Much like other professions, sports rely on an ethical code. It’s the responsibility of all athletes to act accordingly in regards to these values. However, there will always be those who fail to meet those expectations, whether they break the rules or break the law. Of course depending on the offense the athlete is usually given a second chance, though the fallout tends to follow them for the entirety of their professional careers as well as personal lives.
Athletes are used to being in the spotlight – especially the successful ones – but sometimes they’re being talked about for the wrong reasons. Though they might sometimes seem larger than life, they’re as human as anyone else. They can be as bad, dishonest and flawed as anyone of us. But because they live their lives in the spotlight, their mistakes become spectacles for the whole world to view and judge. It is because of this extra attention that an emphasis is put on their behavior. Their actions should be justified because – though they all represent different kinds of sports – each strives to achieve a commitment to excellence (not to echo the old Raiders mantra). So when an athlete is involved in a scandal or breaks the law, it’s only normal that they become subject to controversy.
While they are often the first to condemn such actions, the public feeds off of controversy. Scandals, violence and the damage done to someone’s public image are all winning ingredients for these sorts of situations. As much as those at the heart of the issue are to blame, it’s the public’s interest that keeps the flame alive. Yes the fact that it’s a celebrity does tend to draw more interest than a typical case of domestic abuse, but something can only be controversial so long as people talk about it.
11 Oscar Pistorius
Once an inspirational story to all who knew of him, Oscar Pistorius' name will be forever linked to the tragic events of February 14th, 2013. Dubbed the "Blade Runner," the Paralympic athlete had a number of Gold and Silver medals under his belt, as well as a couple of world records to boot. On the day in question, Pistorius shot his then girlfriend of three months, model Reeva Steenkamp, claiming he'd mistook her for an intruder. Despite his claims, he was sentenced to serve five years in prison roughly a year after his arrest and was charged with Culpable homicide.
10 Dennis Rodman
A pivotal part of the second Chicago Bulls three-peat, Dennis Rodman’s antics off the court often overshadowed his great prowess on it. Everything from dying his hair all kinds of bizarre colors to at one point wearing a wedding dress, Rodman certainly turned heads and subsequently might’ve rubbed some people the wrong way. But no stunt he pulled off as a player could’ve measured up to what he’s most recently been in the headlines for. Recently Rodman has been in the public eye for his apparent friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. What’s worse is his standoffish attitude and often sympathetic tone when discussing their relationship.
9 Barry Bonds
There have been many good athletes throughout time and there have been plenty of bad ones as well. But it is a rare luxury to be witness to someone who can be looked upon as one of the greatest of all time. Every sport has a short list of those who separated themselves and set the bar higher for future generations, achieving greatness throughout their playing career. With 762 home runs and seven MVP awards, Barry Bonds did everything necessary to be remembered as an all-time great. However, despite his accolades, Bonds’ incredible career will forever be shadowed by one thing. He cheated. Like too many other baseball players of that generation, he started juicing up during in his career. He lied under oath and was later convicted of obstruction of justice.
8 Mike Tyson
As talented as he was, Mike Tyson definitely had his share of problems, and they were often on full display. He became the youngest Heavyweight champion in history when he beat Trevor Berbick in 1986, at the age of 19. But from then on Tyson’s run-ins with the law started getting severe. In 1992, he was sentenced to ten years in prison (four were suspended) after being found guilty of sexual assault. Less than two months after being imprisoned, Tyson reportedly threatened a prison guard adding fifteen days to his sentence. After serving three years, Tyson was released. Two years later in a rematch with Evander Holyfield, Tyson did the unthinkable. During the third round of the match Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear not once but twice. He actually got a piece of it the second time around and spat it out not long after he’d ripped it off.
7 Michael Vick
In his prime, Michael Vick was one of the most explosive players in the NFL. His ability to beat defenses both passing and running the ball was nothing short of a spectacle, similar to what Randall Cunningham did in the 80s. While with the Falcons, Vick was indicted on dog fighting charges. Vick hosted and participated in numerous dog fighting rings where he would bet on dogs, beat them and was even involved in killing those that performed poorly. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison and missed the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons. He was eventually reinstated by the NFL and landed with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he had some success and recently spent 2014 as a back-up to Geno Smith in New York.
6 Tonya Harding
Back in her day, Tonya Harding was an immensely talented figure skater. Yet her name will forever be linked to a strange web of conspiracy and assault. Harding was linked to the assault of fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. The attack took place on January 6th, 1994 and was planned out by Harding’s former husband Jeff Gillooly and her then bodyguard Shawn Eckardt. Both Harding and Kerrigan were competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. Gillooly and Eckardt hired someone to break Kerrigan’s legs. Though the assailant failed to do so, Kerrigan didn’t come out of the ordeal unscathed. Harding was later charged with aiding the men and attempting to cover up the crime. She was soon after banned from the USFSA while Kerrigan was not only granted a spot on the 1994 team, but also brought home a silver medal.
5 Floyd Mayweather
Never shy to voice his opinion, Floyd Mayweather’s rivalry with fellow boxer Manny Pacquiao has been a popular story to follow in the sports world. Especially after the boring outcome of their highly anticipated head to head. But Mayweather’s professional career has been marred by a string of domestic violence charges. Starting in 2002, Mayweather has been charged with domestic violence and battery several times. He was charged with two counts of domestic violence in 2002, then was charged with battery after getting into a fight with two women outside a Las Vegas nightclub two years later. He’s also been involved in a couple of implications with former girlfriend Josie Harris, including one in 2005 that was dropped and another in 2010 where his 10-year old son had to run out of the home in order to get help.
4 Tiger Woods
For many years, Tiger Woods was regarded as Golf’s premier player and was looked upon as a role model. In a matter of weeks, all of that would be undone by an incredibly public sex scandal pitting Woods at the center. Beginning with a bizarre car crash, questions involving his loyalty to his then wife began to arise. Woods initially denied the reports but later admitted to having “transgressions” soon after the crash. What came next was reports of adultery with numerous women, including an adult entertainer. Woods and his wife later divorced and while he’s since returned to playing pro Golf, he hasn't been near the level he was before.
3 Lance Armstrong
The story of Lance Armstrong is one that goes from heartwarming to gut-wrenching really fast. A seven time Tour de France winner, Armstrong touched millions with his battle against Testicular Cancer. His efforts to raise awareness, as well as his “Livestrong” campaign only boosted his image in the public eye. But a doping scandal quickly turned him from hero to pariah. Armstrong – often adamant in denying his use of any sort of performance enhancing drug – was finally found out. He’d used steroids. The backlash was harsh. He was stripped of his Tour de France titles, replaced as the head of the Livestrong foundation lost multiple endorsements and was banned from the sport of Cycling by the International Cycling Union.
2 O.J. Simpson
In his prime, OJ Simpson was one of the NFL's best running backs, but people don't remember him for his Hall of Fame career. What they do remember is the trial that captivated millions in which Simpson was charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The trial itself became something of a spectacle that is still a part of pop-culture today. Most notably lawyer Johnnie Cochran's "It doesn't fit, you must acquit" mantra, and Simpson's hands not fitting a pair of gloves said to be similar to those used by the murderer. Simpson evaded prison and was found not guilty, and while he was acquitted by a jury of his peers the memory and doubt towers taller than any of his professional accolades. Over time the question is still the same. Did he do it?