Robert Baker, the receiver who was to be Auburn's big-play maker in 1998, does 600 push-ups and 600 sit-ups a day to pass time in the Lee County jail. With no weights available, Baker curls and presses buckets of water. Instead of honing his game, Baker is sitting in a jail cell less than ten minutes from Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn's Tigers surprised many last season by winning the SEC West title, beating Clemson in the Peach Bowl on January 2 to finish 10-3, and winding up 11th in the final polls. Optimism reigned for the '98 season. Ten starters were scheduled to return. Seven offensive starters would be back to defend the West crown. Even more encouraging, Baker, who sat out the season because of academic problems, had regained his eligibility. Word was he also would play defense in '98 because coaches wanted to get his tremendous athletic ability onto the field.
Then everything started going wrong, with each event outstripping the severity of its predecessor.
- In January, All-American inside linebacker Takeo Spikes opted to pass up his senior year and enter the NFL draft, where he was taken in the first round. Last season, many close to the team felt Spikes would return for his senior year.
- Strong safety Martavius Houston, a three-year starter and an All-SEC candidate, was booted from the team in March because of repeated violations of undisclosed team rules.
- Police questioned two players about a March 15 theft of a reported $60,000 in cash and jewelry from the home of Auburn residents, Glen and Veronica Folds. In statements given to the police, two juvenile witnesses identified starting defensive end Leonardo Caron and reserve tailback Markeith Cooper, both juniors, as participants in the theft.
- The capper: Auburn police arrested Baker on April 7 and charged him with one count of trafficking cocaine and two counts of distribution of cocaine after a two-month sting operation. Baker's roommate at an off-campus apartment, Jordan Brumbaugh, the younger brother of All-SEC defensive end Jimmy Brumbaugh, and two others were also arrested in the investigation. Baker, who allegedly started selling drugs to pay off a substantial gambling debt, pleaded guilty to the charges in May and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and assessed a $50,000 fine.
Auburn's coach, Terry Bowden, maintains that Baker might never have served jail time if not for the media frenzy that surrounded the March 15 burglary, saying Baker's name frequently was associated with the theft. "They never caught the bad guys," Bowden says. "That lady (Veronica Folds) was calling everybody, so they had to rush things. So what does poor Robert get? He gets 15 years, and he's never had a crime in his life. That's the sad thing. That makes me sick now."
Bowden says Baker isn't the villain many are making him out to be. For one, Bowden says police told him Baker wasn't the main target of the undercover operation. "There's a dealer still out there who used a dumb football player," Bowden says. "I know his name, and the police know his name."
According to those who have visited Baker in jail, he is down but remains optimistic regarding his future. He works to stay in shape because a favorable deal hammered out by his lawyers with Lee County district attorney Ron Myers has given him hope. Despite a 15-year sentence, Baker and those close to him think he will be paroled in time to make himself available for the 1999 NFL draft.
Bowden kicked Baker off the team permanently after the arrest. Nonetheless, he has stood by his former player, advising him and his parents while they awaited the trial. Bowden has visited Baker in jail and has brought along NFL personnel men to tell the receiver that his football career isn't necessarily over. "Talent wins you second and third chances in the NFL," says one NFL source, who requested anonymity.
Baker had run up a gambling debt that exceeded $10,000 when he started selling drugs, according to sources familiar with the situation. A drug deal on April Fool's Day turned out to be with a confidential police informant and an undercover officer. In total, Baker made three transactions with cocaine valued at $7,000 while under police watch.
"There is an element around Auburn and other universities that causes college students to gamble," Bowden says. "They'll lure you in with dollars to get you started, but these people aren't gamblers; they're drug dealers."
Teammates say that they saw no signs of the sort of business Baker was involved in. "It was a real shock," Leard says. "Robert liked to play cards and play around, but who doesn't? His demeanor never changed. He was always wild and crazy."
Robert Baker's involvement with gambling began very innocently. However, it was this innocent gambling which led him into the hands of organized crime. Baker is now incarcerated, and he may have lost his chance to play professional athletics. Let Robert Baker be an example of the dangers of gambling for student-athletes.
Source: The Sporting News, August 3, 1998
Compiled by: Chrissy Luegers, Intern for the Athletic Department
NCAA policy prohibits student-athlete's from participating in sports gambling. If you believe that you, a teammate, or a friend may be involved in sports gambling, please seek assistance. Do not put yourself, your team, or your school at risk.
Places for Assistance:
- Gamblers Anonymous:
- Write to: Gamblers Anonymous I.S.O., P.O. Box 17173, Los Angeles, CA 90017
Call: National Headquarters: (213) 386-8789
Indianapolis Hotline: (317) 382-4950
- IU Athletic Department, Compliance Office:
- Assembly Hall (Jennifer Brinegar,
- IU Health Center:
- Call: 855-4011
Counseling Services: 855-5711
- Arnie Wexler:
Mr. Wexler is a recovering compulsive gambler. He encourages calls from any students or athletes who believe that gambling is controlling their lives.
Call: 1-888- LAST BET