Lawrence Okoye, the former Whitgift School pupil and discus finalist at the London Olympics who went to the United States to seek his fortune as an American football player, was arrested in Alabama last week on soliciting prostitution charges, placing his sporting career in jeopardy.
Okoye was one of more than a dozen men snared in a police sting operation staged in Birmingham by the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force.
He was released on bail last Thursday.
He has recently moved to Alabama to join the Birmingham Iron, a new franchise, part of the Alliance of American Football, which began its inaugural season yesterday. The Iron won their first game, but Okoye played no part in it. It was reported that he had a groin injury.
Croydon giant Okoye won two national schools rugby finals at Twickenham, in 2010 and 2011, when a pupil at the private Whitgift School. His size, power and speed helped to steamroller opposition in a feted team which also included Elliot Daly and Marland Yarde, who both went on to play rugby for England.
Okoye also had rapidly developing skills in a summer sport, too, and as a Croydon Harrier he set a British record in the discus, appearing as a poster boy to promote the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Although holding an offer to read law at Oxford University, Okoye opted to use his athletic talents and massive size to win himself a place with one of the most famous NFL franchises, the San Francisco 49ers.
Okoye was paid an estimated $1.2million during his three-year 49ers contract, but never played a minute of any game for the team.
Now aged 27, the 6ft 6in, 22-stone Okoye had been named as one of “10 players to watch” by AL.com, the Alabama news site, ahead of the inaugural season of AAF, which kicked off yesterday, a week after the NFL SuperBowl showpiece.
Okoye’s hoped-for American football career has been frustrated by his lack of experience, occasional injury and controversy.
He has had barely any game time, despite being farmed out to the practice squads of the Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys and briefly on the roster of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.
At the Cardinals, he was axed from the squad after parking his car in the head coach’s parking space.
He spent 2017 playing in Canada.
According to a report published on AL.com last week, when asked about Okoye’s arrest, a Birmingham Iron official said, “We have just been made aware of the incident. We are still in the process of gathering facts.”
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