Professional athletes often reach heights that average people couldn’t even imagine, living a lifestyle that is only dreamed about. Even among these elite jocks, some rise above all others to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Imagine pursuing your dream since you were a kid and finally obtaining it as an adult; no stop and really think about it. Would you use your new found power and status to help others, or maybe you would just take care of yourself and family. No matter what you decided you would do, imagine if the people who helped you along the way all turned on you after you hit rock bottom.
Now I know what you are thinking, and yes, for the most part athletes do get what they deserve in the long run. The ones who hit rock bottom are the ones who were cheaters, dirty players, drug users, etc… But does a bad or tarnished reputation justify negating an athlete's entire career? It is a question that all sports fans have to explore eventually with the scandals that seem to pop up more often than not.
Now we all know that cold blooded murder is wrong, but what if an athlete killed another person in self defense? And what if the trial that followed the murder divided opinions on whether or not the athlete was guilty or not? Finally what if that accused athlete had one of the greatest runs of all time in their respective sport, and after being found innocent was allowed to play again? In the scenario presented above, could you as a fan ever disassociate that murder trial from that player?
It is pretty obvious that people will be shouting “RAY LEWIS” out loud after reading the previous paragraph, but it raises an interesting point. Lewis, who is a two time Super Bowl Champion, was able to overcome his legal troubles after being found not to be guilty in a suspected murder. On the other hand some athletes like (spoiler alert) O.J. Simpson, who have beat their criminal case in court, are openly called murderers by media, and fans alike.
Today we are going to take a look at the top 15 cases of an athlete having a tarnished reputation. This list will include athletes who, when spoken about usually have the phrase, “oh he was good but remember he did…” attached to them. As always feel free to leave your comments below and let us know who we missed.
15 Michael Vick
It seemed like just yesterday Michael Vick was on top of the world, signing lucrative sponsorship deals, and being voted into the NFL Pro Bowl. Today Vick is a shell of his former self, still fighting off negativity stemming from his conviction over dog fighting in 2007.
Even though Vick has served his time in jail, and become an advocate for the Humane Society in urban areas, he still is vilified in parts of the media. His choices and subsequent punishments will forever live on in the zeitgeist of American sports, way after his football career is over.
14 Mike Tyson
Most people forget that Mike Tyson finished his career with a record of 50-6, with 44 of his wins being by the way of knockout. His record may have been even better, if we would have actually trained hard for every fight. Despite all of that, Tyson is remembered as the menace who threatened reporters, the goof who sang karaoke in The Hangover film series, and the lunatic who bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear off during a fight.
Tyson has regained some stature after cleaning up his act a few years ago, but his legacy should have be greater than it is now. Tyson should be remembered as the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time.
13 Lamar Odom
What happened to the two time NBA World Champion and 2011 “Sixth Man of the Year” Lamar Odom? After a successful run with the Los Angeles Lakers, Odom was traded for a first round pick to the Dallas Mavericks in 2012. Soon after Odom imploded, both personally and professionally.
His meltdown which involved a steep drop off in production in the NBA, and drug use allegations was documented on his reality show as well as through the paparazzi. Lamar Odom has effectively disappeared from all media, and our lasting memory of him will be of TMZ accusing the star of smoking crack and taking prescription pills.
12 Kobe Bryant
It is a well known fact that many athletes cheat on their spouses during the height of their career, but when Kobe Bryant was alleged to have committed adultery by the way of rape, his image was never the same. Bryant already had a few strikes against him in the eyes of some fans, including getting Shaquille O’Neal traded from the Lakers, and being an arrogant show off.
The Kobe hate hit critical mass in 2004 when the superstar had to stand trial for his alleged crimes against an “innocent” woman. Luckily for the Black Mamba he was found not guilty, and won a few championships since then. Rest assured that if Bryant’s game would have fallen apart during that hard time in his life, his image would have never had a chance to recover.
11 Ben Roethlisberger
Much like NBA star Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger has had to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct since entering the NFL in 2004. The reason he ranks higher than Mr. Bryant on this list, is because he has been alleged to have committed sexual assault twice in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
Both times he was accused, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was able to provide enough evidence to not be arrested. Despite not actually commiting these crimes, perception is reality, and many people still call the Super Bowl champion “Rapelesberger” when discussing the Steelers.
10 Tiger Woods
Formerly one of the highest paid athletes in the world, Tiger Woods nearly lost everything after being exposed as a serial cheater in 2009. After reports surfaced of Woods’ then wife Elin Nordegren chasing the golfing superstar down their driveway while wielding a club, reporters began digging and discovered a long history of infidelity on the part of Woods.
After just two weeks Woods number of confirmed mistresses was up to 14, and after a 15th was revealed, Woods lost sponsorship with Gatorade, Gillette, and Nike. As the years have passed since his scandal, many fans believe that the “old” Tiger will make a return, but age, injury, and apparent mental blocks have hindered Woods, and with no wins since it happened, his legacy will be forced to take a back seat to his scandal.
9 Alex Rodriguez
It’s pretty ironic that Alex Rodriguez is one of the least liked players in sports, and played on the same team as one of the most respected athletes of all time (Derek Jeter) for more than 10 years. A-Rod’s falling from grace began when his stats began to dwindle in the late 2000s.
Besides playing poorly while signed to the highest contract in baseball history, A-Rod also was accused of taking performance enhancing drugs, which angered baseball purists. In addition Rodriguez’s inner circle release documents implicating 12 other players in steroid use, who otherwise would not have been accused. After his 211 game suspension in 2014, Rodriguez will most likely be remembered as an asterisk in the baseball history books, despite his high career stats.
8 Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson should have had two lasting legacies in the NFL, first he should have been remembered as one of the baddest running backs in the modern era; second, as a superhuman who recovered from an ACL tear in only nine months. Unfortunately the poster boy for the Minnesota Viking was forced to endure a scandal that will likely haunt the rest of his career.
In 2014 AP turned himself in to authorities after being accused of reckless or negligent injury to a child, specifically the child was his son. Peterson was fully cooperative with authorities, but admitted that he “whooped” his son with a “switch” from a tree. After photos of Peterson’s son were released, the world was calling the rushing champion a "child beating thug".
In the end, Peterson pleaded guilty, and received a slap on the wrist, small fine, and some community service hours, but is still considered a “thug” by a majority of the general public.
7 Lance Armstrong
Nothing says tarnished record, like having seven Tour de France titles stripped from you at one time for cheating. Lance Armstrong had to endure this embarrassment after it was revealed that he had cheated his way to the top by using performance enhancing drugs.
Prior to being exposed, Armstrong had been the living embodiment of perseverance, seemingly beating cancer and overcoming all odds in his pursuit of greatness. Armstrong lost everything as a result of his scandal, including his Livestrong charity, his titles and medals, and the trust of the public. Armstrong said it best in 2013:
“It’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome and it’s inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that, I do.”
6 Barry Bonds
Never has the word “asterisk” been used so many times during an athlete's career, than when describing Barry Bonds’ 22 seasons in the majors. The former San Francisco Giant surpassed Hank Aaron on the all time home run list in 2007, amid nearly a decade of controversial allegations regarding his use of steroids.
Though he was finally cleared of his perjury charges in April of 2015, Bonds still seems to be a long shot for the MLB Hall of Fame. His name will always be synonymous with steroids, leaving his legacy permanently stained.
5 Ray Rice
Ray Rice’s 2014 domestic abuse scandal not only tarnished his reputation, but the entire NFL’s reputation as well. The world stopped when a video was released of the Baltimore Raven Pro Bowl running back punching his fiancee unconscious in a New Jersey hotel elevator. The clip instantly went viral, and resulted in Rice being suspended indefinitely, a much more harsh punishment than his initial two game suspension.
There has been no redemption story for Rice, who has yet to find a new employer in the NFL. Maybe he has had his name dragged through the mud too much, similar to the way he dragged his unconscious fiancee out of the elevator for an NFL team to take a chance on him.
4 Hulk Hogan
As each year goes by, it seems like Hulk Hogan digs his reputation’s grave deeper and deeper into the ground. First it was his highly publicized divorce from ex-wife Linda Hogan in 2009, then his sex tape was leaked in 2012, and just this year the Hulkster has been the center of a huge racism scandal.
When he finally broke his silence regarding his racist rant in July of 2015, Hogan stated that the incident happened during the lowest point in his life. The rant which contained several words that started with the letter “N”, subsequently resulted in Hogan being removed from all WWE publications and history books…Oh brother.
3 Joe Paterno
A former quarterback for Brown University, Joe Paterno is probably best known for his coaching career. The legendary Penn State coach led the football program for nearly half a century before being fired amid a child abuse sex scandal in 2011. Though Paterno was not directly involved in the abuse, prosecutors claimed that he had prior knowledge and simply swept the abuse “under the rug”.
Since his death shortly after the scandal broke, everyone has put in their own two cents regarding how his legacy should be handled. Some think he should be erased completely, essentially wiping out the last 45 years of Penn State history, others think he should have a statue placed in front of Beaver Stadium for his accomplishments. It is a debate that is sure to continue, but with that conversation continuing, so will stories of young boys being violated at State College.
2 O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson seemingly had it all, a historic NFL run, a successful Hollywood career, and nothing but clear skies in his foreseeable future. Unfortunately for the NFL Hall of Famer, he was accused of brutally murdering his wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994, and took part in one of the biggest court cases/American spectacles of all time.
Though he would eventually be acquitted of all criminal charges, Simpson would go on to lose his civil case against the family of Nicole Brown. Over the course of the years that followed his acquittal, Simpson would continue to tarnish his reputation by writing a book called If I Did It, which was stylized so that the word “If” was barely visible. Eventually Simpson would be convicted and jailed on a separate charge, which puts him near the top of this list and a first ballot “Hall of Shamer”.
1 Chris Benoit
WWE has basically blackballed Chris Benoit from history following the murder/suicide of the former World Champion and his family in 2007. Although the facts of what happened that day in Atlanta, Georgia are up for debate, we do know some things for sure.
We know that a former Royal Rumble winner, WrestleMania main eventer, and Triple Crown Champion will never be put into wrestling's biggest Hall of Fame. Unlike Hulk Hogan who will undoubtedly be back with the company, there is no redemption story for Chris Benoit, his reputation is forever tarnished.