The world of professional sports isn’t void of troubled athletes. As fans, we often fantasize about the celebrity and amount of money that comes with playing professional sports, whether it’s hockey, football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and even golf – especially golf in the case of Tiger Woods. However, what we often fail to understand or comprehend is the massive amount of pressure that is on each of these athletes to perform. Pressure is relative and while you might feel like your boss is giving you a hard time on occasion, it’s nothing compared to having thousands of people Tweet at you that you didn’t do your job very well. It’s impossible to escape.
That kind of pressure – and the money, let’s not forget the money – can lead to athletes getting in trouble. It’s an awful combination in which one might need to escape a pressure-packed situation and has plenty of money with which to use to enjoy a night out on the town or a trip somewhere far away. It’s those situations where players might find themselves getting into trouble. Or it could be something more deep-rooted in the way they were raised; the recently-departed Aaron Hernandez is a prime example of that. Yet, for whatever reason, we treat certain athletes who mess up differently. Someone could even perform an act or crime more egregious than another athlete and we might be more willing to overlook it because of their profile. Below are the most troubled athletes we condemn and have a soft spot for.
15. Soft Spot: Josh Gordon
If you don’t have a stick up your butt, chances are you were thrilled to see Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon back on the field earlier this season. The talented 26 year old hadn’t started a regular season game since 2014, but prior to that was arguably the league’s most talented receiver, at least for a season. Gordon was a Pro Bowl player in 2013 and led the league in receiving yards with 1,646. He started five games the following season, but missed parts of three seasons due to substance abuse.
Now, Gordon has since come out and admitted he used more than just marijuana, but he has taken the proper steps to get clean and turn his life around. However, his suspension was originally because of marijuana, which is legal in some states and likely used by dozens – if not hundreds – of athletes. It’s just so Cleveland Browns that Gordon was one of the only ones suspended.
14. Hate: Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong is a 46 year old former professional road racing cyclist who rose to fame for his success at the Tour de France – he won the overall event in 2002 and 2004 – and the fact he won a bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics. His accomplishments were highlighted not only because he was an American excelling in a sport dominated by Europeans, but because he had overcome potentially-fatal testicular cancer years earlier.
However, in 2012 it was revealed that Armstrong was one of the most frequent users of performance-enhancing drugs and was actually named ringleader of what the United States Anti-Doping Agency called “the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program the sport has ever seen.” He has since confessed to some of his actions, but he is far from a figure worthy of forgiveness based on the simple fact he comes across as a douchebag and that he profited significantly off of a false success story with his Livestrong brand.
13. Soft Spot: Pete Rose
You may disagree with this one, but many baseball fans still have a soft spot for Pete Rose, despite the fact the same thing can’t be said about Major League Baseball (MLB). For years, Rose has attempted to get back into the good graces of the MLB, but commissioner after commissioner has maintained league’s stance that he is not eligible for induction into Cooperstown.
Why isn’t he eligible? Because he bet on baseball games while playing the sport. He didn’t even bet on his own team so it’s not as though he completely soiled the integrity of the sport and gambling is a huge part of professional sports today, so it seems a little outdated that the league wouldn’t forgive his past indiscretions, especially given he is the league’s all-time leader in hits with 4,256.
12. Hate: Sean Avery
Sean Avery didn’t do anything near as bad as some of the athletes on this list, but as noted earlier with Armstrong, sometimes being a douchebag is worse than committing a crime or violating a drug policy. Throughout the early part of his career, Avery was a valuable player to his teams. He scored a career-high 15 goals with the Los Angeles Kings in 2005-06 and matched that total in 2007-08 with the Rangers, but his poor attitude and inability to shut his mouth eventually caught up with him.
Among other incidents, Avery was suspended for referring to Dion Phaneuf’s wife Elisha Cuthbert as his “sloppy seconds,” displayed ugly tactics on the ice, and trolled homeless people on Snapchat. He’s also universally hated by former players in the league, which shouldn’t be a surprise.
11. Soft Spot: Michael Vick
This one is extremely delicate and there is no doubt countless people who will disagree, especially animal lovers. We’re not condoning or forgiving what Michael Vick did, but time can heal even the most disgusting actions if the person is truly apologetic and willing to make amends. Michael Vick was a dominant quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons when it was discovered he was running a dog-fighting ring and had basically contributed to the demise of several dogs.
However, he served his sentence and has since made a committed effort to become a better person. He didn’t just make a one-time donation to an animal shelter; instead, he has become an unlikely animal-rights activist. In 2016, he met with Pennsylvania lawmakers in support of a bill that would allow police officers to rescue pets from cars due to unsafe temperatures: “I was part of the problem,” he admitted. “Now, my perspective can help reach people that activists can’t reach. I can help others become agents of change.” Regardless of how you feel about Vick, you can’t deny that, as a society, we’re suckers for redemption stories.
10. Hate: War Machine
While Michael Vick redeemed himself through advocacy and charitable efforts, it would take years of similar acts by War Machine (that’s his actual legal name now) for anyone to even think of having a soft spot for him. The former UFC fighter and Ultimate Fighter contestant was more so known for dating porn star Christy Mack than he was for his talents in the Octagon. But now he’s only known as a rotten scumbag who nearly beat a woman to death.
Details of the incident vary, but what is true is that War Machine found Mack with a male companion and battered her so bad that she needed reconstructive surgery and was forced to spend weeks in a hospital. It’s almost a miracle she even survived; War Machine, meanwhile, was sentenced to life in prison this past June.
9. Soft Spot: Josh Hamilton
Similar to Josh Gordon, Josh Hamilton is considered troubled for his drug-riddled past. A former first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hamilton toiled in the minors for seven years before finally being left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft and subsequently selected by the Cincinnati Reds. He was dealt to Texas the following year and finished seventh in MVP voting after leading the American League in RBI with 130. Two years later, he won the AL MVP on the heels of a 32 home run, 100 RBI, and .359 batting average season.
The likely reason he took so long to reach his potential is because he dealt with drug and alcohol addiction. He got himself clean in 2005 and, although he has had some relapses since, he has remained committed to living a drug-free lifestyle. His actions haven’t directly hurt anyone, so it’s easy to have a soft spot for the recovering addict.
8. Hate: Ray Rice
Like Michael Vick, Ray Rice has done quite a bit to try and repair his image, but it simply isn’t enough. Football fans knew Rice as one of the league’s best running backs during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, but the entire world came to know him in 2014 as the dude who assaulted his now-wife in an elevator.
Rice was initially suspended two games of the 2014 season, but shortly after was released by the Ravens after video of the assault was released. It might be unfair, but that’s part of the reason we can’t get past Rice’s actions; had there been devastating video of Vick killing dogs, it would be hard to feel anything but rage for the man, but that isn’t the case.
7. Soft Spot: Mike Tyson
Just to be clear, we’re not saying TheSportster has a soft spot for Mike Tyson – we’re stating that it’s as if society as a whole has forgiven his past indiscretions, which is a little strange given he has been accused of some of the same things as Floyd Mayweather. In fact, he was even convicted of rape back in 1991 and served three years of a six-year sentence in prison. In short, he’s a terrible human being with a dark history of sexual abuse coinciding with drug and alcohol abuse.
Yet, in recent years, Tyson has landed comedic roles in The Hangover and other films and even has his own animated short series on Netflix titled Mike Tyson Mysteries. It strikes us as a little odd that Netflix would cancel House of Cards because of a sexual assault allegation against Kevin Spacey, but continues to work with a convicted rapist with little backlash. If that isn’t proof of our soft spot for The Champ, nothing is.
6. Hate: Johnny Manziel
The cardinal rule in regard to this list appears to be simple: don’t be a douchebag. Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel hasn’t lived by that rule and for that reason he’s an athlete we can all agree we hate. For starters, while he had success at the college level, it’s clear he was never truly talented enough to succeed in the NFL, but he could have made it work if he cared enough to work at his craft; instead, he wasted his career away partying and getting himself into trouble.
Manziel was first arrested as a freshman with Texas A&M in 2012 after he was involved in a fight and showed responding officers a fake ID. Four years later, after already ruining his NFL career, he was arrested for misdemeanor assault on his ex-girlfriend. If he wasn’t a smug and cocky jerk, we might find it easier to forgive him.
5. Soft Spot: Allen Iverson
You might consider Allen Iverson stupid instead of troubled – he famously blew away mostly all of his money on paying his entourage and has since filed for bankruptcy – but he was actually involved in a high-profile brawl that was the subject of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson. The incident highlighted in the documentary took place in 1993, when Iverson was still in high school.
Iverson was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for his role in the brawl, which appeared to be racially-charged, but was later pardoned by Governor Doug Wilder. If that isn’t enough, he was also arrested later in his career on firearms and drug possession charges. Still, it’s hard to hold a grudge against the dude who made himself synonymous with the word practice.
4. Hate: O.J. Simpson
As impossible as it is to believe, there are still people who legitimately believe O.J. Simpson was actually innocent in the death of his wife Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. The Made in America documentary did a tremendous job of highlighting why O.J.’s innocence was a major victory for African Americans, who had previously felt slighted so often by Los Angeles police – and still do. But while the innocent verdict was a victory, it’s hard to fathom there are still people who stand by the former Buffalo Bills running back.
Of all the athletes on this list, O.J. might be the most charismatic and personable and, while that’s enough to make us forget about a drug charge, it’s not enough to forget about a gruesome murder with which we’ve become all too familiar with given its intense media coverage.
3. Soft Spot: Kobe Bryant
Similar to Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant continues to hold a soft spot in our hearts despite cheating on his wife at least once – and likely multiple times. In fact, Bryant’s charge is actually much more serious than Woods. He was never convicted of sexual assault, but he settled for a reported substantial fee out of court and patched things up with his wife.
What Bryant did to that young woman in the Colorado hotel is absolutely disgusting if the details that came out were true. However, it is now so far in the past that few even associate Bryant with the incident. Instead, we remember the $3 million “forgive me” ring he bought his wife and the 60 points he scored in the last game of his career. He even remains a spokesperson for various companies. It’s strange that, as a society, we still hold a soft spot for Bryant, especially in the wake of the recent sexual allegations against prominent politicians and celebrities.
2. Hate: Floyd Mayweather
In most cases, our collective hate for wealthy athletes stems from jealousy. But while Floyd “Money” Mayweather might be one of the richest athletes on the planet, our hate for him has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of money he has – although, if we’re being honest, it’s hard not to feel cheated with the fact that he can make $100 million or more in a single fight in which he hardly throws any punches. But that’s for another list.
Others on this list like Ray Rice have only one documented incident in which they assaulted a woman and that’s more than enough for us to hate him. Mayweather, meanwhile, has a history of domestic assault, but because of his wealth, he has continued to escape punishment. In 2001, he plead guilty to two counts of domestic battery against the mother of his daughter, Melissa Brim. Two years later, he was found guilty of striking two women who were friends with the mother of three of his other children. There was another incident in 2005 as well as 2010. You get the point.
1. Soft Spot: Tiger Woods
Cheating on your wife isn’t a felony, but if it were Tiger Woods would be the Al Capone of doing so. By now, we’re all familiar with the incident that caused Tiger’s indiscretions to be brought to light; it was first reported he had crashed his car outside of his home and later revealed his wife, enraged, had chased him. Not long after, we found out that the world’s greatest golfer was a notorious cheater who had hooked up with 121 different women, according to the National Enquirer.
Those numbers are actually quite low compared to the claims of some athletes, but it’s different when you’re married. Is Tiger a scumbag for cheating so often on his wife? Absolutely. But was that all forgiven the moment he broke out the Sunday red in his return to form? Definitely. There’s just something about Tiger, even given his recent DUI, that makes us want him to return to the legend he once was – and we’re willing to overlook anything bad he does.
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