A Mormon linebacker tackles Las Vegas Underbelly

Written by:
Jagajeet Chiba
Published on:
Jul/26/2008

CFL player Aaron Wagner sees Vegas very differently from the sin, the gambling, the sin, the all night parties, the sin, the beautiful women and the sin.The Lethbridge, Alta., native went to the city six years ago at 19, on a mission to spread the word of God. The 2001 mission was part of his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Members are also known as the Mormons.

Wagner left there believing that what happens in Vegas doesn't have to stay in Vegas.

While he was there, Wagner spent much of his time in the underbelly of the city, with its poorest, most desperate residents.

From the CBC Sports website: "It was a shocker for me. My immediate thought was casinos, strip clubs, gambling and crazy people," he laughs.

But he wasn't there to convert gamblers on the strip. In fact, Wagner wasn't allowed near the casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard. Wagner was sent to work with junkies, drug dealers, petty criminals, and prostitutes.

"I got sent to the nastiest part of Vegas there is," says Wagner, who worked in areas nicknamed "Crack Alley," and "Naked City."

"Man, those places are horrible. You go into 'Naked City' with your clothes on, you come out with nothin' on," says teammate Richard Seigler. Seigler, a defensive end with the Argonauts, knows what he's talking about. He grew up on the city's hard-scrabble east side.

"A lot of low-life people [live]there. If you come across the wrong person it can be dangerous," Seigler adds. Wagner's mission was to spread the word of God in several low-income, government-housing areas. He lived in the projects. He says there were police stations inside some of the apartment buildings.

"We had shootings and stuff in the apartment complex that I lived in. In the middle of the night there were choppers and SWAT teams kicking down the doors."

Wagner hopes to reach out to more people. Both he and his wife Candace plan to volunteer on another mission once his football career is over, maybe not to Vegas though.

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