In a move that few saw coming, the White House announced on Tuesday that President Donald Trump pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.
DeBartolo was included in a United States gambling case that, to this day, remains one of the biggest scandals involving a professional sports franchise owner.
In 1998, after failing to report former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards’ bribery, where DeBartolo paid him $400,000 in exchange for helping win a bid for the state’s riverboat gambling license to offer casino games, the 49ers owner pleaded guilty in the case.
After two Louisiana newspapers reported DeBartolo would be indicted for his involvement in the gambling fraud scandal, the NFL issued a one-year suspension from the team in 1997.
Ultimately, DeBartolo avoided prison but received two years’ probation and was required to pay a $1 million fine. Edwards served nearly eight years in prison after his conviction for racketeering, conspiracy, and extortion.
Following the end of his suspension and probation, DeBartolo handed control of the 49ers franchise to his sister, Denise York, in 2000.
DeBartolo was instrumental in building one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history, which became a frequent Super Bowl favorite at the U.S. sportsbooks.
The 49ers won the Super Bowl five times (1981, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1994) during DeBartolo’s 23 years with the team, starting in 1977 and ending in 2000.
Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Ronnie Lott, and Charles Haley were in attendance at the White House following Trump’s pardon and spoke briefly at an impromptu press conference.
“Eddie was like that 12th man that was on that football field,” Rice told reporters during the gathering. “You know that this guy, you know, he wanted us to win. And I think he’s the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls. Today is a great day for him. I’m glad to be here and be a part of that. And, you know, it’s just something I’ll never forget. You know, this man, he has done so much in the community, he has done so much in NFL football.”
DeBartolo had previously been denied his pardon request from George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and the NFL legends in attendance thanked President Trump for helping the 49ers owner remove the stain from his record.
“I take my hat off to Donald Trump for what he did,” Rice said.
“I’m going to make it real simple,” Brown said. “Ed DeBartolo is a great man and a great, great friend of mine and to the league.”
“You know what, we all make mistakes, and today the president cleared that mistake from him,” said Haley.