9 VICTIMS: Ex-N.F.L. Star Darren Sharper, Who Spoke Out for Women, Is Accused of Being a Serial Rapist

Darren Sharper at a bail hearing in Los Angeles in March. Credit Pool photo by Wally Skalij

Darren Sharper, a former N.F.L. standout who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, posed with his teenage daughter, his deep dimples framing his wide, bright white smile, her head leaning on his shoulder.

The photograph was in the 2010 book “NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters,” compiled to promote “thoughtful discussion about making the world a safer place for all women.”

On Page 90, Sharper wrote: “My daughter makes me mindful of how women are treated, undervalued and exploited.” He instructed men to “deal with women respectfully, honorably and fairly at all times.”

Now, four years later, Sharper is scheduled on Friday to be in a courtroom in California, one of five states where he is facing accusations of sexual assault. Since retiring from football in 2011, Sharper has been accused of being a serial rapist, drugging and assaulting nine women in California, Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana and Florida.

He has been formally charged in Maricopa County, Ariz., and Los Angeles, where he has been in jail without the possibility of bail since February. Having shined in his 14-year career with the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings and the Saints, he will have an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs as his uniform Friday.

Sharper playing for the New Orleans Saints, with whom he won a Super Bowl. Credit Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Blair Berk, his lawyer in California, declined to comment on Sharper’s legal problems. Nandi Campbell, one of his lawyers in New Orleans, said on Thursday that the public would be surprised when it learned the real facts of the cases.

“There has been an assumption made,” she said. “Because there are multiple states involved, people think he must be guilty. But it’s important that the public doesn’t jump to that conclusion.”

Although there is an arrest warrant out for Sharper in New Orleans because he has been accused of two counts of aggravated rape — charges that could lead to life imprisonment — Campbell said the public must realize that he has yet to be charged with any crimes there.

Perhaps not surprisingly, friends and colleagues struggle to fathom how the Darren Sharper in jail is the same one they thought they knew. LeRoy Butler, a friend of Sharper’s in the N.F.L., told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “This guy was like the chivalry days where you’d lay down a jacket so they could walk over the puddle.”

People who knew him from Hermitage High School in suburban Richmond, Va., told me that Sharper didn’t miss a day of school for three years, and was on the class council and in the foreign language club. He starred in football, basketball and track.

He came from a good family, with parents who told him that he couldn’t play sports if he didn’t keep his grades up. His father briefly played for the Kansas City Chiefs before becoming an administrator for the Henrico County school system in Virginia. His mother and sister run an in-home health care service for senior citizens. His brother, Jamie, also played football and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.

Sharper, 38, was not a dumb jock. He attended William & Mary, a strong academic university whose football team wasn’t Division I, because he wanted a good education.

Could anyone — including the N.F.L. — possibly have thought that Sharper would one day be accused of something so sinister?

A former All-Pro safety at 6 feet 2 inches and 210 pounds, Sharper played eight seasons for the Packers and four for the Vikings before finishing his career with the Saints.

At the end of the 2010 season, he led all active players with 63 interceptions and had been named to the N.F.L.’s All-Decade team. He was a possible Hall of Famer and was also known as a charmer. It seemed to be his destiny to transition smoothly into a new career after his official retirement from football in 2011. He took his charisma to NFL Network, where he worked as a television analyst.

The women who have accused him of drugging them and raping them might have been initially attracted to that public personality. But their perceptions changed after spending a night in his company.

Their accounts are detailed in court documents:

On Oct. 30, 2013, two women were partying at Bootsy Bellows, a West Hollywood nightclub, when they met Sharper through a mutual friend. Later, Sharper invited those women to a party and they all left the club together.

While in the cab to the party, Sharper told the women he had wanted to make a pit stop at his hotel suite “to pick up something.” The women obliged and accompanied Sharper to his suite. Soon after they walked through the door, Sharper mixed drinks for them, coaxing them to try a liqueur he called Coffee Patron, according to court documents. Within minutes, both women blacked out.

Several hours later, one woman woke up naked, with Sharper sexually assaulting her. The other woman woke up, too, and entered Sharper’s bedroom, interrupting the assault. They gathered their belongings and went home, only to wake up four hours later, remembering only portions of the night.

A little more than two months later, on Jan. 14, Sharper had returned to Bootsy Bellows for what the police said was a repeat performance. He met two women, and then invited them to another party. According to court documents, he asked them to stop at his hotel suite so he could pick up some narcotics.

They walked into the suite. Then came the shots of liquor. They blacked out.

Both women woke up several hours later on a pullout couch in the living room. One immediately felt as if she had been sexually assaulted. They left, but ended up sleeping three to four more hours before reporting the incident to the police. Again, their memories of the night were spotty. Neither had any recollection of what happened during the many hours after they drank the shots that Sharper had given them.

The next night, Sharper was in Las Vegas at a nightclub, and the script began from the first scene once again: He met two women, invited them and one of their male friends to his hotel room, where he said there would be a party. Shots. Blackouts.

One of the women awoke next to Sharper in bed and upon going to the bathroom discovered “visible injuries to her face she could not account for.” Sharper asked her how she was feeling because, he told her, she had vomited the night before. He then offered her sips of a beverage that would make her feel better. The next thing she remembered after taking those sips was Sharper’s sexually assaulting her. The woman still sleeping on the couch woke up and felt as if she too had been assaulted. The male friend regained consciousness when he was at a bar in the hotel lobby. He didn’t know how he got there.

In each rape accusation against Sharper, the accusers reported similar circumstances. Those women said Sharper, who is accused of drugging the women with a generic form of the sleep aid Ambien, left them guessing as to whether they had been raped at all.

One of his accusers was startled to find herself naked from the waist down. Another felt pain, burning and rawness in her vaginal area, though she hadn’t had consensual sex in several weeks. One was still so barely lucid that she couldn’t get out of bed to open the window for fresh air.

One of his accusers asked him, “Did we have sex last night?” His answer: “No.” Another asked, “What happened last night?” He said, “You tell me. What were we drinking? Did I throw up?”

Sharper leaving a Los Angeles courthouse in February. He is accused of drugging and assaulting nine women in five states. Credit Nick Ut/Associated Press

Several of the women said they briefly became semiconscious during their drug-induced stupor to see a naked Sharper on top of them, sexually assaulting them, only to fade back into oblivion moments later.

Alice Vachss, the former chief of the Special Victims Unit of the Queens District Attorney’s office, said that it was common for rapists, as well as predators of children, to present themselves publicly like upstanding citizens who want to protect women or children while committing sex crimes against them.

“Whether he’s lying to himself, saying, ‘Oh, I’m not a rapist,’ I wouldn’t know,” Vachss said about criminals of this type generally. “But he is enjoying the fact that he is getting one over on these women. That’s his predator’s pattern. Is it really ugly? Yes. It is very hard on victims because there’s a fundamental violation of trust. It’s very hard to come back from.”

Particularly when he was with the Saints, it was common to see Sharper at breast cancer awareness events, or at events like Football Camp for Her, which teaches women the rules of football and allows them to mingle with some pros. Sex crime experts say this might have been a way for him to gain trust of potential victims and then lure them into spending the night with him.

But Sharper wasn’t always that subtle. Two days after he was suspected of raping a woman in Los Angeles last fall, he posted a Twitter message promoting a Football Camp for Her: “get your tix! You will be touched in many ways.”

Serial rapists who drug women before assaulting them are often very good at what they do once they fine-tune their methods and find a drug that works for them, said Linda Fairstein, who for 26 years was chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the New York County District Attorney.

“When they develop an M.O., they usually stay with it and use it often,” she said. “These predators become very brazen about repeating their acts.”

Fairstein said that someone in a position like Sharper’s could have an edge on the women he is accused of raping from the very beginning. Those women might be afraid to report the rape, for fear of being judged for being drunk with a celebrity athlete.

“There is a tremendous underreporting because who would believe you?” she said, referring broadly to such cases. “He’s a big name. He’s a TV personality.” People might say, “You had too much to drink,” Fairstein said, and that fear of humiliation is powerful enough to keep a rape victim silent.

But now that several cases are in the public, more women might step forward to say Sharper had raped them, too, Fairstein and other sex crimes experts said.

That’s exactly what happened in one case, in Miami Beach. In mid-January, a woman had been watching the news on CBS when she heard that Sharper had been arrested on suspicion of rape. It jogged her memory of a night she spent with Sharper that fall, a night she said ended with her slurring her speech and falling asleep, only to wake up to Sharper’s sexually assaulting her.

Two days after she learned of his arrest in California, she felt emboldened. She said she filed a report with the Miami Beach Police Department, accusing Sharper of raping her, to clear her conscience.

Even if that woman’s account doesn’t result in criminal charges against Sharper, it and any other subsequent reports from other women might be used against him as evidence in the existing cases, Fairstein said.

“Some judges might let in that evidence, but only if the details are very, very similar,” she said.

So far, the existing cases are all somewhat similar. By most accounts from the accused, it seemed that Sharper had perfected his M.O.

Could there have been hints that Sharper was treating women this way? Were there rumors and eyewitnesses, as there were in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach who turned out to be a serial child molester? Were there people too afraid to speak out against him?

All we know for sure is that nine women have claimed that Sharper drugged and raped them from the fall of 2012 to Jan. 15. But sex crimes experts say this might just be a sliver of a criminal résumé.

“For the most part, I haven’t found that rape happens out of the blue for anybody,” said Vachss, the former Queens prosecutor. “The likelihood is that they have been doing it for years, but no police officer took it as a complaint.”

Tony Porter, a founder of A Call to Men, a violence prevention program that teaches men to be respectful of women and keep them safe, certainly didn’t expect Sharper to end up an accused serial rapist.

Porter has been a consultant to the N.F.L. for years, talking to teams and their players during mandatory life skills training about the importance of valuing women. He noticed how much the players connected with him when Porter encouraged them to treat women how they would like their daughters to be treated. He wanted to find a way to get that message across to other men who might see the N.F.L. players as role models.

He settled on a book — “NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters” — and brought the idea to the N.F.L. Players Association. The union ended up choosing 70 players, including Sharper, from the ones who had volunteered to be part of the project.

“Darren is possibly in trouble for doing some inappropriate behaviors, but those of us who want to see men do better understand that we cannot cast a shadow on every single man who was part of that book,” Porter said. “Most men are good men and would never perpetrate these kind of crimes, and I hope the public realizes that.”

Sharper is expected to be tried in California first, before any other cases. If convicted on all counts, he could spend more than 30 years in prison.