A Confessional About an NFL Player Who Exposed Himself to a 10-Year Old Girl.
During a time when speaking of sexual predators was extremely subtle at best comes a brutally honest book written nearly forty years ago. Lance Rentzel was a very popular NFL player for the Dallas Cowboys.
A Sports Book Unlike Any That’s Ever Been Written Before or Since
In reality, Lance Rentzel had it all. He played halfback for the National Football League starting with the Minnesota Vikings, then the Dallas Cowboys, and finally with the Los Angeles Rams. Rentzel was married to a very popular Hollywood star at the time. On paper, the man was living the American Dream. His dirty secret, however, would be revealed to the world in late 1970. It wasn’t the first time he committed his crime of indecent exposure to very young girls. The only problem his latest victim and her family went after Rentzel with a vengeance.
My Introduction to ‘When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow’
When I was in high school a classmate of mine read this book about a football player. I could not remember his name, but what I vividly remember was her telling me about his college football initiation ritual. The things she said he had to go through were both horrific and oddly fascinating. I did remember the book’s title, but it wasn’t until a few years later I came across the book years ago. That was my introduction to “When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow.” Three things always stuck out in my mind to this day: Rentzel’s college initiation, the incident with the ten-year-old, all of his efforts, along with his parents, while trying everything to keep the scandal out of the press.
There was a Time…
You have to realize back in the late ’60s and early ’70s there were a lot of social changes going on, but it wasn’t like today with its “too much information” (TMI). Also, the press and people, in general, did not talk openly about sexual abuse or sexual predators during that era. For an indecent exposure charge to come out during a time when it was actually “taboo”, especially when the victim was only ten years old, was extremely shocking. Unfortunately, now we hear of these crimes being committed by school teachers and other people we once looked up to all the time. This was also at a time when professional athletes, especially NFL players, we’re like “gods” to many kids. Rarely was a scandal ever reported regarding the players. Now it seems to be a common occurrence.
The College Initiation & The First Incident
Lance Rentzel played college football for the University of Oklahoma Sooners around the early 1960s under coach Bud Wilkinson. It was during his first year at OU, after the end of his first season as a freshman varsity, he would have to participate in the dreaded “O” club initiation. I remembered reading in the book he dreaded this day so much, but it was necessary. I’m not going to go into the exact rituals, because some of them were gross. More than likely things have toned down with their hazing practices now, but who knows. In the mid-’60s, Rentzel was then drafted to the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, he suffered many injuries while playing. His teammates christened the therapeutic whirlpool he spent so much time in “the S.S. Rentzel”. While recuperating from an injury in September 1966 he began reading the book ‘1984’. It made him so depressed afterward he drove to a playground. It was there he exposed himself to a couple of girls.
Dallas Cowboys & November 1970
The actual incident never made the newspapers, but he was charged only with disorderly conduct, provided he submit to psychiatric treatment. The Vikings then traded Rentzel to the Dallas Cowboys in 1967. Life was going great for him in Dallas, Texas. He dated a beautiful singer/actress named Joey Heatherton. She was very popular in the late ’60s and ’70s. They were married in the spring of 1969. However, in 1970 things started taking a turn for the worst in his professional football career. The Cowboys were on their way to a losing season. In one of their games, they lost 38-0 in mid-November 1970. On November 18th Rentzel went to see the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ Again he became extremely depressed. The next day he drove around till he found another victim whom he’d flash.
On November 23, 1970, Rentzel was arrested and charged with indecent exposure. The victim was a ten-year-old girl. He and his parents pleaded, begged, and bribed numerous times to the victim’s family not to charge him with the crime. It was not the money they were after, but to restore their daughter’s life. No doubt the victim’s family meant serious business. Naturally, Rentzel’s marriage fell apart while he later played for the Los Angeles Rams. In Hollywood, they made him the laughing stock. The book delves a lot into his football career and his coming to terms with his sexual problems.
On a very interesting note, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong, was named after Lance Rentzel. What is remarkable is how Rentzel did everything to prove himself and be accepted. He was a professional football player, which is a dream for so many who play the game in high school and college. He went through a severe hazing ritual to be accepted amongst his college teammates, married a Hollywood star whom guys were surely envious of, and threw it all away. His tale is certainly no different than that of other athletes today. The only major difference with Rentzel’s they were all underage. The book title is appropriate because it talks about the highs and lows of his once superb life.
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