Idolizing our sports stars can come at a cost, especially when their dark secrets are exposed for all to see. The saying often goes: the higher they rise, the bigger they fall.
A scary thought fans don’t want to comprehend is hard to escape. For every public episode of a scandal, every drug cheat or corrupt athlete who takes a bribe, there are just as many who haven’t been caught yet.
Last week The Sunday Times revealed a third of all medals won by athletes at recent Olympics and world championships recorded suspicious tests, casting an entire shadow over these events in the same manner as the Tour de France. What will next week have in store?
While the responsibility falls on the individual, the win-at-all-costs environment athletes are subjugated too that turns a blind eye to these problems don’t help anyone’s cause. For example, how can soccer’s governing body, FIFA, ever lecture a player on behaving ethically when the FBI is investigating them for fraud, collusion and a multitude of other sins dating back decades?
Dark secrets are never confined to one sport, but they are to a particular type of twisted individual. From the mob to murders, and drugs to deflategate, athletes have a history of committing terrible crimes away from the spotlight.
Sometimes they are in the pursuit of enhancing performance, other times it is a result of stress where the athlete cannot handle the pressure any longer. Regardless of the circumstances, the truth has a habit of catching up with the best of us.
So here they are – the top 15 athletes whose dark secrets were exposed.
15 Pete Rose
The man nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” established himself as one of baseball’s best players, reaching a crowning achievement of back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and 76 with the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati teams. Moving to the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent, Rose’s magic touch continued to help the franchise to a first ever World Series title in 1980.
But for Pete, old habits died hard and he gambled one too many times. Serving as manager for the Reds, Rose was found guilty of betting on baseball and given a lifetime suspension in 1989. He subsequently landed in prison for 5 months due to tax evasion, and came clean about his gambling habits in a 2004 autobiography.
14 Tom Brady
An incident that only resulted in a four-game suspension might not be considered worthy of making the “dark secrets” list, but ‘Deflategate’ is no ordinary scandal.
The New England Patriots were accused and tampering with the gauge pressure of footballs in their AFC Championship game with the Indianapolis Colts in January 2015.
To make matters even more bizarre, Brady was found guilty of destroying a cell phone that allegedly contained some 10,000 messages of damning evidence, implicating the Patriots as a result.
Brady’s reputation as one of the greats of the game and poster boy for the NFL took a blow, as the terms ‘Deflategate’ and ‘Ballzaghi’ became part of the everyday lexicon.
13 Mike Tyson
There may be a reason why your friend didn’t enjoy The Hangover movies as much as you did. Despite his admirable cameo in the franchise, “Iron” Mike Tyson is actually a convicted rapist in real life.
Yes, the man with the tattoo across his face who is famous for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear off - turns out he was just as big a thug outside the ring.
The youngest ever heavyweight champion was found guilty of one count of rape and two counts of criminal behavior after attacking an 18-year-old beauty pageant in 1992.
Facing a possible 60 years in prison, Tyson only did six. This year his former manager Rory Holloway admitted he was surprised more girls didn’t make claims against him akin to Bill Cosby’s revelations.
12 Michael Vick
Animal cruelty made a splash in the headlines when a dentist killed and dismembered Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe last month, but unfortunately he is not the only American who enjoys inflicting pain on defenseless creatures.
In 2007, Michael Vick’s Virginia property was seized of 50 dogs, as it was revealed that Vick personally funded a dogfighting ring. Amid stories of dogs being hanged, drowned and electrocuted, the controversy brought to light the barbaric practice before Vick was sentenced to 23 months prison and charged with promoting dog fighting while engaging in torture of animals.
11 New Orleans Saints Defense
While anybody who has followed the game of football a long time shouldn't have been too surprised that a team would attempt to injure an opposing quarterback, the New Orleans Saints' 'Bountygate' scandal brought a rough subculture of football to light. It was revealed that Saints players would receive bounty money for knocking players out of a game, pertaining to a NFC Championship game in which Brett Favre suffered an ankle injury, which would later require surgery. The scandal resulted in discipline for several players, a one-year suspension for head coach Sean Payton and an indefinite suspension for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has since been reinstated.
10 Rene Higuita
Best known for his outrageous 1980s afro, moustache and freakish bicycle kicks as a soccer goalie, Rene Higuita’s relationship with drug lord kingpin Pablo Escobar during a tumultuous time in Colombia’s history might just be what he is most remembered for.
Despite being friends with the underworld figure, Higuita successfully negotiated the release of a hostage under the cocaine mogul, landing himself in jail for seven months. He was charged with illicit enrichment, mediating without authority and failing to notify police about the kidnapping.
9 Evangelos Goussis
To an Australian audience, particularly those familiar with events in the Melbourne gangland killings of the 1990s and 2000s, Goussis is one of the more intriguing characters.
Currently serving a minimum 35-year sentence and maximum life sentence for murdering Lewis Caine and Lewis Moran, Goussis’s fall from grace came after being touted as one of the best young boxers and kickboxers in the country. Brother Ange, speaking with the Australian press, said his sibling could have gone on to be a world champion.
8 Aaron Hernandez
A second entrant to the list for the New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez’s crime easily surpasses deflating some footballs. Leading a life of guns, drugs and violence away from the game, Hernandez was found guilty of the murder of Odin Lloyd in April 2015 having committed the crime on August 22, 2013.
Hernandez’s history with guns meant that such a tragedy should have been prevented multiple times, having been investigated for his role in shootings across Boston and Miami while still playing in the NFL.
7 Oscar Pistorius
For obvious reasons, Oscar Pistorius stood out from the crowd. The remarkable amputee athletic runner from South Africa launched to fame when competing in London 2012, nicknamed ‘Blade Runner’ for winning medals with the use of prosthetic legs.
But on Valentine’s Day in 2013, Pistorius fired four shots to kill girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through his locked bathroom door. Although he claimed he thought she was an intruder, Pistorius was sentenced for 10 months for culpable homicide. As the trial was broadcast live across the world, rumors about Pistorius’s bizarre behaviour, estranged relationship with Steenkamp and a love affair with guns painted a very different picture of the man.
6 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' secret looks pretty tame after going over some of these other entries. He's not this high based on the act itself. After all, while committing adultery is immoral, it is not a crime. What gets him here is the way his secret being exposed directly affected his fall from grace. Woods has never looked like the same golfer since all his secret extramarital affairs were brought to light. It was a media circus surrounding Woods and for an act that many athletes have been caught to commit, it seemed to hit Woods harder than anybody else.
5 Pavel Bure
If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that the Russian Mafia are not to be trifled with. Pavel Bure was among a handful of hockey players with links to the syndicate, as well as President Vladimir Putin, although these revelations have never been explained in detail; true to form for the Russian Mafia.
Dubbed the ‘Russian Rocket’ when arriving at the Vancouver Canucks in 1991, Bure’s eventual defection to Florida came amid rumors of dealing with underworld figures, never fully explaining himself to the media. This only made Bure more mysterious, as the stories were never refuted.
4 Ray Rice
From animal cruelty to concussion, the example of Ray Rice in the NFL opened a window to domestic violence. The former Baltimore Raven was literally caught in the act of assaulting his then fiancee, Janay Palmer, who is now his wife.
The sport came under major scrutiny when it handed down a mere two-game suspension for punching Palmer in the face, as the footage was leaked via TMZ. Despite Rice’s attorney stating that it was simply a case of a “minor physical altercation,” the TMZ vision showed Palmer’s limp body being dragged from an elevator after being knocked unconscious. While numerous other domestic violence incidents remain secret, Rice’s appalling act was there for the world to see.
3 Marion Jones
Marion Jones’ reputation and status as one of the greats of the track disappeared up in smoke when it was revealed the American athlete took a banned substance known as “the clear” in 1999 to prepare for Sydney 2000. Unsurprisingly, Jones went on to blitz her competitors and picked up five medals in the process.
Paving the way for other cheats to confess on Oprah, Jones was sentenced to six months in prison with a two-year probation and community service for lying to federal prosecutors in 2008. Sadly, Jones’ example of doping at athletic events was just the first of many more to come.
2 Rae Carruth
Some dark secrets are better left unexposed. Unfortunately in the case of Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth, no one will ever know what possessed him to conspire to murder his pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams in a drive-by shooting in 1999.
Now working as a janitor during an 18 year, 11 month prison sentence, his son Chancellor survived when doctors performed an emergency cesarean. Paralyzed for life by the shooting and now in the care of grandmother Saundra Adams, Chancellor is a living and breathing reminder of a self-inflicted family tragedy.
1 Lance Armstrong
In comparison to murder-suicides, domestic violence and mafia connections, drug cheating should be seen in relative context, but the case of Lance Armstrong transcended his sport more than anything else.
The now disgraced seven-time Tour de France winner and testicular cancer survivor lead a life as a beacon for hope, creating the Live Strong Foundation to tackle the disease. He symbolized all that was good about humanity, overcoming the toughest of obstacles to reach his goals.
When stories leaked that Armstrong not only doped to win the Tour, but lead an aggressively orchestrated campaign to smear and threaten those who wanted to speak the truth, Armstrong’s true character was there for all to see. He continues to deny complete culpability for his actions and slander others in the process.