In the mid-1980s Billy Sims had a Heisman in his trophy case and $3.5 million in the bank. Today, as Sims prepares to head to federal prison for failure to pay $14,025 in child support, he has nothing in the bank and has sold the Heisman that he won at Oklahoma. "I'm no O.J.," Sims says. "And I didn't get busted with five pounds of marijuana like one NFL running back [Bam Morris] did. But if you do the crime, you gotta do the time."
Sims is a poster boy for Blowing It Big Time. An ACL tear in his right knee in October 1984 ended a career with the Detroit Lions that included three 1,000-yard seasons from 1980 to '84. Thereafter Sims seemed set on sabotaging his life. He made what he calls "high-risk" investments in oil, gas and real estate, all of which went sour. So did a furniture business and a grocery store. That Sims would have problems in business was predictable: In '83, while he was under contract to the Lions, he also signed with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, inspiring a bumper sticker in Detroit that read, HONK IF YOU HAVE A CONTRACT WITH BILLY.
Friends also say Sims's last-lane lifestyle accelerated his financial spiral. He has fathered seven children, from Minnesota to Oklahoma to his hometown of Hooks, Texas. There have been rumors of alcohol and drug abuse that Sims, who in recent years has been unemployed, strongly denies.
A few years ago Sims was found sleeping in his car in Hooks. In 1995, when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in a ceremony in New York City, Sims had to borrow money from his college coach, Barry Switzer, and Hooks resident Bob White, whom Sims calls "my white father," for clothes, transportation and hotel accommodations. The lowest point came that same year, when he sold the 1978 Heisman and other trophies to White for $40,000; both say Sims has bought back the hardware.
The sold-off Heisman is not the only faded reminder of Sims's past glory. The dirt road on which he grew up and the wood-frame house in which he was raised by his grandmother, Sadie Sims, were briefly the focus of the national media. Howard Cosell trudged through ankle-deep mud to Miss Sadie's house for a story. But now the house is boarded up, and Billy Sims Street, as it was renamed after he won the Heisman, is dotted with potholes.
Sims talks about writing a book, though it might not be an easy sell; sponsors canceled a Sims autograph session scheduled for Super Bowl week when his impending jail term became public. But Sims promises to try to turn his life around after he serves his one-month sentence, which begins on Feb. 27. "I'm really ashamed of what's happened," he says, "but I'll take my licks like a man and continue on."
Start Him Up
Golfer Casey Martin's crossover into pop culture became official last week when he appeared on CNN's Crossfire, where the rare circulatory defect from which he suffers (Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome) was compared by host John Sununu to an ingrown toenail. Sununu should be ashamed; and those who scoff at Martin and his efforts to use a cart during tournament play so that he may pursue his dream of playing on the PGA Tour are out-of-bounds.
The 25-year-old golfer has taken the Tour to court to gain the right to ride (SCORECARD, Dec. 15, 1997). Martin, who on Feb. 2 will return to federal court seeking a permanent injunction (the Tour will argue that it, not the courts, must govern the game), has said that he would drop his lawsuit should he lose. He said he would try to walk.
The spectacle of Martin's limping through 18 holes in pain, risking a spontaneous fracture, is not the sort of p.r. the Tour needs. It's time that Martin's fellow pros, most of whom have come out against him, start worrying less about power and more about spin. By taking a hard line here they risk alienating fans. Their talk of Martin's potential advantage is laughable. How many pros would trade a lifetime of Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome for a cart ride? The Tour's pose as defender of the rule of law is equally spurious, given that its ban on carts is far from absolute. Carts are allowed on the Senior tour and in the early rounds of the PGA Tour's annual qualifying tournament.