Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Sound familiar? We’ve all been guilty of feeling shame or making someone else ashamed of us. But it is in the pressure cooker of professional sports where the best and brightest tarnish the game that has made them millionaires and globally famous.
A few names come to mind in the sporting arena where our childhood heroes disgraced themselves. Whether its the scourge of performance enhancing drugs, organizing illegal deals away from the spotlight or biting an opponent in the heat of battle, these athletes only realize the error of their ways in the groggy aftermath.
Then again, sometimes they’re narcissism is so bad they don’t actually feel the shame at all. In their eyes they were victims of a system that let them down, or were a pawn placed in the middle of a rigged game giving them no alternative but to dance with the devil. It’s in the eyes of the public where we can analyze the merits of their actions and how that reflects on their sporting discipline.
There are examples where these athletes have learned the harsh lessons and made amends to help the image of their sport, but for so many their mistake is so egregious they never recover.
Let’s not allow these people off the hook too easy. Athletes who bring shame to their sport undermine all of the effort and honesty that fellow competitors exude. Whether its soccer, boxing, cycling or football, every sport has its identity carved out from what the best and worst people demonstrate, leaving a legacy that etches in the minds. Here are 20 athletes who brought shame to their sport.
20 Antonio Margarito
If you’re going to cheat, at least do it properly. Best known for copping the beating of a lifetime from Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao, Mexican boxer Antonio Margarito stained the reputation of his sport when it was discovered his trainers doctored the wrapping of gauze around his knuckles for a 2009 fight with Shane Mosley. While he never placed something malicious like a razor blade or plate of steel under them, the gauze was old and wet, creating a hardened wrap illegal under boxing guidelines and regulations. Not only did Margarito face a ban from the sport, but he was knocked out by Sugar Shane in the 9th round to add insult to injury.
19 Robert Rozier
Elite sportsmen don’t usually end up being found guilty of serial murder, but Robert Rozier did no help to the image of the St. Louis Cardinals or football when that occurred in 1990. The former Cardinal joined a black separatist cult in the 1980s who hunted down and killed white people they believed were “devils.” Rozier admitted to killing several of those people on behalf of the cult lead by a Miami man, Yahweh ben Yahweh. After his release he was committed for check fraud in 1999 and because of his two felony convictions, is now serving 25 to life in a California prison.
18 Tonya Harding
Figure skating is a beautiful, elegant expression of majestic movement. It is the pure demonstration of what people are capable of on two feet, then along came Tonya Harding to rip that lovely idea to shreds. Harding’s cynical ploy of hiring an assassin to hit her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, put the US 1994 figure skating team in turmoil and exposed the worst in people who pursue the Olympic dream. A subsequent celebrity sex tape and brief reality television career couldn’t distract people from what she was really about, and to this day is arguably the most notable event in the history of figure skating.
17 Adrian Mutu
Romanian soccer star Adrian Mutu was once upon a time the darling of his country and an emerging player to watch when he joined Chelsea in 2003. In the midst of this incredible career rise, he returned a positive drugs test for cocaine. Mutu’s life became a living hell as Chelsea dragged the player through years of fines, bans, appeals and judicial hearings which lasted for years. If this wasn’t bad enough, his move to Italian club Fiorentina returned a test showing a stimulant that countered hunger. It wasn’t just Mutu himself that tarnished the sport, but the legal fallout damaged soccer and the sport’s ability to handle substance abuse and performance enhancing drugs.
16 Barry Bonds
Even in the wake of Jose Canseco’s revelations that he juiced throughout a glittering career in baseball, Barry Bonds thought he could be the exception to the rule. The big hitting San Francisco Giants left-hander was not convicted, but his involvement sparked the 2003 Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) case in 2003 which put a cloud over multiple MLB players across the league. Bonds was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice while his reputation and that of the sport was forever changed.
15 Diego Maradona
El Diego could realistically make this list again and again on multiple charges if we’re being honest. What Maradona proved in European soccer circles was simple – he was bigger than the game. He was immortalized in his native Argentina for cheating England in the 1986 World Cup with his “Hand of God” goal before engulfing himself in various drug and tax avoidance scandals. To this day Maradona has not stepped back in Italy since winning the league with Napoli over the tax scandal and admitted that drug addiction plagued his career. Which begs the question, if Diego played like that on drugs, how good would he have been sober?
14 Lawrence Phillips
The NFL has so much going for it as a sport, but when people label the players as mucho thugs who thrive on violence then people like Lawrence Phillips have a lot to answer for. The St. Louis Rams took a gamble on the first-round pick in 1996 despite an alleged assault on his ex-girlfriend. Phillips’ sad life took a turn for the worse when he was jailed for 31 years over two assault cases. Only weeks ago, Phillips was charged with the first-degree murder of cellmate Damion Soward, making it an near certainty he will die behind bars.
13 Mark McGwire
Sometimes the barrage and flurry of speculation builds to such a crescendo that an athlete is forced to confess their darkest sins to the world. In 2010, St. Louis Cardinals right-handed slugger Mark McGwire succumbed to endless speculation by admitting to steroid use when he smashed baseball’s home run record in the 1998 season. However, like all troubled stars who find themselves backed into a corner, McGwire denied that taking drugs “on and off” for a decade gave him an unfair advantage and he could have done it without the drugs. “I was given a gift to hit home runs,” he explained to the press. Well, in our eyes he was given a gift of rewriting his own history, but we’re not falling for it Mark.
12 Ugueth Urbina
Major League Baseball have had their fair share of scandals to deal with over the years, but the story of Ugueth Urbina trying to murder several workers on his ranch was simply bizarre. Think Kenny Powers meets Walter White. Urbina reached All Star status throughout a glittering MLB career that peaked with a key role pitching in the Florida Marlins 2003 World Series win over the New York Yankees. This all came crashing down when he served 5 ½ years in a Venezuelan prison for pouring gasoline on workers and chasing them with a machete. That’s not just a bad day at the office, but a shocking reflection on the temperament of a professional MLB player.
11 Ben Johnson
Many years later a 51-year-old Ben Johnson visited an empty Seoul Olympic Stadium to relive the moment where his reputation and life changed forever. “I was nailed on a cross,” said Johnson. “25 years later I’m still being punished.” For hundreds of years sprinters were just sprinters, striving to set records and compete in the best spirit intended by the Olympic Games. In the 1988 Games, Johnson returned a positive test for anabolic steroids after setting a 9.79 second record speed in the 100m gold medal race. The sport has struggled with the blight of drug use ever since.
10 Jayson Williams
Life used to be good to Jayson Williams. Basketball and the Nets gave him a six-year contract on $86 million and the world was at his feet. Yet a simple leg injury in 1999 cut short his playing days before a series of horrible decisions and mistakes saw him serve prison time for the cover up and participation in the 2004 fatal shooting of his chauffeur, Costas “Gus” Christofi. The smaller matter of a drunk driving charge was thrown on top and after breaking down in court to plea for another chance, Williams’ story didn’t reflect well on the NBA and their capacity to look after players who are forced out of the game. Williams is completely culpable for his actions, but in a strange way the shame from this incident can be attributed in part to the sport that neglected him.
9 Tiger Woods
On one hand the Tiger Woods scandal was the simple tale of a man corrupted by power and living the high life. Nothing more, nothing less. But what it exposed was a seedy underbelly of a sport that could allow a serial cheater to live this extravagant, indulgent lifestyle for years on end. Golf was Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods was golf, the two could not be separated. When the tabloids got hold of evidence that his wife smashed his car with a club in fury over the affairs, Nike pulled his huge endorsement deal and South Park lampooned him, people looked at golf just that little bit differently.
8 Marion Jones
Thankfully the likes of Ronda Rousey and the Williams sisters have restored pride in American female athletes, but Marion Jones tarnished her huge standing in athletics and stained her reputation as a superstar for women to aspire to. Jones spent 6 months in prison in 2008 for admitting to injecting steroids for her Olympic medal wins at Sydney 2000. She confessed to Oprah that she doesn’t want to be remembered for her mistake, although the passing of time hasn’t help her in that regard. In the mucho world of male athletic pursuit the problem of performance enhancing drug use is always around the corner, but Jones proved that women could be just as cold and calculating to win.
7 Michael Vick
Now consigned to being a journeyman quarterback of the NFL, Michael Vick’s love for dogfighting will always be synonymous with his name and reputation. The former Atlanta Falcons spearhead was indicted by the federal government with his role in an illegal dogfighting operation on his own Virginia property. Vick was charged and convicted on counts of aiding unlawful activity and sponsoring animal fighting, spending 19 months behind bars and 2 more under house arrest. While the problem was isolated, it spoke to the character of the NFL who facilitated an environment where these types of people participated in such barbaric activity off the field.
6 Luis Suarez
If Hannibal Lector was a soccer player, we think Luis Suarez would be the perfect fit. The only player in the world who has a highlight reel for biting people, Suarez has served multiple suspensions for taking a chomp out of his opponents. The incident in the EPL with Branislav Invanovic led one English commentator to say, “He’s sunk his gnashes in there, what’s he doing?” To this day we have no idea, we’re just surprised he hasn’t been put down yet!
5 Rae Carruth
It has become a common theme for violence off the field to be the downfall of NFL players. Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth showed the worst side of humanity when he involved himself in the murder of partner Cherica Adams. If this wasn’t horrendous enough, Adams was 8 months pregnant with their child. That baby boy Chancellor lives to this day, a miracle that staggers beyond belief given the horrific circumstances of how he came into the world. There are far stronger words in the English language that could be used to describe Rae Carruth other than “shame,” but his association with the NFL unquestionably damaged the sport.
4 Ray Rice
“We live in a society where public opinion matters, and I totally respect that,” explained Ray Rice to ESPN. This was an interview orchestrated to put his name back out there and tell the NFL world he was a rehabilitated man after footage of the former Ravens running back bashing his partner Janay Palmer in a casino elevator leaked to the public. Rice’s crime might be less egregious than other football counterparts, but to have the incident caught on camera outlined a man with no moral compass or ability to control his aggression. It put the NFL on notice, it put Roger Goddell on notice and it was a dark period for a sport that continues to battle with the issue of domestic violence.
3 Mike Tyson
If you fight like an animal inside the ring, how should you be expected to be tamed outside of it? In the cold light of day, Tyson’s rape conviction demonstrated how the brutality of boxing is a double-edged sword where fighters lose the ability to act like regular people. Others will simply say Tyson was a meathead and thug, so when he was convicted for raping a Miss Black America contestant in Indianapolis in 1992, few were shocked but many were outraged. Biting Evander Holyfield in the ring paled in significance to this crime, because at least Evander agreed to the contest. People rightfully hold this against Iron Mike to this day, a horrendous act that can’t be taken back or ever forgotten.
2 OJ Simpson
It’s amazing to pause and consider the fact the most famous individual murder trial in recorded history involves a football player turned mediocre Hollywood actor. Once upon a time OJ, nicknamed “The Juice,” went five consecutive seasons between 1972-76 for 1,000 rushing yards for the Buffalo Bills, hitting the 2,000 mark in 1973. All of that changed when the events of the 1994 murder trial of his partner, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, came to be. When OJ fled on a Bronco during a nationally televised slow-speed chase holding a passport and disguise, it seemed a matter of time before he was put away for the double murder. Yet the brash and unusual defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran somehow convinced the jury of his innocence, throwing doubt and suspicion over the entire legal system in the process.
1 Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong ticks this category by a country mile. He systematically threatened and bullied his way to cycling supremacy by manipulating an image of the underdog, using his comeback story from cancer to tell the world he was above the fray. While a movie of his life is on the verge of release, Armstrong’s freakish ability to control the narrative shattered into pieces when revelations of his drug use became front page news around the world. 7 Tour de France titles faded into dust as the golden boy of cycling destroyed any semblance of respect the sport had left. He was the great white hope cycling needed, but he turned out to be a big white joke.