Suspensions are something that have been a part of professional sports ever since leagues became organized. All sports have rules that must be followed both on and off the playing field. Things start to get controversial when professional athletes behave in inappropriate ways, which is typically done off the field. Now that everyone has a voice thanks to social media, the opportunity to say something out of line is greater than ever before.
Some of the athletes on this list have done some pretty horrific things, while others just got into fights or made bonehead comments. Whether it is a league commissioner or some type of committee who determines who gets suspended and for how long, there is always going to be some degree of controversy involved, especially when there is no precedent for the type of atrocity being committed.
Most of these athletes deserved to be suspended, but some of them certainly have a case why they should not have been. Either way, these 15 athletes’ suspensions were certainly controversial to say the least.
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15 Chris Sale
Wearing throwback jerseys is supposed to be a fun way for fans and players to celebrate the history of baseball. They are also a marketing ploy in order to be able to sell more varieties of jerseys which in turn may go towards paying the players’ salaries. During the 2016 season Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox pitched so well that he was named the starter for the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Just about a week later, the team brought in their retro jerseys for the players to wear when Sale was scheduled to start. He threw a tantrum, refusing to wear the jersey because it was not comfortable enough to pitch in. He then proceeded to use a knife to destroy the team’s jerseys while the rest of the team was attending batting practice. The White Sox decided to suspend Sale for five games for insubordination, giving him a terrible reputation in the process.
14 Draymond Green
Draymond Green is a very popular player who has even been called the MVP of the Golden State Warriors while Steph Curry is the MVP of the NBA, if that makes any sense. Even though some say he’s the third best player on the team (fourth now since Kevin Durant joined), Green is a very valuable piece to the historically good Warriors team. The spotlight was on him during the playoffs for a series of “dirty” plays with his elbows and legs seemingly flailing everywhere including into the bodies of his opponents. Green was finally suspended after receiving a flagrant foul in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals when he got tangled up with LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Green swung his arm towards James’ groin and was then suspended for by the league for his “retaliatory swipe” for Game 5 which Golden State lost. The rest was history as the Cavs were able to bring a title to Cleveland and you have to wonder if things would have played out different if Green cleaned up his act a bit.
13 Ben Roethlisberger
“Big” Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first six games of the 2010 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, although that was later changed to just four games. The quarterback missed those games without pay for his “violating of the NFL’s personal conduct policy”. What he actually did was kept quiet by the league, but this came stemming from a civil lawsuit filed against Roethlisberger for sexual assaulting a woman in his hotel room. He was forced to go through a league mandated “professional behavior evaluation” and had to “adhere to any counseling or treatment that is recommended by the professional evaluators”. Later on a second woman accused Ben of sexual assault. He was never charged with a crime, and became the only player in NFL history to be suspended under their personal conduct policy but not charged with an actual crime. Many fans seemed to have a short memory on this one, but this controversial suspension will forever be linked to his career.
12 Michael Vick
Michael Vick was famously suspended just before the 2007 season while playing for the Atlanta Falcons. He was charged with promoting, funding, and facilitating a dog fighting ring on his property. Vick did some horrible things while failing to cooperate with police and ended up spending 18 months in prison. He ended up being suspended for about two years, even though he spent most of that time in prison. Vick ended up being suspended for the first two games of the 2009 season. He attempted to make a few comebacks but never really amounted to much. The good news is that he seemed to be genuinely sorry for what he did and appeared to have learned his lesson and changed his ways. He last played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 and has not officially retired but announced he would play one more season in 2016, although he is currently a free agent.
11 Albert Belle
Albert Belle was a great player who spent most of his career with the Cleveland Indians and was known for being a great hitter and his stats backed it up. Belle won five Silver Slugger Awards and was a three time American League RBI leader and was the AL home run leader in 1995. The year before that he was suspended for using a corked bat and actually sent his teammate, relief pitcher Jason Grimsley, to break into the umpires’ room by climbing through panels in the ceiling in order to try and replace Belle’s corked bat with a clean one. That attempt failed and Belle ended up being suspended for just seven games. His reputation for being dirty lived on when he was fined, but not suspended, for hitting Brewers second baseman Fernando Vina with a nasty forearm shiver in 1996. He was on the ballot for the MLB Hall of Fame for a couple years but writers likely remembered his dirty tricks and kept him out of the club.
10 Adam “Pacman” Jones
Adam “Pacman” Jones is an interesting and controversial case and has been suspended by the league on multiple occasions. He was first suspended for the entire 2007 season while playing for the Titans for battery, felony coercion, and uttering a death threat. The altercation in question left one man paralyzed at the incident at a night club. Pacman appealed his suspension claiming that he was “just being rebellious”. He later withdrew his appeal and was faced with two felony charges. Jones was reinstated by the NFL in 2008 after what the league claimed was “demonstrating that he can conduct himself in a lawful and reliable manner”. Jones was reinstated but once again suspended, this time for an altercation with a bodyguard at a Dallas area hotel. He faced an indefinite suspension which was lowered to the minimum of four games during the 2008 season with the Cowboys. To this day many football fans are surprised that he is still in the league.
9 Robert Horry, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw
This notorious NBA playoff suspensions likely cost the Phoenix Suns from reaching the 2007 NBA Finals and possibly winning their first championship, after getting so close with their team led by Charles Barkley just a few years previous. During the 2007 Western Conference semifinals, Spurs player Robert Horry “strategically” fouled Steve Nash of the Suns which led to Phoenix players Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw trying to break up a fight. Those players ended up being suspended for what the league called “leaving the immediate vicinity of their bench”. This was a very controversial ruling that quite possibly changed the outcome of a playoff series to determine the Western Conference champions. Horry was suspended for two games while Amare and Boris were suspended for one. This incident just added fuel to the fire of a heated Suns/Spurs rivalry which somewhat still exists to this day.
8 Hope Solo
Hope Solo might be the best female goalkeeper in the world, but she certainly has a problem with keeping her own mouth shut. Solo has won two Olympic gold medals for the United States as well as a gold medal at the World Cup. Hope has been no stranger to controversy during her career and was arrested in 2014 and charged with two misdemeanor counts of assault in the 4th degree which were against her own nephew and half-sister. In 2010 she was suspended from the Atlanta Beat for one game due to multiple outbursts on Twitter. In 2015 Solo was suspended from the US Women’s National Team for a month for an incident during training camp. After the US team lost to Sweden at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Solo’s derogatory comments about Sweden resulted in her being suspended from the USWMNT for six months.
7 Malice at the Palace
The Malice at the Palace is one of the most infamous incidents in NBA history and possible in the history of sports in general. This brawl happened at the Palace of Auburn Hills between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers and took place on November 19, 2004. Tensions were already high when a fan threw a drink at Pacers star Ron Artest who was lying on the scorer’s table. Artest went after the fan in the stands which led to several other places joining the fray and fans and players going at it all over the arena. As a result, nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games which amounted to $11 million in lost salaries. Five of those players were charged with assault as well as a year of probation and community service, and even five fans faced criminal charges and were banned for life from Detroit home games. The players suspended were Ron Artest for 86 total games, Stephen Jackson for 30 games, Jermaine O’Neal for 15 games, Ben Wallace for six games, Anthony Johnson for five games, and Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Coleman, and Elden Campbell for one game each.
6 Adrian Peterson
One of the greatest running backs since the turn of the millennium, the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson always seemed to shine on the field and stay out of the spotlight off of it. It came as quite a surprise when he was indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child after punishing his son with a tree branch or “switch”. Peterson was deactivated for only one game by the Vikings before being suspended for the rest of the 2014 season in November. Photos turned up on TMZ of AD’s son’s legs with slash-like wounds on them which added to the public outrage. Peterson was placed on probation and ordered to serve 80 hours of community service. The league denied his appeal of his suspension and Peterson rejoined the team for the 2015 season. This incident led to much debate about the proper way to discipline children as well as cultural differences on the matter.
5 John Rocker
Atlanta Brave John Rocker had a featured story run in Sports Illustrated back in 1999 which detailed his experiences in New York City in which he made some very controversial comments, insulting both homosexuals and immigrants:
“Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing... The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”
For these comments, Rocker was suspended without pay for the first 28 games of the 2000 season, which was eventually cut in half to only 14 games after an appeal. The pitcher was later implicated in a steroid ring and actually admitted that he used steroids in 2011 when he released his autobiography. Rocker competed on the reality TV series Survivor in 2014 and has written columns for WorldNetDaily and been director of public affairs for Save Homeless Veterans. He says he has changed his ways and feels bad for his comments.
4 Ty Cobb
While no one reading this article will actually be able to remember what happened back in 1912, it is quite interesting to trace the history of controversial suspensions way back that far. Legendary baseball player Ty Cobb assaulted a fan who was heckling him, and that fan also happened to be handicapped which did not help Cobb’s case any. This incident resulted in a suspension for Cobb, and his Tigers teammates joined him in a protest strike which actually ended up being a precursor to the MLB players’ union. Ty described the incident in his memoirs as the fan being “a character who had ridden me hard in past New York appearances”. The man’s name was Claude Lucker, and the story goes that he only had two fingers left on both hands combined, while losing the rest to a printing press. Lucker made some pretty nasty comments and Cobb lost his cool and attacked him.
3 Tom Brady
The “Golden Boy” Tom Brady is one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time, so it seems a bit ridiculous that in the third paragraph of his obituary it will make mention of the “Deflategate” incident about Brady being responsible for footballs being deflated that gave the Patriots an edge in the AFC Championship game. This saga has been going on for over a year with Brady initially being suspended for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season. A series of appeals resulted in no suspension and it looked like the incident was behind him. Fast forward to March 2016 when the league appealed a Judge’s decision to vacate the suspension, which was then overturned the next month by the U.S. Appeals Court. It was then announced that the Golden Boy was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 NFL season. Brady started another series of appeals but finally decided to drop the case and take his suspension like a man, but certainly not without controversy.
2 Muhammad Ali
The world lost one of the best athletes of all time this year with the passing of Muhammad Ali. “The Greatest of All Time” was known for being tough both inside and outside of the ring but certainly did cause controversy during one point in his life. Ali was drafted into the United States Army in 1967 but he refused to serve. He did not dodge the draft, but flat out refused to join the service because he did not believe in going to war. As a result, The Greatest was stripped of his world championship boxing title and also banned from the sport of boxing. Ali’s boxing license was suspended by the state of New York which led to other regions following suit. Ali was also arrested and convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. Although his conviction was later overturned and he did not have to serve any time, Ali was unable to box for about four years during his prime.
1 Ray Rice
It seems like just last season when Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was involved in one of the most controversial suspensions of all time. Thanks to TMZ and the record everything on video culture we have, Rice’s career was ruined, although he certainly did a horrible thing that should not be excused under any circumstances. Ray and his fiancée Janay Palmer were both arrested in Atlantic City for the infamous elevator incident in which he struck her down and dragged her body out of the elevator. Even though the couple was later married, a grand jury indicted Rice on 3rd degree aggravated assault. For such a horrible crime, Rice was only suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season. On top of that, the criminal charges were dropped as he agreed to undergo court-supervised counseling. The Ravens terminated Rice’s contract and he was reinstated by the league in November 2014 but has not been signed by another team. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that he “didn’t get it right” in this case and announced longer suspensions lengths for future domestic violence incidents.
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