SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday granting clemency for Edward DeBartolo Jr. for his 1998 involvement in the corruption and gambling fraud case against former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.
DeBartolo turned over ownership of the 49ers to his sister, Denise York, after his conviction of failing to report a felony. He avoided prison, was fined $1 million and was suspended for a year by the NFL. But the episode effectively ended his NFL career.
Former 49ers stars and NFL Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Charles Haley and Ronnie Lott were joined by the legendary Jim Brown at the White House for the announcement.
San Francisco became the team of the 1980s and early 1990s under DeBartolo’s tutelage, winning five Super Bowls. He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2016.
“We are excited to be here for all the right reasons,” Lott said as he stood in front of the White House. “You think of people who find their ways into your life to help you, deliver a certain compass. You find yourself realizing that a day like this is great because of the fact that he (DeBartolo) understands his compass, but what you can achieve. So really excited for Mr. DeBartolo for what he’s done for all of us.”
“He’s been an incredible friend. An incredible owner and we’ll always be indebted to him.”
Haley, who starred at defensive end for both the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, echoed those sentiments.
“He’s been more than an owner, he’s been a father figure, he’s been a helper, he’s a warrior,” Haley said. “The elephant in the room is — we all make mistakes and today the President cleared that mistake. The man that he (DeBartolo) is, the man that he stands for, is a testament to the life that he lived from day one and how he impacted our lives.”
Rice, who grew up in rural Mississippi and went to Mississippi Valley State, became a star and all-time great under DeBartolo and head coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert.
He recalled the team’s Super Bowl victories and how DeBartolo’s emphasis on family permeated through the organization.
“Well, 30 years ago, I got the opportunity to play the greatest game ever — NFL football — and it was because of Eddie DeBartolo and also Bill Walsh,” he said. “It was all about family. That’s what they stood for and that’s the reason why we won so many championships … Eddie was like that 12th man that was on that football team. You knew that this guy wanted us to win and he’s the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls.”
DeBartolo was one of several people receiving a pardon from President Trump Tuesday. The president commuted the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoned former NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik and financier Michael Milken.
Though he hasn’t had any official role with the 49ers in years, some wonder if Trump’s pardon might eventually pave a way for DeBartolo to return to football.
“Some fans–not even just of the 49ers–are talking about the possibility of DeBartolo coming back to football,” said San Jose State political science professor Matthew Record. “So in a sense, it does offer some social permission–some cover for the idea that this person is not persona non grata anymore.”