This article was last modified on December 11, 2005.

Reggie White and the Cocaine Trade

When former Green Bay Packer Reggie White passed away suddenly in December 2004 at the age of 43, most people saw the event as a tragedy and the loss of a great man. Lambeau Field even went so far as to lower their flags for White after hearing of his death, a move so bold that several area veterans were offended. But while most of us remember Reggie as the one-time record holder in season sacks (before Bruce Smith) and as the religious Minister of Defense who helped troubled youth and prayed the Packers to victory, few of us remember the Reggie White who stood suspiciously close to a major cocaine-smuggling ring and a large embezzlement from his own church.

The problems began when Reggie first met the Reverend Jerry Upton in 1980. White, still an impressionable youth of nineteen, was playing football at the University of Tennessee. Reggie and Jerry quickly became friends, cementing their relationship with the strength of their love for God and the Holy Bible. What Reggie might not have known, though, was that Upton was a convicted felon with various drug charges (selling the hallucinogenic narcotic PCP and heroin, as well as helping run a Florida-to-Tennessee cocaine ring) dating back to 1977. This author finds the prospect unlikely White would be unaware of charges this serious, as they would be bound to come up in conversation eventually.

Reggie’s relationship with Upton grew over the next fifteen years, at White eventually became an assistant pastor at Upton’s congregation, the Inner City Church in Knoxville. He was so impressed with what this organization could do for the community that White donated $1 million in 1995 to the Inner City Community Development Corporation, a financial branch of the Knoxville church. Again, we are asked to believe that Reggie was unaware that this agency was a location for some of Upton’s drug deals, as officials later disclosed in March 2000.

Less than a year after Reggie’s hefty donation, the Inner City Church was damaged by fire in January 1996. Many other so-called “black churches” at this time were being burned by racists, and the Inner City Church appeared to be one of those. Carol Fouke, a spokesperson for the National Council of Churches, told The Presbyterian Layman that the NCC made an on-site visit to the Knoxville church. “Our assessment showed that they (NCC investigators) saw a burned church with obvious signs of racial hatred.” The burning was certainly intended to appear racially motivated. At the time of the fire, investigators in Knoxville reported finding racial slurs on burned walls of the church and Molotov cocktails in the rubble. But was this all a scam by Jerry Upton used to collect on the insurance? One unidentified high-level investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity while the case was ongoing, told The Presbyterian Layman that there was “no way white racists burned that church.”

Over the next several years, money was raised to help rebuild the church. Reggie used his celebrity clout to call for donations, receiving many from devoted Wisconsin citizens. Often, the citizens would send $92 as a symbolic gesture, as this was Reggie’s Green Bay Packers jersey number. The National Council of Churches sent a total of $100,000 to the church; a $50,000 check on August 5, 1996 and a $50,000 wire transfer on July 2, 1997. The NCC, as stated above, was under the impression the church had been destroyed by white racists. They never bothered to question the credibility of the pastor with the criminal history and passion for driving a white Mercedes Benz. Upton would later tell prosecutors he only received half of the stated hundred grand. “We’re just glad that the majority of the money we raised ended up building churches,” Fouke said, referring to the many other churches they had helped rebuild.

Jack Reese, former chancellor at the University of Tennessee, raised money from university employees. After Upton’s sentencing, Reese said he was disappointed that no steps were taken to rebuild the church. “I’m sorry it turned out so terribly,” the chancellor said.

From 1997 to 1998, Upton was involved once again with a drug ring involving cocaine between Florida and Tennessee. He also sold a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol to an operative working for the ATF. As a convicted felon, Upton should not have been in possession of the gun in the first place.

As of at least 2000, the Inner City Church had never been rebuilt.

In an effort to save his friend from prison time, Reggie wrote to Judge James Jarvis of the United States District Court on March 23, 2000. White boldly asked the judge to release Upton into White’s custody. Apparently oblivious to the meaning of the word “criminal,” Reggie said in that letter, “This man is not a criminal, he just cares too much sometimes… He always expressed a very pleasant and loving attitude toward me and many others… This man is like a brother to me and I truly love him.” His request was denied.

Jerry Upton was declared a “dangerous, devious manipulator” who hid behind religion, by a federal prosecutor during Upton’s sentencing hearing on March 27, 2000. White, in his letter to Judge Jarvis, stated, “Sir, some think that I was a victim that fell in Jerry’s trap of deception. I would say that perception is an insult to my character and intelligence.” While that interpretation might be an insult to Reggie’s intelligence, the fact remains that Reggie’s intelligence has never been considered anything worth mentioning in a positive manner [1]. Upton was sentenced March 28 to ten years in prison for cocaine trafficking and illegal gun ownership.

The relationship between Upton and White over the next four years is unknown, but these last four years is all the longer it would last.

Reggie White died suddenly in December 2004 from heart failure. Initially there was speculation on how a healthy 43-year old man could simply keel over. Cocaine even seemed a possible contributing factor. As of this writing, however, the contributing causes have been officially listed as sleep apnea and sarcoidosis [2]. Toxicology tests are pending.


[1] Reggie White thought in very simple and black/white distinctions that, among other things, defied all common sense. He somehow concluded that the nation’s problems could be attributed to homosexuality. “We’ve allowed this sin [homosexuality] to run rampant in our nation, and because it has run rampant in our nation, our nation is in the condition it’s in today.” His views on race were equally foolish and had they been repeated by a white man, might have resulted in outrage. “Why did God create us differently? Why did God make me black and you white? Why did God make the next guy Korean and the next guy Asian and the other guy Hispanic? Why did God create the Indians? Well, it’s interesting to me to know why now. When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to black churches, you see people jumping up and down, because they really get into it. White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature and you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people do around the world. Hispanics are gifted in family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home. They were gifted in the family structure. When you look at the Asians, the Asian is very gifted in creation, creativity and inventions. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television into a watch. They’re very creative. And you look at the Indians, they have been very gifted in the spirituality.” He somehow even combined these two issues to make the following unusual observation. “Homosexuality is a decision, it’s not a race. People from all different ethnic backgrounds live in this lifestyle. But people from all different ethnic backgrounds also are liars and cheaters and malicious back-stabbing.(sic)”

[2] According to Wikipedia, “Sarcoidosis is an uncommon autoimmune disorder of unknown cause. The disease is characterised by the presence of non-caseating granulomas which can appear almost anywhere in the body but usually appear in either the lungs or the lymph nodes. It can occasionally appear suddenly but more often than not appears gradually. Sarcoidosis can sometimes have the appearance of tuberculosis.”

[Note from the Editor – 2005.06.20: Gavin has been mentioned in Alan Ross’ book I Remember Reggie White: Friends, Teammates, and Coaches Talk About the NFL’s “Minister of Defense” (ISBN: 1581824645, published Sept. 2005). Be sure to take a look, if you’re interested in Reggie White (and I’m sure Gavin will comment when he himself gets a copy).]

Epilogue: December 11, 2005

Two developments have happened since this article was first written.

Gavin, Sara White, and Gilbert Brown

First, Alan Ross published his book I Remember Reggie White in September and this book is available from various online booksellers. You might also find it locally if you live in the Green Bay area. Alan was kind enough to include parts of this article in his book, and you can find them in the chapter on the church. If you are interested in more about the church, the scandal or the life of Reggie White I do recommend this book. I am not getting paid for my contribution, so this endorsement is in no way a biased opinion. The book is truly a good review of Reggie’s life.

Second, on December 10, 2005, I had the good fortune to meet Reggie’s wife Sara and his old team mate Gilbert Brown. As it turns out, Sara is a truly caring and down-to-earth woman and Reggie is very lucky to have her in his life. In fairness, I must say I now have my doubts that Reggie was involved in the scandal of the church in any way. Was he ignorant? Probably. But I am no longer sure he was capable of any criminal intent. Rest in peace, Reggie, wherever you are.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

25 Responses to “Reggie White and the Cocaine Trade”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Whether or not Reggie was uknowingly involved in the dealings with Upton, there is no reason to publicly insult his intelligence with your bias comments. As for bias comments, I have one of my own, which concerns homosexuality. I believe that Reggies statement was one of the truest ever spoken by an NFL player or a Christian minister. By speaking the truth he opened himself up to harrassment by you and others in the liberal media. In his personal life Reggie may have had some demons, but in the long run he has been a hero to our nation and an overall positive roll model.

  2. D. Williams Says:

    I attended church with Bro. Jerry and Bro. Reggie and I have to correct some of the statements you made. I wonder where you received some of your information. Jerry Upton was alway upfront about his backgroud with drug usage and dealing. It was one of the most prominent elements of his testimony of deliverance. He is portrayed as someone who deceived people about his past and used it to swindle us. That is absolutely not true. Bro. Jerry acknowledges that he was wrong to fall back into sin, but the fruit of his ministry and the lives he reached for Christ still stands.

  3. bestec-burjuiam Says:


  4. teresanelle Says:

    I strongly disagree`with your assessment of Jerry Upton. Jerry was one of the finest pastors` I have ever known.He blessed my life in so many ways and if he did fall into sin who of us is worthy to cast the first stone.I love Bro Jerry and pray he will continue his ministry when he is released from prison.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I attended church with Jerry and Reggie at Abundant Life in Maryville TN. Jerry was upfront with the congregation about his past drug use and criminal activity. In hindsight, I am totally surprised by his relapse into drugs. He drove a BMW and a Cadillac, while his wife drove a Hyundai. Many things he said from the pulpit now seem to point to an unstable faith based upon emotion and blind faith. It saddens me deeply to know that Jerry used the faith of his church members to supplement his criminal activity.

    I am sure that Reggie had no part in Jerry’s criminal dealings. Although simple in his faith, his faith was strong. Had Reggie known, I have no doubt he would have publicly called out Jerry.

    Jerry did many good things in the Knoxville area while he was there. His downfall should serve as an example to us all how we can lose everything we love if we fail to be transparent and honest with those around us.

    RIP Reggie.

  6. anonymous Says:

    I just got done listening to a tape series called “setting the captives free from the prison house” by Jerry Upton. I bought these at a thrift store so I have know Idea how old they are I would guess the 90’s at least. I was so moved by this message and was ministered to and I felt an annointing on this man to teach on this. I went on line to look up the church and him on the net and ended up here. Although it saddens me to read what I just did about this man, it still doesn’t change how he ministered to me. It just makes me realize how much more I need Jesus to strengthen my own faith and tighten up my own walk so I may not fall back to where I have been set free from. The more annointed you are the more you are susceptible to attacks from the enemy.I am going to pray for him. I am sure the Lord will use him in prison to set those prisoners free-in a spiritual way. God Bless you Jerry Upton!

  7. Nicholas L Pelkola Says:

    I attended church with Jerry and Reggie at Abundant Life in Maryville TN. Jerry was upfront with the congregation about his past drug use and criminal activity, That is the reason he was forced out of that ministry.. Reggie now had no idea of what Jerry was doing out side of ministry, and the buying and selling of houses.. There were several players in in that all with money, which made it look right, which at this time I am not ready to talk about.. this I will say though I was hunted down by ATF for the burning of the church, because of my personal involvement with Jerry, Trick, Ricky, James, Don, Reggie, .. I have been watching and wondering why David has done nothing to rebuild.. then again I understand why he would not. By the way it took ATF over a year to find me and I was there primary suspect, man did that trail really get turned to where it should have been.. I wonder are people really interested in hearing about another side of the story from someone that was in the middle of it for near eight years …. Nicholas Pelkola

  8. Robert Stevens Says:

    I think that is an outrage for anyone to print an article that is untrue as this one. I think people need to focus on the good Jerry Upton has done not the fire which he was accused of but never convicted. The statement innocent til proven guilty needs to be thrown away because people like you give it a bad name. Try printing facts not rumors


    I am a member at covenant ministry center in lenoir city where ive been blessed to be apart of learning from jerry. He has put a fire in me for god that i never thought i could have. this man is truely a man of god who is human and deserves forgiveness just as anyone else does. God has why cant we. he has done his time and never gave up on god. god has given him favor. He truely is the real deal

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  11. порно Says:

    Очень интересное место, мне тут понравилось, правда…
    Столько всего полезного и интересного, я тут останусь на долго.

  12. Meerbrimmib Says:

    There was this guy see.
    He wasn’t very bright and he reached his adult life without ever having learned “the facts”.
    Somehow, it gets to be his wedding day.
    While he is walking down the isle, his father tugs his sleeve and says,

    “Son, when you get to the hotel room…Call me”

    Hours later he gets to the hotel room with his beautiful blushing bride and he calls his father,

    “Dad, we are the hotel, what do I do?”

    “O.K. Son, listen up, take off your clothes and get in the bed, then she should take off her clothes and get in the bed, if not help her. Then either way, ah, call me”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad we took off our clothes and we are in the bed, what do I do?”

    O.K. Son, listen up. Move real close to her and she should move real close to you, and then… Ah, call me.”

    A few moments later…


    “O.K. Son, Listen up, this is the most important part. Stick the long part of your body into the place where she goes to the bathroom.”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad, I’ve got my foot in the toilet, what do I do?”

  13. former insider Says:

    Jerry Upton. Mmmmm…way back in the later 80’s and 90s this man had something just like Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, many others as well. Jerry could literally preach like a houe on fire. Abundant Life was full of people probably well near 800 any given service both black and white. However most people do not know that Jerry Upton was caught on tape at that time with questionable conversations with other women in the congregation. Also there were questionable things happening at the radio station at that time and also recorded conversations about monies. Jerry resigned Abundant Life himself of his own free will and handed it over to Robert Connatser. However many others were vying for that whole congregation. What is left of the former Abundant Life ( now River of Life ) is very very few of the original people. Most people left in a few weeks of Jerry leaving because they wanted to follow him wherever he went except to jail. Even though Jerry went to jail others stood right by him the whole time. Jerry was not the only one who was trapped in sin during Abundant Life but the worship band, the worship leader, many of the elders also. So who is to throw the first stone? I myself taught in Jerry’s School of ministry and I stayed at the church he started way after he left. I was young at the time and very religious, plus high minded, and fighting a battle of my own to accept myself as God created me. The day I heard Jerry went to prison again I cried. The day I heard he had cancer I cried. Looking back over those years alot went on that should not have. Jerry had a way of accepting people for who they were and yet seeing God in them. However Jerry had a temper too. Jerry was way young then and had alot of pressures on him. You take 800 people coming to every service…shouting, dancing, etc…then he had to get up and deliver a sermon better than the last one to keep all the people coming back and giving the money. Reggie White was a big player in the whole picture, yet I believe he knew some things, but did not know it all. Jerry knew everyhting that was going on. Jerry knew exactly what he was doing. He was a former con artist and drug dealer so he knew had to manipulate. Now I have not seen Jerry in years but if I ever saw him again I would hug his neck and speak to him. I myself after Jerry left Abundant Life went into a world wide ministry for years. Now I have two children, divorced, and finally admitted after years of denial that I am gay. I am a gay man in a committed relationship and still a Christian. Remarks of homosexuality in other comments here are rooted in prejudice as much as people served up prejudice against Jerry and others being black. I think it is high time others received others cleansed by the blood of Jesus wherever they are in life’s journey.
    We should throw no stones at each other. I heard through a precious lady who went to Abundant Life and River of Life that Jerry was out of jail and preaching. No stones to throw here. Reggie is gone on to glory and Jerry is here in the here and now so let’s just let him take the path he is now walking on. Jerry paid his debt to society. What is in the past is in the past. God is always here in the now and future.

  14. crochecrinc Says:

    Hi people

    As newly registered user i just wanted to say hello to everyone else who uses this board 8-)

  15. Ralkaccup Says:

    What is bumburbia?

  16. weraNareNeeme Says:

    Good day guys and girls!

    You have a very interesting forum.

    So i’d like to know if someone of you or your frineds was fired because of a financial crisis?

  17. notthesame Says:

    I am also a former insider of Abundant Life Ministries. I have known Jerry Upton for many years. We have talked and shared many things about our lives. Just so you’ll know, I still love Jerry. But I realize there is a price to pay for the sins we commit. I to have sinned, and mad bad choices, but I wasn’t in the public eye for everyone to have easy access to all my sins, and appoint them selves my judge, as they did Jerry’s. Even though I fallowed his teachings, I knew whenever he had his fall, I had to continue on with God. Part of that journey was to pray for Jerry. Sadly, years later I see people who are still holding on to their bitterness about Jerry’s fall, even to the point of turning their back on God. If we place a man above God, not only will he fall, but we too will fall. I just want to say that if we keep our eyes on Jesus and not a man, we will stay pointed toward the mark that God has for us. And as to the man who says he is Gay. Don’t allow anyone to be your judge but God himself. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. And always be true to yourself, so you may be true to God.

  18. Bob Says:

    Do not turn your back on God. I too worked for a well known “religious” person and got royally screwed. Men are men and God is God.

    Also, I have heard this man referred to a a prophet. Does that mean like Elijah? What is his mission or message. What makes him so different?

  19. caleb Says:

    I was incarcerated with Bro.Upton ,I can say first hand that God has wrought a work in the brother’s life . I was saved but backslid and ended up in prison .There I met Bro.Upton , in prison , you are watched very closely by other inmates and staff as well to check the “authenticity” of your relationship with Christ. The word is plain when it states: “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm”. It is a warning , if you do not know Jesus ,have made mistakes or are not yet perfect ,pray for him and men of God like him ,rather than cut him down with your words.

  20. Nicholas Pelkola Says:

    Years Later I come back to this site, knowing that Jerry is now out of Prison and has paid a price for what he has done. I have often wondered about this man, even have left a few messages on his Brothers voice mail to contact me, (David) yet to date that has not happened. To the brother that did time with him in prison, Jerry is still required to make things right for the wrong that still fallows me for something I had not done. Now I do understand why he would feel the way he does–David as well–but it was discovered that I did not have anything to do with what was done again I am reachable always by email and hope that Jerry can be man enough to contact me to work this out. or anyone else for that matter,, subject line: knoxville church burning 1996. I will respond… Nick

  21. IwishiwasinDixie Says:

    Organized crime. Still happening. Dixi mafia. They own the churches and the courts. Stop it or you’re screwed.

  22. matthew Says:

    I’m glad somebody is pointing out who Reggie White was, he used religion to line his pockets, and he was a biggot. Harrington Elementary, where is the money? All the money that he received to re-build his church??? Well I guess I’ll convert to judiasm to hang on to those funds. Open your eyes people. If he was a close personal friend of this man Upton, then he had to know what was going on when I quote from above “Jerry acknowledges that he was wrong to fall back into sin”. Why are you not holding him accountable? You can’t have it both ways, you cannot praise him for gay bashing by saying he’s just quoting scripture, when his religion clearly states thow shall not steal. He has taken money for religion and kept if for himself, he has promised low income elementary students money and kept it for himself, and to my knowledge never repented as a Christian. Under his new religion…. “While contemporary Judaism has abandoned formal sacrificial rituals of absolution, Jews still have the duty to seek forgiveness from those against whom they have sinned, both humans and God.”, he didn’t abide by Jewish beliefs either. To my knowledge, and I could be wrong, Reggie never atoned for his obvious sins, so he is right where he should be right now.

  23. Terri Says:

    I am looking for Charles (Chuck) Tarrant Jr. We went to Abundant Life Church together in the 80s. If anyone know Chuck please have him contact me. Praying for you Jerry Upton


    We all need prayer and to be saved. God loves us all and Jesus died for all humanity.

    Romans 10: 9, 10

  24. Sister judy Says:

    I love Jerry and his whole family and was a part of his church and I was there the last service they had and was unforgettable, but actually it was Rick his brother that preached that Sunday. I first heard Jerry on a Friday night when they were on Broadway and I was the only white person there. I was a part of their ministry for many years and was sad to hear later of him going to prison. His church and his family were like my family. I started a street ministry for him in the projects off of western avenue and it was successful. The power of then ministry he had and the many times he has prayed for me will never be forgotten! He helped me change my life and ministry!

  25. notthesame Says:

    I am an x abundant lifer. I have long since excaped the controll and fear that had its grip on me for the many years of being part of that church. Thankfully, God had his hand on my life and knew that my heart was desiring the truth. And opened my eyes. People, we have to test the spirits, Could there be false prophets amoung us ? Everything that sounds good is not truth. And I have learned that without repentance it is impossible to walk in the spirit. I heard that preached a lot, while the ministers, teachers, and people who called themselves prophets, and apostals, were living in many sins, and covering it up. This is like poison to the body of Christ. I totally agree with Nicholas, whenever you wrong someone you should repent, and make things right with the person you have hurt. That is part of the healing and forgiving process. And I know for a fact, that these people are still living in sin and still going on as though they are o.k. with God and everyone else. How sad.

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