We’ve all got little bad habits that refuse to go away. For most of us, it's small things that don’t really affect our daily lives too much and for others it turns into a debilitating problem that could ruin their lives. Athletes are no different in this regard. After all, they’re only human. But there seems to be a surplus of pro athletes whose vices both cripple their professional and private lives. Everything in moderation. These people don’t seem to get that. They overdo things and end up hurting themselves in the process.
From substance abuse to heavy drinking problems, from gambling addictions to even guns, these athletes manage to find the most extreme ways of screwing up. It’s a serious problem for a lot of them and most don’t notice until it’s too late. This is nothing new in the sports world, sadly, as certain athletes have reputations for being somewhat self-destructive. It usually starts off with curiosity then moves on steadily towards excessive use.
In some cases, these problems have not only cost athletes their careers but their lives as well. An athlete would rather be remembered for his accomplishments on the field than the things that kept him off of it. We use the word vice to describe a problem. Something that only serves to hurt the person(s) it’s affecting. While seeing a player lose out on their livelihood certainly paints a strong picture, seeing them waste away is a powerful reminder as to how quickly we can lose control of our lives.
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20 George Best – Alcohol
George Best is considered to be one of the greatest and naturally gifted soccer players of his generation. Having started his career with Manchester United, Best played with some of the highest competition out there until the age of 27. From then, on he spent his career playing for lesser known clubs around the world. But in recent years drinking – not soccer – has become synonymous with Best’s name. His drinking problem deeply affected his daily life as he developed a problem over the years. Like with most alcoholics, his liver gave out, which forced him to get a liver transplant. This made him more susceptible to infections and he ended up passing because of it in 2005.
19 Len Bias – Drugs
Len Bias is the first – and most tragic – of the many athletes on this list who’ve lost themselves to drugs. Specifically cocaine. While still in college, Bias was dominating opponents and creating a real buzz around the league. In 1986, he was drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics. This obviously called for celebration. But while others might’ve gone out for a drink with friends or maybe even treated themselves to a nice dinner, Bias was held up in his room doing blow. Then, less than 48 hours after Bias drafted by the Celtics, he was found dead in his room. The verdict was that he’d died of an overdose. It’s both sad and shocking to see an athlete lose their lives in such a way, just about the time a very promising career was about to take off.
18 Dwight Gooden – Drugs
Dwight Gooden was once a dominant pitcher in the MLB, but injuries and drug usage ruined his public image and started taking a toll on his professional and personal life. The 1984 Rookie of the Year was suspended 60 days for testing positive for cocaine in 1994 and was later sidelined for the entire 1995 season after testing positive again shortly after. After his career was over, Gooden spent some time in jail, once again due to cocaine, as he’d been caught using cocaine during probation. Ironically, the only reason he was on probation was because of a drunken car chase with the police in which he’d later admitted to having used cocaine after he was caught.
17 Paul Hornung – Gambling
The Green Bay Packers legend might've just scored more times off the field than on it. Hornung’s success with the ladies was no secret and definitely no mystery either. He was one of the most recognizable faces on the Packers roster and was an NFL MVP. His popularity in Green Bay was uncanny. He was the city's golden boy and he could do no wrong. However, Hornung broke one of the fundamental rules of being a professional athlete; don’t bet on the games. In 1963, he and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras ( more on him later) were suspended after they were caught betting on games. The two sat out the next season, with Hornung’s reputation taking a huge hit in the process.
16 John Daly – Alcohol, Smoking and Gambling
As a pro, John Daly had a great deal of success and strung together a career that includes two major titles. However, Daly struggled with two devastating addictions, gambling and alcoholism. After having suffered from alcohol addiction for many years, Daly finally seems to be on the right track. Though he seems to have taken to the idea of substituting one vice for another. He consumes around 10-12 cans of Diet Soda and 40 cigarettes per day. It’s great that he stopped drinking, but all he’s doing now is attacking a different vital organ. As for the gambling, it’s something that has really cost him over the years. After initially thinking he’d initially lost around $20 - $25 million gambling, the total ended up being closer to $60 million. Ouch.
15 Roy Tarpley – Drugs
The story of Roy Tarpley is a tragic one that recently came to a devastating end. Tarpley was the seventh overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft and played his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks. In Dallas, he showed the tools necessary to succeed in the league and at times proved that he could be one of the better players of his era when on the court. But in 1991, Tarpley was kicked out of the league for using cocaine. The verdict came only five years into his promising career. It’s terrible to see addiction take over the life of someone who showed such promise at such a high level of competition. Tarpley passed earlier this year.
14 Rick Tocchet - Gambling
Rick Tocchet enjoyed a long NHL career that lasted nearly 20 years and included stops in Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh. Years after his retirement, Tocchet was arrested for running an illegal gambling ring. The operation was said to have accumulated $1.7 million in wagers over a 40 day span. Luckily for him, Tocchet's operation was focused on football, not hockey. Had he been betting on hockey games, his career would've pretty much been over, but he managed to avoid that altogether. What he couldn't avoid were the two years probation he received after accepting a plea deal.
13 Alex Karras – Gambling
Like his buddy Paul Hornung, the 1963 gambling controversy hit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras hard. Having owned a portion of a bar in Atlantic City, Karras was bound to get involved in gambling at one point. When he finally got caught, the All-Pro defensive tackle, along with Paul Hornung, were both severely punished by commissioner Pete Rozelle and were forced to sit out the upcoming season. After the suspension, Karras famously told a referee that he couldn’t decide on the pregame coin toss since he wasn’t allowed to gamble.
12 Nate Newton – Drugs
Unlike others on this list who seem to rather enjoy abusing their fair share of cocaine, former Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newman got busted for carrying around a much more subdued substance. Albeit a ton of it. He was twice arrested for carrying large amounts of marijuana in his van. The towering guard might’ve been big enough to keep Emmitt Smith out of the reach of defenders, but he didn't show the same amount of talent for sneaking illegal substances around the country. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison, effectively ending his career as a drug mule.
11 Steve Howe – Drugs and Alcohol
Despite a 12 year career as a pitcher, Steve Howe‘s career was riddled with inconsistencies due to drug and alcohol abuse. He started his career off with promise, earning Rookie of the Year honors. But his career never took off the way it should’ve. Howe was suspended from baseball a total of seven times, as his struggles with cocaine and alcohol repeatedly earned him a spot in the commissioner’s dog house. At one point, he was banned from the sport entirely, but lucked out and was reinstated the following year only to retire several years later after continuous run-ins with the law. Sadly, his story doesn't have a happy ending as he was killed in a car accident and they later found out he had taken drugs.
10 Micheal Ray Robinson – Drugs
Another gifted NBA star to lose his career to a cocaine addiction, Michael Ray Robinson ended his NBA career following a two year absence from the game. Richardson had led the league in steals three times over his career, but never got to truly make a name for himself, save for the reputation he’d gained for his use of drugs. After having violated the NBA’s drug policy for the third time in his career, Robinson earned a lifetime ban in 1986. He was brought back two years later, but no one wanted him. He moved on to play in Europe, failed a couple more drug tests and ended his miserable career with a short coaching stint that didn’t pan out, after he’d made some anti-Semitic claims way out of left field.
9 Gilbert Arenas – Guns and Gambling
The last thing teams expect their players to bring into their locker rooms is guns. Why would a professional athlete carry a gun with him? Why would he bring it to his team’s facility where he comes into contact with other teammates? Gilbert Arenas seems to have an answer to these questions. He did it because of money. Money from a gambling dent to be more precise. Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton each brought guns into the Washington Wizards locker room to settle a gambling debt. The two were later both reprimanded after the incident and Arenas spent almost a year out of the league.
8 Tank Johnson – Guns
The former defensive tackle was a great run stuffer when he managed to get on the field. But Johnson had his troubles off the field that greatly affected his production on it. His most talked about screw up is one that involved a cop and a handgun. Sounds bad right? It was. When pulled over by a police officer after leaving a club ,Johnson used what’s probably the most ineffective way of getting out of a ticket. Intimidation. He pretty much threatened the cop by telling him that he wasn’t the only one who carried a gun. Johnson then made a “Cop”-esque scene of resisting arrest. He’s a big guy. It took multiple officers to finally subdue him.
7 Stephon Marbury – Excessive Sexual Desire
There’s a funny little anecdote about basketball players being unfaithful. Stephon Marbury isn’t helping prove that wrong. While with the Knicks, Marbury was found to have had sex with a Madison Square Garden intern. What made it sleazier is that they did it after Marbury had pulled up and asked her to get in the back of his SUV. In a strip club parking lot, no less. It’s like he took the sequence straight out of some 14-year old’s first GTA playthrough. Where is he now? The nearly 40 year old point guard is living it up winning championships in China.
6 Vin Baker – Alcohol
It’s not unusual for a man to have a drink in the midst of a bad day every now and then. Athletes are no different in that regard. But Vin Baker admitted to drinking heavily after bad games. Celtics coach Jim O’Brien had apparently once smelled alcohol on Baker’s breath during practice. So the revelation that he was an alcoholic didn’t come as too much of a shock. His drinking greatly affected his ability on the court and while he managed to hang on to several teams towards the end of his career, he was never as effective as he was before the drinking got out of hand.
5 Mickey Mantle – Alcohol
Surprised? While his problem might not have affected his career, Mickey Mantle did struggle with alcohol abuse for a time. He rarely took care of himself in that regard. The man enjoyed a drink more often than not and being an athlete it’s surprising to see his career turning out the way it did, when you consider his complete and utter disregard for his health. He hit 536 homeruns and accumulated 1,509 RBI in his legendary career. Think what he could’ve done if he’d taken care of his body.
4 Tiger Woods – Sex Addict
By now, everyone knows the deal with Tiger Woods. Seemed like a nice family man, then a weird car accident started unraveling a web of infidelity and lies. Woods was regarded as the best golfer in the world and was swimming in endorsements. He had a beautiful wife and two young children. But news of his cheating scandal would both ruin Woods’ family life as well as his public image. Though his career now looks to be on the mend, there was a period of time after the scandal that saw Woods really struggle.
3 Allen Iverson – Alcohol and Gambling
You know someone’s got a gambling problem when they’re being turned away at casinos. The four time NBA scoring champion suffered from both gambling addiction and alcoholism. Never a good combination. Iverson’s career was put off track by his constant drinking and unhealthy obsession with gambling his money. His marriage of almost nine years ending in 2011, along with his daughter having an undisclosed illness that same year, it’s not hard to see why Iverson resorted to such drastic methods of escape. It’s just sad to have seen his career end the way it did when he clearly deserved better after all he’s accomplished.
2 Art Schlichter – Gambling
Art Schlichter could’ve been a great quarterback in the NFL. He had all the tools: arm strength, size and toughness. Yet his abilities never had the chance to come into light. Schlichter was more invested in running a half-assed Ponzi schemes than furthering his NFL career. He once sold a number of college and pro football tickets, as well as Super Bowl tickets to feed his gambling addiction. Except he never delivered. There were no tickets, so he took the money and ran. He lasted three years in the NFL and is thought to be one of the game’s biggest busts at the quarterback position.
1 Michael Irvin – Drugs
Michael Irvin established himself as one of the NFL’s greatest receivers in his days with the Dallas Cowboys. Hoever, his addiction to cocaine almost ruined what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career. He’s been charged with drug possession on a number of occasions, none more famous than an incident in 1996. Irvin was celebrating his 30th birthday at a Dallas hotel when Police found him lying on the floor lying on coke with multiple “topless models.” He’s since cleaned up his act, but his drug related past still remains one of the darker chapters of his life.
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