It’s easy to forget that many of our sports heroes are all too human, as we often elevate the best athletes in such a way that it should not be all that surprising when they fail to live up to an impossibly lofty standard. We want to believe that our heroes – especially those we grew up rooting for – would never do something to disappoint us, and we certainly want to believe that they would certainly never do something so egregious that they would be permanently banned from the sport they played so well.
The list of athletes who have been issued lifetime bans from competition is surprisingly long, with Pete Rose and Lance Armstrong perhaps the most readily recognizable among them. Both Rose and Armstrong are ostensibly holding out hope for reinstatement one day and perhaps they even believe it is still possible that reinstatement will one day lead to election to their respective sport’s Hall of Fame.
While the prevailing opinion in baseball circles is that Rose will neither be reinstated nor elected to the Hall of Fame, baseball’s “Hit King” can hold out some hope based on the fact that a lifetime ban has not precluded any of the following athletes from enshrinement in each of their respective sport’s Hall of Fame, including three current members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some of these bans were unnecessarily harsh or politically motivated, while others were related to drugs and gambling, the latter of which is generally considered the cardinal sin in all sports. Regardless of the reason for the lifetime ban, each one of these athletes has nonetheless earned enshrinement in their respective sport’s Hall of Fame.
11 Alex Karras
Karras was a man of many talents, as the College Football Hall of Famer won the Outland Trophy and earned four Pro Bowl selections during a 13-year NFL career before going on to enjoy a lengthy acting career in which he played many memorable roles, including Mongo in Blazing Saddles and George Papadapolis in Webster. Karras, who many believe deserves a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, also spent some time as a professional wrestler, including a stint as Dick the Bruiser that began shortly after he was suspended by the NFL for gambling.
Karras, who had an ownership stake in the legendary Lindell A.C. Bar, admitted that he had placed bets on NFL games after the league reportedly requested he cut ties with the sports bar after reports came out that it had ties to organized crime and gambling. Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Karras indefinitely, though the Detroit Lions lineman was reinstated after missing a single season. Upon his return, Karras was asked to call the pregame coin toss, but, in a mocking refusal, told the official, “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not permitted to gamble.”
10 Ferguson Jenkins
A three-time All-Star who earned the 1971 Cy Young Award and won more than 20 games in a season seven times, Jenkins was banned from baseball in 1980 when he was found to be in possession of marijuana, hashish and cocaine during a customs search in Toronto. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn issued the ban soon after the incident, but it was only a few weeks later that the punishment was overturned in arbitration. Jenkins would play the following season and retired from baseball in 1983 with 284 career wins and 3,192 strikeouts. The fact that baseball had once tried to permanently ban Jenkins had little effect on his reputation among Hall of Fame voters, as he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991 in his third year of eligibility.
9 Mike Tyson
Tyson, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011, had his boxing license revoked following the infamous WBA heavyweight title fight in which Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997. He was also fined $3 million for the incident and was allowed to apply for reinstatement after one year, though at the time the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s (NSAC) legal adviser noted, "Unless the commission changes its mind, his would be a permanent revocation."
“Iron Mike” ultimately earned another chance in boxing and had his license reinstated only to have it revoked again in 1999 when he ignored the bell and hit Francois Botha during his comeback fight. When Tyson fought Lennox Lewis in 2002, he was denied a license by the NSAC and the fight was held in Memphis instead. Despite his many incidents in and out of the ring, Tyson is still regarded as one of the best boxers of all-time and remains something of a cult figure in popular culture, as he even has a cartoon show -- “Mike Tyson Mysteries” -- in which he solves mysteries alongside a pigeon and a ghost.
8 Roger Brown
Brown’s ban from the NBA came well before his professional career ever began, as he was linked to Jack Molinas, a notorious gambler who was at the center of one of the worst point-shaving scandals in the history of NCAA basketball. Brown was not charged and there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part, but he was nonetheless kicked out of Dayton University and banned from ever playing in the NBA.
The ABA, however, did not recognize the NBA’s ban and the Indiana Pacers made him the franchise’s first player. Over eight years in the ABA, Brown averaged 17.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, earning All-Star honors on four occasions. Brown’s ABA exploits earned him a place at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts despite having never played a single minute of NBA basketball.
7 Hans Nusslein
At just 15, Hans Nusslein was one of tennis’ best young players. While competing as an amateur, however, Nusslein coached others and received pay for doing so. When German officials found out that he had accepted pay for coaching, they revoked his amateur status and banned him from competing in any amateur event, forcing him to turn pro at a very early age. Despite being robbed of his promising amateur career, Nusslein excelled as a pro and won four World Pro Championships in the 1930s, earning election to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006.
6 Paul Hornung
The iconic running back of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s and a winner of four NFL championships while playing for the legendary Vince Lombardi, Hornung was suspended indefinitely for betting on professional football. Hornung never bet against the Packers, and then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle elected to lift the suspension after a single season. The 1961 MVP’s association with gamblers did not stain his legacy, however, as he earned election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
5 Connie Hawkins
Hawkins was caught up in the same NCAA point-shaving scandal as Roger Brown, and, like Brown, was banned from the NBA and dismissed from his college team despite there being no evidence of any wrongdoing. Hawkins, who had played for Iowa University, had no knowledge of the scandal but was accused of introducing several of the players involved to the gambler who arranged the fixed-game scandal.
Without the NBA as an option, Hawkins played with the Harlem Globetrotters and in the ABL before joining the ABA for its inaugural season. In 1969, Hawkins’ NBA ban was lifted and he was allowed to join the Phoenix Suns, making the All-Star team in each of his first four NBA seasons. His career in the ABA, NBA and as a member of the Globetrotters helped him earn induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
4 Willie Mays
Willie Mays, considered by many as the best all-around player in the history of baseball, found himself banned from the sport after he accepted a job as a greeter at a casino in Atlantic City. Baseball’s commissioner at the time, Bowie Kuhn, banned Mays from holding any coaching position with any team, a position he had held with the New York Mets when he accepted the casino job. Mays, who was elected to the Hall of Fame before being banned from holding any position in baseball, was reinstated when Peter Ueberroth took over as MLB Commissioner in 1985.
3 Mickey Mantle
During his time as MLB Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn issued three permanent bans from baseball: Willie Mays, Ferguson Jenkins and Mickey Mantle, all of whom are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mantle was banned from baseball for the same reason as Mays, as he accepted a job at a casino in Atlantic City and was forced to give up his position as a Spring Training instructor with the New York Yankees and was subsequently barred from holding any other position in baseball as a result of his involvement with the casino. Like Mays, Mantle was reinstated by Peter Ueberroth in 1985.
2 Jim Thorpe
Thorpe, widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes to ever live, played pro football and baseball and won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Track and Field Hall of Fame, but he also suffered the indignity of having his Olympic medals revoked and his name wiped from the record books after it was learned that Thorpe had played professional baseball before competing in the Olympics. The fact that he was not considered an amateur athlete kept him from competing in any future Olympic Games, but his records were ultimately restored posthumously in 1982.
1 Muhammad Ali
When the United States refused to recognize Muhammad Ali as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, he was convicted of draft evasion and forced to enter a lengthy legal battle via the appeals process. As a result of the conviction, Ali was also banned from boxing indefinitely in 1967, a ban which ultimately lasted for over three years while he asserted his religious objection to fighting in the war. Ali was also stripped of all of his titles as a result of the ban and it was not until 1970 that he was able to enter the ring again, the result of political intervention and a federal court ruling in his favor. Ali’s case reached the Supreme Court and his conviction was ultimately overturned, but the ban robbed boxing of its greatest fighter for more than three years during the prime of his career.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!