Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Jan 2010

The Dirtiest Player

Jason Fagone has a detailed story in GQ of the Marvin Harrison shooting case from last year.

As a rule, we don't normally link stories that aren't directly related to football, but we've had several requests to link the article, and it's getting a fair amount of hype around the Internet as one of the best pieces of sportswriting in a while.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 15 Jan 2010

39 comments, Last at 17 Jan 2010, 8:57pm by towishimp


by Adam B. :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 2:59pm

The dissonance between the Harrison we thought we know and the one presented in this article is difficult to reconcile -- for if the article is to be believed, Marvin Harrison attempted to kill a guy, failed (but wounded him and a two-year-old), then his cousin finished the job. And as a result of this article, the FBI has reopened the case.

The one football-related note: well, this explains why no team signed Harrison even mid-season to boost their depth. You think the Ravens could have used him?

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 3:25pm

I'm not convinced Harrison was worth a place on anyone's roster this season. Admittedly it's not unprecedented for a guy to post one or two more somewhat productive seasons at age 37 or older, even after posting a YPC as low as Harrison did in 2008 (Irving Fryar's the man to look at here). But he'd have been a mediocre WR3 at best (and probably not even that), would have cost far more than a younger player, offered no room for future improvement and provided no value on special teams.

As for the article, yeah, well written piece of journalism. It certainly makes it sound like Harrison's probably guilty, but I'm not sure it makes it sound very likely that his guilt (if he is guilty) could ever be proven beyond reasonable doubt. It's also clearly in the journalist's interest to make it sound like Harrison's guilty, because it's a much better story that way. My perception of the case remains where it was before reading: it's unsettlingly plausible that Harrison's guilty, but we don't know for sure and we probably never will. I suppose the ballistic evidence, if it's as clear-cut as it sounds, proves in conjunction with his testimony about the gun that he's guilty of something, though perhaps just conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, or similar.

by Adam B. :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 3:39pm

Oh, come on, you just wanted to use the word "pervert" outside its normal context.

But I do think you're right: Fagone's goal in writing the article -- at least the way it came out (since we don't know the motives at the start) -- was to convince readers that Harrison is guilty. And on that, the article works. What we don't know, of course, are the facts that Fagone is withholding from us, whether there's more that gave the DA's office pause beyond the general scumminess of those involved.

And, yes, Harrison may be factually guilty without it being legally provable beyond a reasonable doubt.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 4:00pm

True, it's not absolutely certain he's guilty, but people are sentenced to death or life in prison pretty regularly on much, much less evidence than there is against Marvin Harrison.

by Guido Merkens :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 7:16pm

However, those people usually don't have the quality of lawyer that Harrison will be able to afford.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 8:53pm

Of course, I wasn't actually suggesting Harrison was likely to go to jail, yet between his lies about his gun and the erased video footage, I could see it happening.

by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 3:33pm

No. Manning makes all his receivers look good, and Harrison is very old. I think every team in the NFL has at least 3 receivers who are better than him right now.

by dryheat :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 4:10pm

I'd love to go back in time and have Belichick sign Harrison instead of Galloway. It would be worth it purely for the "Dead to me" status of Polian, if nothing else. But a guy who can read a defense, run a route, have good hands, and take advantage of single coverage? Yeah, the Patriots definitely needed a guy like that.

by bingo762 :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 3:31pm


by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 4:02pm

"as a result of this article, the FBI has reopened the case."

If this is even remotely true, with the implication that a single sportswriter is a better and more conscientious criminal investigator than the FBI, then I am very disturbed and simultaneously somehow not totally surprised.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 5:14pm

Agreed. Either the sportswriter has done a better job of investigating, or more likely, he's triggered enough public interest to dictate what the investigators pursue. Neither situation is particularly desirable.

by woobly doobly (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 5:25pm

I don't think that it has anything to do with his being a better investigator as almost all of his evidence comes from the investigation and everything to do with how much publicity this article is generating.

by Temo :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 7:07pm

Actually, it was the Philly DA who requested the FBI's help on the matter. The FBI originally was never involved in the case.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 8:58pm

It actually happens pretty frequently that articles lead to cases being reopened--one of the reasons I'm saddened by the decline of newspapers (another being that major investigations often require both the clout of an established newspaper as well as its bankroll, as noted in the Alan Schwarz interview a week ago). It's sad, but the legal system very often isn't interested in working unless there is pressure placed on it.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 8:43pm

The Chandra Levy case in DC (aka the case that caused Congressman Gary Condit to resign) was basically on hold indefinitely until a series of Washington Post articles put the pieces together by linking evidence from various sources and publicly named the likeliest suspect. Because of that, the police actually followed up on the evidence and eventually charged the guy named in the article.

by Bill Prudden (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 4:06pm

I'd like to take exception with one assertion the police made and the author let slide - that the linear disposition of the spent cases of the FN 5.7 prove, or even suggest, that the shooter had both hands on the pistol stabalizing it. This particular pistol, shooting rounds that are essentially just .22 magnums, does not recoil like 9mms or .45s, and is quite easy to shoot very rapidly and very accurately with one hand. And I'm not a professional athlete...

For Marvin or some other healthy male to have, as the witness asserts, a 5.7 in one hand and another pistol in another is no stretch at all, in my opinion.


by Mr Shush :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 4:17pm

I wasn't aware that the 5.7 was a specifically low-recoil weapon, but I certainly wondered while reading whether a gun held by a big (by normal standards) man in superb physical condition might not be every bit as stable as one held in two by an average Joe.

by TimK :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 3:08am

5.7 mm / 25.4 = 0.224 inches : is it just a metric .22?

Harrison's apparently blatant lies about the gun are very strange. Wouldn't it have been much easier to lie about Dixon being armed, even to admit you panicked and shot first sounds better to me than to make a lie that might be forensically proven false? (Is it better to seem cool and lie, than plead panic?)

Although there is more doubt than there used to be about exactly how reliable matching cases and slugs is to guns. A lot of forensic 'science' has not actually been tested scientifically : even fingerprints have remarkably little proof about their uniqueness and the level of comparison required to prove such (though I believe people are working on this now, thanks to computer analysis).

by Bill Prudden (not verified) :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 10:02am

TimK -

Yes, exactly, .223 = 5.56mm (our present NATO standard cartridge), for example...

The cops and reporters who initially called it a "custom 50-caliber" were wrong on both points: Mass-produced, and .22 caliber.

The gun exists becuase some NATO countries wanted a personal defense carbine for Army truck drivers and cooks and so forth, lighter and handier than "real" rifles, which became the P90 rifle, and then the same cartridge had a handgun built for it, the handgun in question. Both are very popular (stylish) purchases in our civilian market becuase they have high "cool" factors, another point which, in my opinion, reflects poorly on Marvin: Trend follower!


by JonC :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 12:24pm

Only if you trust the police. The only evidence they have ties him to the att. murder of Dixon, and there's no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in Dixon's eventual murder. If he denies outright, then the DA has to choose between prosecuting a "good guy" for the shooting of a turd (and the controversy/allegations of racism etc. that would/should come with it), or doing nothing, claiming there were problems with evidence. If Harrison claims self-defense, there's every incentive for the DA to not only prosecute but dredge up all the questionable evidence presented in the article to smear him, since he's admitted to the shooting.

by DZ (not verified) :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 2:43pm

Considering the whole point of the article is that no one tells the cops anything, I don't know why anyone would be surprised that Harrison would just lie to the police. He's protecting the code. Smart? No. Consistent with life in that 'hood? Yes. He tells the cops Dixon had no gun; he didn't see anything; he doesn't know anything. In the end, the cops might be able to book him for making conflicting statements, but there's no way any charges stick. I can see the cross examination now:

Mr Harrison, you told the police that Dwight Dixon didn't have a gun that day.

Harrison: yes, but it wasn't true

DA: You lied to the police?

Harrison: yes. Dixon was a dangerous felon. He had threatened my life and my business and fired a gun at me. I thought if I stone walled the police, it all might go away. I didn't want any more trouble with this crazy dangerous man.

DA: but our witness is so credible! He's only been a jail a few times and stands to make thousands of dollars on a civil suit!

Jury: Not guilty, your honor.

They are going to need A LOT more evidence than what was in this article to convict Marv of anything but lying to the cops.

by JonC :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 6:01pm

I think it is smart; why would Harrison have any reason to confess to the crime, esp. when as you note if he's ever on trial he'll just do what you describe?

A "tough on crime" DA would have every reason to hang years on a confessed killer, regardless of how self-defense would mitigate the charge/sentence. They'd have less incentive to try a very wealthy black man who by all appearances has strong and positive ties in his community and an obvious self-defense claim.

by Keith (1) (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 4:47pm

I thought this was a pretty bad article myself.

by tgt2 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 6:01pm

My captcha of "presenting gambols" seems to fit your post. You dislike something, but you didn't give any reasons for it. Seems kind of pointless.

I thought the article was interesting, but as was noted earlier, we don't know what facts and evidence were not presented to us.

by DZ (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 7:50pm

I thought his efforts to make Dennis Dixon into a 'victim' by calling him 'the fat man' repeatedly were utterly disingenuous. He's a felon who did time for manslaughter. The entire issue centered around his attempts to enter Harrison's establishment with a gun. He apparently made murderous threats.

I have no idea what Harrison's involvement was in the whole thing, but I know this:

Dennis Dixon was no victim. He was a dangerous man. To that end the article felt sensationalistic and contrived.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 9:04pm

This wasn't about making him a victim; it was a narrative technique. At this point in the story, we are being presented with the viewpoint of Nixon, who recognizes the man only for his physical characteristics. The article proceeds to state Dixon's many character flaws (to put it mildly). Dixon was a victim in the literal sense--a victim of attempted murder, and later murder, but the article doesn't hide that he was really an awful person (I found myself questioning whether Harrison hadn't done a good thing at one point in the article, so I can hardly say it offered a spin job).

by Kal :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 10:06pm

Dennis Dixon is a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers who played one glorious season for the Oregon Ducks.

That's not who this article is talking about.

by Kibbles :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 5:28am

Surely you mean that Dennis Dixon is a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers who played three quarters of one glorious season for the Oregon Ducks.

by DZ (not verified) :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 2:35pm

Dwight, Dennis, whatever. you know what I meant.

by Bobman :: Sun, 01/17/2010 - 5:30am

Did Dwight Dixon wear cover-your-eyes-ugly uniforms in college?

by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 9:01pm

An officer patted a guy down for weapons and didn't notice he was shot and bleeding? Yeah, that sounds likely.

I don't know about the rest of it, but that Nixon guy sounds like he's scamming several people, hard.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 8:55am

Shot in the back with a low calibre weapon, nothing vital hit. If he was wearing dark, loose-fitting clothes and the pat-down was fairly cursory, I could see it. Dark colour masks the stain (or at any rate makes it not readily identifiable as blood. Loose garments hang down, obscuring bullet hole.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 9:06pm

So are you suggesting Nixon shot himself later on? That the cop didn't pat him down, but claims he did later on because he wants to pin this on Harrison?

I can see how this could happen if the cop was standing in front of him and just patted his legs.

by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 1:50pm

No, I think I'm suggesting that he got shot later on in an unrelated incident. The article pretty much states he's a career criminal.

Not that I know anything here, of course. It all just sounds like a fairytale to me. I find it hard to believe a guy spent so many years as a professional athlete on a high profile team and was secretly some kind of shadow criminal. I know it happens sometimes, but I still find it hard to believe.

by CandlestickPark :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 3:14pm

Not as hard to believe as you thinking that you know Marvin Harrison's character because of his football exploits.

by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 7:24pm

If your statement is to be taken at face value (that is, you believe I think I know anything about Marvin Harrison, and that I believe I know something about Marvin Harrison), apparently you have trouble believing in reality and should probably seek therapy for that ;). But really, I mean nothing of the sort.

I don't think I know anything about Marvin Harrison. I'm not a Colts fan, and haven't followed his career at all closely. I just find it hard to believe that a guy can live in the spotlight for so many years and harbor dark secrets. I wouldn't find it all unbelievable that he's a complete asshole. I find it hard to believe that he's a closet gangster.

It all sounds like conspiracy theory to me. It's like saying FDR knew about Pearl Harbor. It's /possible/, but I'd need to see a whole lot more evidence.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 8:48pm

The question isn't whether he's a closet gangster; it's whether he killed a guy. And I don't find it at all hard to believe that a guy could live in a spotlight for years without us really knowing him. Tiger Woods would be the go-to example here.

by jebmak :: Sun, 01/17/2010 - 9:25am

Maybe it is a decent article, but I couldn't make it through the first section. It read like a movie, and that really turned me off.

by towishimp (not verified) :: Sun, 01/17/2010 - 8:57pm

I made it through the whole thing, but I agree that it was a "great" piece. It didn't offer much that wasn't in the official reports. He did get a little more out of some of his sources that the police, but that shouldn't be a surprise given the climate in Philly.