cocaine sold by a person introduced by Hayes in a case that suspiciously looked like entrapment – this should have resulted in a light sentence, slap on the wrist perhaps – but this was a second offense. Because Hayes had a previous arrest record in the case where he allegedly stole 11 cents and two sticks of gum, his case could have gone to a jury trial where, if convicted, Hayes could have gone to prison for many years. Even though his teammates all testified that Hayes was not a drug dealer, they knew that the risk of Hayes going to a jury, one that could have been packed with whites, was too great, so they encouraged him to plead guilty with the hopes of getting off lightly.
Unfortunately, the judge sentenced Hayes to five years in prison. No longer the iconic #22 wide receiver, Hayes was inmate number 290973 of the Texas prison system. Here’s how he described his life in prison in his autobiography:
After living the good life – a nice house, and the best hotels when I traveled – I found myself in an eight-by-ten foot cell for several weeks of orientation and then in a dormitory with about a hundred other inmates, most of whom were fifteen or so years younger than me, using a public shower like I had with the Cowboys and eating in amess hall. We had to be counted four times a day to make sure that none of us was missing and a count could take as long as an hour if someone was unaccounted for.
Being in prison taught me a little more about the values of life. I saw the things I was missing and how I always took things for granted. You don’t really miss freedom until you don’t have any choice. Just being able to get a glass of milk or a Pepsi whenever I wanted one meant so much more to me after I got out.
Fortunately for Hayes, he did not serve five years. His case was overturned on appeal, and he was free. In today’s terms, it appears to be a tough punishment for someone who only introduced another person to a very persistent undercover cop, and did not technically sell anything to anyone. And yet, his time in prison followed him like a dark cloud. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, twenty years after Hayes’ triumphs in Tokyo, Hayes was shunned from the Games by the US Olympic Committee. And in this interview with Frank Gifford during ABC’s coverage of the Games, you can tell that Hayes is miffed at his treatment.
I’m in between jobs now. It has been very difficult for me. It very difficult to get someone to trust and believe in me now as a citizen because no one thinks of me in terms of my accomplishments. Just the drug conviction. Frank, I spent ten months in incarceration for a total of 700 dollars that I was indirectly involved in. I would love to get a good writer, like an Alex Haley, a director like a Norman Lear, and a TV network like an ABC, who can really get out there and show the American public what has happened to named athletes. Not only a named athlete but everyone. I want people to see what has happened. It has been a downhill situation. It’s very difficult to come out on top again when someone continues to kick you and stab you in the back, to redeem yourself.
When Hayes said he was on the stand, he had admitted: “I’m not the smartest guy in the world. If I was, I wouldn’t be up here. I’m guilty. I was wrong. I’ve paid the price in my image and my respect. People see me as Bob Hayes, dope dealer, not Bob Hayes, the citizen. It hurts.”
In his autobiography, Hayes went further: “My whole prison experience turned out to be a waste, a nightmare that never should have happened.”
When he passed away, the only man to win a gold medal and a Super Bowl ring, a man who disrupted NFL defenses with his speed and skill, was denied entry into the NFL Hall of Fame. Eventually, Hayes was inducted, albeit over 6 years after Hayes’ death. Thinking that he might eventually get in, he wrote a Thank You note that was read posthumously at the 2009 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:
You know I am not sure I am going to be around if I get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame so you must read this for me, I am not sure, I guess I am feeling sorry for myself at this time but you must remember everything I want you to do and say. Mother said you would do what I want because you always did. So read this for me.
I would like to thank everyone who supported me to get into the NFL Hall of Fame, the Dallas Cowboys organization, all of my team mates and everyone who played for the Cowboys, (thank the San Francisco 49rs [sic] too). Thank the fans all around the country and the world, thank the committee who voted for me and also the ones who may did not vote for me, thank Mother and my family, thank Roger Stauback [sic] and tell all my teammates I love them dearly.
Thank the Pro Football Hall of Fame, all the NFL teams and players, Florida A&M University, thank everyone who went to Mathew [sic] Gilbert High School, thank everyone in Jacksonville and Florida and everyone especially on the East Side of Jacksonville. Thank everyone in the City of Dallas and in Texas and just thank everyone in the whole world.
I love you all.