Los Angeles Rams assistant defensive line coach Marcus Dixon will be featured on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday night.
Dixon won’t be the topic of discussion for his work with All Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald or what it may take for the Rams to get a win at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12, however. His interview with Gumbel will revisit Dixon’s conviction, subsequent prison sentence ... and his rise from incarceration to his role with one of the most prominent franchises in the NFL.
Dixon was born in Rome, Georgia, and raised by his maternal grandparents, as his mother was only 15 years old when he was born. By the time Dixon was 10, he had shown great potential in athletics. Kenneth Jones, one of his youth baseball coaches, assisted with additional coaching and paid Dixon’s tournament fees. Eventually, Kenneth and his wife Peri welcomed Dixon into their home, even legally adopting him.
Thanks to his size and strength, and at the urging of his adopted father, Dixon quit baseball to focus on football and by his senior year at Pepperell High School, fielded several scholarship offers, including Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn. He decided instead to attend Vanderbilt University — but before he could set foot on campus, tragedy struck and seemingly ended his football career before it even started.
After what he said he deemed was consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl in 2003, the then 18-year-old Dixon was indicted on several charges, including rape, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, sexual battery, statutory rape, and aggravated child molestation after the girl claimed the encounter was not consensual.
The case gained national attention due to Dixon’s status as a highly-recruited football player and the fact that he was black, and his accuser was white. The jury unanimously concluded the sexual act was indeed consensual but convicted him of statutory rape (carrying a minimum one-year sentence) and aggravated child molestation (carrying a minimum 10-year sentence).
After serving 15 months in prison, the Supreme Court of Georgia overturned the aggravated child molestation conviction, as the charge had never been applied in a case where the two individuals were less than three years apart in age. (Dixon is two years, seven months, and 18 days older than his accuser.) The conviction of statutory rape stood, but because he had already served 15 months (three more than the minimum sentence), he was released.
Though Vanderbilt had withdrawn his scholarship, Dixon was able start his collegiate football career at Hampton University. He was eventually picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys following the 2008 NFL Draft. He would go on to play five seasons in the NFL with four different teams. Dixon would later serve as a defensive coach and recruiting coordinator for his alma mater Hampton University, before getting an opportunity to coach with the Rams.
In a preview of the show from HBO, Dixon was asked by Gumbel about his unique journey to the NFL, and if he’s surprised about where he is now. “Not surprised, more blessed. That feeling of ‘wow, this is unreal,’” he replied. That upbeat and optimistic tone is a sharp contrast to an interview clip from when he was back in prison, where Dixon was asked why he figured he was there. “I really couldn’t answer that,” the deflated teen said.
Dixon’s story is truly unique, especially in the ranks of NFL assistant coaches. Part of that is credit to Rams head coach Sean McVay having faith in him. Despite being exonerated, Dixon says he struggled to find work for years afterward because of his criminal record, until McVay threw him a lifeline and gave him the job of his dreams.
The episode featuring Dixon airs on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday, Nov. 23, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. You can stream it here on HBO Max.