The life of a professional athlete is one devoid of the privacy that everyday people enjoy. Just like those everyday people, certain athletes are more susceptible to addiction and tragedy in their personal lives. Some may have been world-class stars, or garden variety journeymen, but athletes that have dealt with these problems can provide a fascinating, if most unfortunate, look into their individual psyche.
It could have been drugs, alcoholism, anger or mental health issues, but the problems sustained by many of these athletes were at least partially in the public eye. Some of them shortened careers, and some of them were overcome in time for the athlete in question to return to healthy and effective form. Finally, some of them never got a chance to show their predicted dominance, which should be considered an unfortunate fate given the promise that they showed.
It also reinforces the fact that the world of professional athletics can be a trying one on an individual's mental and physical state of being. No one can say for sure if these athletes suffered their setbacks and difficulties because of the pressure that was put on them by coaches, media and fans, but those are certainly aspects of the job that go beyond what most people have to cope with.
Ultimately, their troubles did effect their path in some way, whether they were able to overcome them or not. Some of them remain in stable condition, and some have lost their lives, but all of them have been dealt a heavy hand. Listed below are the top 15 athletes who lived with personal tragedy.
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15 Dexter Manley
While he was a critical part of the successful Redskins teams in the 1980s, Manley also battled cocaine addiction throughout his NFL career. He was clean when he came into the league in the early part of the decade, but a taste for the high-life quickly developed, and by 1989 had failed three drug tests.
The fourth time he failed one several years later, he announced his retirement, as he knew the league would force a lifetime ban upon him. Manley was also illiterate, a secret that he kept from the public for a long time, during his early playing days.
Manley struggled with drug use on and off in the years following his retirement, until he achieved full sobriety in 2006.
14 Doc Gooden
Gooden was a young flamethrower of a pitcher for the Mets in 1980s, and was set to have a dominant career, but drug and alcohol use altered his projected path. After several dominating seasons to start his career, he suffered many down seasons in the coming years until he retired after the 2000 season.
After his retirement, Gooden kept using, and landed a stint in jail on top of several relapses. It looked be all going downhill for the former pitcher until he got clean about five years ago. Today, he enjoys his newly found sobriety, but his past serves as a reminder of what was, and what could have been.
13 Thurman Munson
The tragedy for Munson came in the event that ended his life; a plane crash in August of 1979 when he was just 32 years old.
The power-hitting Yankees catcher still had some mileage left on his career, and much more on his life. The baseball world was truly devastated to lose such an exceptional talent. He was a seven-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and a leader in the clubhouse. Ultimately, it was a loss that was felt far too soon, and he remains a respected and remembered member of the Yankees' franchise.
12 Derek Boogard
Boogard was an enforcer-type player in the NHL while playing for the Wild and Rangers who struggled with painkiller addiction, which ended up taking his life when he overdosed in 2011.
His death was the subject of much controversy surrounding the league when it became apparent that various team doctors has prescribed him the drugs. It opened an ongoing conversation about the relationship between team doctors and individual players. In a physical sport such as hockey, Boogard was undoubtedly not the only one for whom this became an issue. In the end, his death serves as a grim reminder, that players in all sports, but especially contact ones should be monitored closely within their organizations.
11 Josh Hamilton
The former Angels and current Rangers slugger has struggled with cocaine and alcohol abuse in his past, and has struggled to stay clean, suffering multiple relapses. After signing a massive $125 million deal for Anaheim in 2012, Hamilton relapsed later that year, and was considered too much of risky investment. He returned to the Rangers in 2015, but suffered another relapse later in that year.
While his numbers haven't suffered too badly, his career has in part been held back because he just can't seem to keep clean. It's unfortunate because he has exhibited all the tools to be a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but at age 32, it just doesn't seem like that trajectory is still in the cards.
10 Chris Benoit
Benoit's story is one of the saddest in the history of professional sports. The WWE star murdered his wife and young son, and then subsequently took his own life directly after, in 2007.
Professional wrestling certainly took a fair bit of heat in the aftermath, and it was noted that Benoit was a steroid user throughout his career. It opened the floodgates for critics and pundits in the sports world to question not only Vince McMahon, and the effects that his brand of entertainment has on his employees, but the entire industry at large.
As it stands, Benoit's story is devastating from all directions, and shows a man who was suffering from deep-seeded mental issues. Whether they were the product from the business he was a part of, drug use, or another aspect of his life, is still up for debate.
9 Mike Hegstrand (Road Warrior Hawk)
One half of the legendary tag team, The Legion Of Doom, Hegstrand struggled with personal demons throughout most of his wrestling career. A known user of alcohol and drugs, he died at age 46 in 2003 from a heart attack.
His abuse became more apparent later in his career, during the LOD's second stint in the WWE, in the late 1990s. WWE came under fire from various people for actually working Hegstrand's heavy alcohol use into a live storyline, portraying him on television as intoxicated quite often.
In the end, the effects of his abuse simply became too much to bear.
8 Darryl Strawberry
Another member of the Mets' 80s teams along with Doc Gooden, Strawberry dealt with issues of anger, alcohol and drug abuse throughout his career. Though he made eight all-star games in his career, he also carried a chip on his shoulder due to his frightening childhood.
Strawberry later admitted that his father would physically intimidate and abuse him and his brother Ronnie when they were children. While his father eventually was legally forced out of the household, and Strawberry was raised by his mother, the scars still ran deep. He said that this, at least in part, contributed to his drug and alcohol abuse.
Today however, he enjoys sobriety, and takes great pride in his Christian religion.
7 Lance Armstrong
Armstrong's well known doping scandal is tragic because it shows how one decision can turn one of the most respected athletes in the world, who genuinely enjoyed his philanthropic efforts, into a punchline.
Despite all the Tour De France victories, the celebrity, and becoming the face for the sport of cycling, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Armstrong has still not overcome his documented use of PEDs during his career. He had a chance to leave a positive mark on the sport he participated in, and attract new fans. Ultimately, he scarred it beyond repair, and turned out many viewers from wanting to learn more about it.
6 Reggie Lewis
A member of the Boston Celtics in the early 1990s and late 1980s, Lewis collapsed and died on a practice court in 1993, when he was just 27.
As a rising star in the league, he was slated to be one of the leaders on the Celtics after Larry Bird's career was over, but he never got that chance. The circumstances regarding his sudden death never became clear, and it left a dark ripple effect throughout the entire sports world. Respected by teammates and admired by fans, Lewis was well on his way to breakout career, but instead marked one of the saddest moments in NBA history.
5 Len Bias
Another one who went far too young, Bias was the first round pick of the Celtics in the 1986 NBA draft, and was primed to be a future star after his college career concluded at Maryland. Two days after being drafted, he was found dead in a car, at the age of 22.
Later reports surfaced that cocaine use may have played a role in his death. Whatever the reason, it remains one of the saddest, most shocking deaths ever in the world of sports. A would-be star in the NBA, his career never had a chance to get going.
4 Steve Howe
Howe won Rookie Of The Year award honors with the Dodgers in 1980 and his career seemed to on the upswing. Many around baseball believed that he had the talent to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, cocaine and alcohol abuse took over his life. He died in a car accident in California at the age of 48.
His story not only represents a fall from grace, but is indicative of the waste of talent that drug use can bestow. Instead of what should have been a hall of fame career, Howe had around three productive seasons in the majors before his life was in shambles. In a sport where drug use has a tendency to permeate the entire culture, his story serves as a reminder to younger players to not fall victim to the temptation that narcotics provide.
3 Jennifer Capriati
A childhood prodigy in the tennis world, Capriati made her first Sports Illustrated cover appearance when she was just 13 years old. She had much success in the sport at a very young age, and seemed destined for a long career. Drug use, and erratic behavior forced her out of the spotlight for a period of time before the age of 20. She successfully regained her form with a comeback, although relapses of various kind would happen occasionally throughout the rest of her career.
Retired now, and choosing to live a reclusive life, Capriati has been inducted into the hall of fame. She is a prime example of the trial and error that sometimes is needed to kick bad habits. When that happens, sometimes it's just better to stay out of the spotlight.
2 Johnny Manziel
Manziel's story hits home a little harder because it's unfolding as this is being written. When the Browns selected him out of Texas A&M, I'm sure they weren't expecting his daredevil-esque to translate so similarly into his personal life. They were sorely mistaken.
No matter how many times the franchise tried to reason with"Johnny Football", his ego and thirst for the high-life got the better of him. A stint in rehab last offseason should have been enough to keep him clean. No dice. The Browns just released Manziel several days ago, and now he will be looking for a new team. The question is, will there be any buyers?
What once seemed to be a promising career for a unique player with astounding improvisational ability, is now a reminder of just how quickly a career can go down the drain in today's world. We will see if Manziel can recover, but the damage seems to already have been done.
1 Marcus Dupree
Dupree's story is tragic not because of substance abuse, or any harm he actually did to himself. Instead, it's sad because he was a player that could have gone down as one of the greatest ball carriers in NFL history, but he was clearly a young man who had no idea how to navigate the bright lights of big time college football.
Born Philadelphia, MS, Dupree was nothing short of a high school football phenom. He appeared destined for stardom. After playing one successful year at Oklahoma, injuries and a bad rapport with head coach Barry Switzer prompted him to transfer to Southern Mississippi University, where he never played a game. He tried his luck in the USFL with the New Orleans Breakers, but again, injuries caught up with him.
After moving back Mississippi he lived out of the spotlight. He eventually began working out, and did finally appear in the NFL wearing a Los Angeles Rams jersey for the 1990 season. He only played sparingly however, and was cut following the 1991 season.
The man that could have been the greatest running back in the history of the sport, Dupree exemplifies how important it is to have a plan in place as an elite athlete. In the end, his story is tragic because it only allows us to imagine how what may have been.
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