Professional athletes are supposed to be positive role models and good citizens, and this is because they are idolized by millions and constantly in the public eye. In many cases professional athletes are positive role models and conduct themselves well, but of course this is not always the case. Often athletes will break rules, act violently, gamble, have questionable substances found in their blood work and generally not be who you would want your kids looking up to.
It is inevitable that professional athletes will break the rules from time to time, and there are also many repeat offenders. The way that all professional sports deal with this is through fining the player and handing down a suspension. Too often the fine will be pocket change to these multi-millionaires, so it is the suspensions that will hit them where it hurts. The length of these suspensions will depend on the nature of the crime, with some being just one game all the way through to lifetime suspensions and seeing them stripped of their titles. These suspensions can be particularly effective and stop someone from repeat offending, as in addition to letting themselves down, they are also letting down their teammates, the coaching staff and of course the fans as well.
Throughout sports history there have been some whopping suspensions handed down which have drastically altered the sport and tarnished both reputations and careers.
This list will only include suspensions that took place during a player's career, so Pete Rose's lifetime ban will not be mentioned here, as it occurred after his playing career.
Here are the longest 15 suspensions in sports history.
15 Latrell Sprewell (68 games)
One guaranteed way to find yourself on the suspension list is to attack and choke your coach, which is exactly what former All-Star player Latrell Sprewell did in 1997. This occurred during a Golden State Warriors practice, where Sprewell snapped and choked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, before Sprewell returned 20 minutes later to continue his attack and threaten to kill his coach. The commissioner suspended Sprewell for the remainder of the season, but an arbitrator then reduced this to 68 games. He would lose $6.4 million and his shoe deal with Converse, as well as never play for the Warriors again. Sprewell would go on to play for the Knicks and Timberwolves, where he played well at both teams but his off-court issues soon ruined his career and he faded into obscurity.
14 Guillermo Mota (100 games)
In 2006, relief pitcher Guillermo Mota was suspended for 50 games after failing a drug test that revealed he had taken performance enhancing drugs. Fast forward to 2012 and Mota would again fail a drug test, after it was discovered that he had Clentbuterol in his system. Being a repeat offender, he was handed a 100-game ban which would mean that upon his return the Giants would have around 34 games remaining. Mota’s agent, Adam Katz, stated that the substance was found in children’s cough medicine and this is why it was found in his system. *Cough, sounds slightly suspicious…
13 Eric Cantona (8 months)
Eric Cantona is remembered for some brilliant moments on the football pitch, but also one moment of madness that saw him pick up a lengthy eight month suspension and ruin his reputation. In a match against Crystal Palace in 1995, Cantona was sent off for a kick on Palace defender Richard Shaw. Then, as Cantona was walking towards the tunnel, he performed a now infamous ‘Kung-Fu’ style kick into the crowd at a fan that was hurling abuse at the United forward. He was arrested and convicted of assault, but instead of a two week prison sentence he was ordered 120 hours of community service. The F.A suspended Cantona for eight months and the incident is still one of the most memorable in Premier League history.
At a press conference after the incident, Cantona delivered a world famous quote before getting up and leaving; “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown in the sea. Thank you very much.”
12 Donte Stallworth (2009 season)
Former wide receiver Donte Stallworth’s life changed forever on the morning of March 14th, 2009. Stallworth struck and killed a pedestrian with his car in Florida, and after admitting to drinking the night before they found that he was over the legal limit and he was charged with DUI manslaughter. Stallworth served a 30 day jail-sentence, two years house arrest, eight years probation amongst other restrictions and he reached an out of court settlement with the family. He was suspended by the NFL for the 2009 season, and he would then sign with the Baltimore Ravens in 2010. He has post traumatic stress disorder and is haunted by what has happened, but this pales compared to the ordeal the family of the victim had to go through. Stallworth has since given speeches to NFL rookies about the consequences of drink driving.
11 Ron Artest (86 games)
Over the years Ron Artest/Metta World Peace has provided us with plenty of strange yet entertaining behavior, but there have also been a few disturbing times. Most notable is his large role in The Malice in the Palace, which saw him climb into the stands and attack fans after a brawl broke out on the court. Artest was lying on the scorers table when a fan threw a drink at him, which caused Artest to explode and go on a rampage before a few of his Indiana teammates joined him in the stands. It remains one of the most bizarre and infamous incidents in all of sports, and resulted in nine players serving a combined 146 game suspension. Artest faced the brunt of this, missing the remainder of the season and playoffs which totaled 86 games. Although his reputation was somewhat damaged, Artest went on to have a successful NBA career which saw him pick up a ring in Los Angeles, as well as a new name – Metta World Peace. Confusing, I know.
10 Nick Diaz (1 year)
MMA Fighter Nick Diaz was suspended for a year by the Nevada state athletic commission in 2012 for failing his post-fight drug test following his UFC 143 fight. The test came back positive for marijuana metabolites, something that Diaz had been suspended for back in 2007 but he claims that he uses it for his ADHD and not for competition. He did admit to using it for training and to improve his focus, and consequently he faced a year on the sidelines and had to forfeit 30% of his fight purse. Diaz would later once again tested positive for marijuana metabolites after a post-fight test in 2014. Some people never learn…
9 Marty McSorley (1 year)
On the 21st of February, 2000, Marty McSorley stunned the world when he swung his stick and hit Donald Brashear in the head, causing him to fall and hit his head on the ice and suffer a Grade III concussion. He was suspended for the remainder of the season (23 games), and he was charged with assault. He was then found guilty of assault with a weapon, becoming the first player on trial for an on-ice attack by an NHL player since Dino Ciccarelli in 1988. He was sentenced to 18 months probation and his suspension was extended to a year. He would never play in the NHL again.
8 Alex Rodriguez (162 games)
In August 2013, A-Rod was suspended for a whopping 211 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. This was later reduced to 162 games as he was allowed to play during the appeal process, which meant that he would miss the entire 2014 season. Had the original suspension been upheld, it would have been the lengthiest suspension in MLB history that was not a lifetime suspension. The suspension has since ended, and upon returning to the Yankees A-Rod has passed Willie May’s for 4th place on the all-time home run list with number 661.
7 Mariano Puerta (8 years but reduced to 2 years)
Argentina’s Mariano Puerta had a particularly difficult time during the 2005 French open, as not only would he lose in the final to Rafael Nadal, but afterwards he would be banned from the sport for eight years, lose his ranking points and forfeit his £300,000 prize money. The reason? A doping test after the final revealed he had the banned stimulant etilefrine in his system, and as a repeat offender for an infraction in 2003 he was handed down a mighty suspension that would effectively end his career. Puerta appealed the charge and it was reduced to two years after it was confirmed the amount detected would not have impacted his performance.
6 Billy Coutu (life but reduced to 2 years)
During the 1927 Stanley Cup Final, Billy Coutu bizarrely assaulted one referee and tackled another, causing a bench-clearing brawl. He was apparently requested by Bruins coach Art Ross to start a brawl, but I’m not sure assaulting the referee was quite what he had in mind. He was handed a suspension for life, something that has not been seen again since in the NHL. The ban was lifted two years later, but he would never play in the NHL again and found himself in more trouble whilst playing in the Canadian-American Hockey League.
5 Muhammad Ali (3.5 years)
Even the greatest of all time found himself hit with a lengthy suspension, but it did little to stop his remarkable legacy or reputation. After Ali received a draft notice to fight in the Vietnam War in 1967, he refused and stated that his religious beliefs prevent him from fighting in war. Consequently, Ali was stripped of his title and he was suspended from boxing for three and a half years. A few years after his suspension was lifted, Ali was once again heavyweight champion of the world and continued his famous career as the greatest boxer of all time.
4 Merle Hapes (life but reduced to 8 years)
New York Giants fullback Merle Hapes’s NFL career came to an end after he notified authorities that he had been offered a bribe to fix the 1946 championship game, despite the fact that Hapes did not take the bribe. The NFL handed down a lifetime ban to Hapes for conversing with a known gambler (Alvin Paris) in what is deemed to be “acts detrimental to the NFL”, but they would then lift the ban eight years later. Hapes never played in the NFL again, but he would play in the Canadian Football League. The other player offered a bribe, Frank Filchock, denied being offered money and consequently he was allowed to play in the championship game (although he would too face suspension).
3 Art Schlichter (life)
Many professional athletes have a penchant for gambling, and sadly this often ruins their career. This is what happened to former QB Art Schlichter, who had a serious gambling problem even during his college days. Once turning pro, he would be suspended indefinitely but reinstated after a year, but this did little to help Schlichter. In 1987, he would be arrested for his involvement in a multi-million dollar sports betting operation and this would be the last straw for Schlichter, who received a lifetime suspension. Things have turned from bad to worse for the troubled former Ohio State star, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2014 for his involvement in a million-dollar ticket scam.
2 Stanley Wilson (life)
It is the dream of every NFL player to play in the Super Bowl, but unfortunately for Stanley Wilson the excitement and nerves from reaching this ended his career and ultimately ruined his life. On the eve of Super Bowl XXIII, the running back (who had served two separate suspensions for cocaine use) was found in the bathroom high and doing lines of cocaine, leaving his team no choice but to leave him off the roster. They would lose the game, and Wilson would be suspended for life as it was his third offense. A decade later, Wilson was sentenced to 22 years in jail for burglary.
1 Lance Armstrong (life)
The Lance Armstrong saga shook the entire sporting world to its very core, and the sport of cycling has not fully recovered from the scandal. Here was a man that was idolized by millions, had survived testicular cancer and started the Livestrong Foundation, as well as dominated road racing for many years. He was then exposed for not just taking performance enhancing drugs, but also being the ringleader for what was called “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”. This marked the most epic fall from grace in sports, and Armstrong was given a lifetime ban from all sports that follow the World Anti-Doping Agency code, and he was also stripped of his seven titles that he won between 1999 - 2005. The president of the International Cycling Union stated “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten”. After such an astonishing scandal, that seems a little unlikely.