Athletes getting into trouble is nothing new, it’s practically a sport unto itself. There are many gold medalists in sports history when it comes to becoming a PR nightmare and there are many different categories and subcategories to be judged.
There are team sports athletes who have to somehow find a way to bring the whole team down with them,and solo athletes who have a much harder time in many ways, because the only public image they can harm is their own. Then there’s the sport they play in; NHL and MLS players have to work much harder to become a PR manager’s Jason Voorhees than NFL and NBA players do, but on the flipside it’s much more impressive when an NHLer grabs headlines for their stupid, violent, and/or drunk escapades.
Also to be taken into consideration is what the athlete did to get in trouble. Puking on a celebrity after getting drunk in public or crashing your car into a tree to escape your wife is funny. Abusing your wife or assaulting a gab driver over 20 cents in change, not so much.
Athletes certainly occupy a strange line between living their own private lives and being looked up to by millions of people. Unlike movie stars or other celebrities, they’re the ones holding the sports industry up: no athletes, no sports, so it’s much harder to deal with them on a PR level. What would be a stupid mistake or a terrible crime for an average person is blown up tenfold for athletes and the worst of the worst are remembered forever.
Whether they’re violent criminals, outspoken punks, or they simply saying something the coaches or owners don’t like, here’s our list of the Top 20 Athletes who are PR Nightmares.
20 Jay Cutler
Nobody likes Jay Cutler. That’s just how things are. He has a permanent smug look on his face, he’s immature on the field, he started a fight with Philip Rivers back in his Denver days and he’s nowhere near as good as the NFL thinks he is.
In 9 years in the NFL, Cutler has achieved next to nothing and his stats have been consistently mediocre, yet somehow he keeps ending up with the big contracts, like the 7 year, $126 million dollar deal he signed in 2014 with Chicago. When he was injured in 2013, backup Josh McCown performed better in the role and when he took himself out of a playoff game in 2010, fans destroyed him because the injury didn’t look so bad, and he was seen running along the sideline after, laughing with teammates as his team was losing.
He’s not as bad as some other athletes on this list, but it’s so easy to dislike Cutler, how could we not put him on here?
19 Kobe Bryant
Much like Cutler, Kobe doesn’t have too many fans in the NBA, though since he’s a proven winner, people are much more willing to forgive him.
His mouth has gotten him in trouble more than once though, constantly promising his team will win even when they’re terrible, forcing Shaq out of LA, and constantly clashing with head coach Phil Jackson.
Worse than being talkative or a ball-hawk, Bryant was accused in 2003 of sexually assaulting a hotel employee. The case was dropped when the accuser refused to testify, but a later civil suit resulted in a settlement. They say that winning in sports is the cure-all that can put any troubles to bed, but Kobe required a little more, a jersey number change, and all was forgiven by his fan base.
18 Sean Avery
Sean Avery is the epitome of a hockey player. He’s brash, arrogant, is missing a few front teeth, and he’s always willing to start a fight. Except, unlike most hockey players, Avery doesn’t know when to stop and he doesn’t quite know where the line is either.
When the biggest section of your Wikipedia page is devoted to your controversies on and off the ice, you know you’re a PR disaster. The early signs where there, when Red Wings GM Ken Holland said he traded away the young talent in 2003 because Avery didn’t respect the game. From there on, things only got worse for whatever team had to deal with him.
In his career, Avery allegedly made fun of Jason Blake’s battle with leukemia, yelled obscenities at fans, made a particularly poor taste “sloppy seconds” comment, and had a major feud with head coach John Tortorella.
Avery is best known for the Avery Rule, which was created after Avery turned his back to the play in a playoff game against the Devils, trying (and succeeding) to distract goaltender Martin Brodeur.
He’s been fined and suspending multiple times throughout his career, yet even now he doesn’t regret any of it, insisted that he had to make himself the most hated man in the NHL to be an effective player.
17 Manny Ramirez
Manny Rodriguez was a really good baseball player, but he wasn’t good enough to escape from his off the field troubles. Most recently, his career was effectively ended by a 50 game suspension for PED use in 2009, then he quickly retired in 2010 to avoid another PED ban.
But before that, there was “Manny being Manny,” what started as a series of jokes by Manny that made him endearing in their own way. But the jokes soon wore thin and Ramirez was forced out of every team he played for, most notably when he refused to play in his final year with the Red Sox.
16 Tiger Woods
In November 2010, the world’s greatest golfer and poster boy athlete crashed his car leaving his own home. What followed from there were allegations that he was running from his wife, a slew of super models and women stating that they were all having affairs with Tiger. Advertisers began to cut ties with him, and golf reporters and fellow golfers began telling stories about how he would swear and insult other golfers on the tour.
The heat’s died down over the years, but only because of the increasingly poor play of Tiger and his inability to win anything. But at the peak of the scandal, no one wanted to touch Tiger with a 20 foot golf club.
15 DeMarcus Cousins
While not an NBA superstar, Cousins is actually a really good player. He’s so good he could be a superstar, if he would actually put in the time and effort it takes to get there.
Cousins is known around the league as someone who doesn’t always give 100%. He’s also been known to get into fights and has even been said to have “mental issues” by O.J. Mayo, whom he’s also started a fight with.
Worst of all is that his immense talent and potential have failed to make the Sacramento Kings an even decent team, they’ve been struggling for years with or without him. Winning cures everything, but failing to do so only makes the problems worse.
This has led to new coach George Karl wanting to trade away Cousins, but ownership has refused, creating an explosive situation between coach and player. Worse still, fans and teammates are picking sides between Karl and Cousins. Ownership might not seem to care, but the team’s PR division must be tearing their hair out right now.
14 James Harrison
Harrison is loved in Pittsburgh for his brashness and refusal to bow down to the NFL and its new safety rules. However, outside the Steel City, and beyond the NFL, Harrison’s gun-toting self-described “NFL Hitman” mentality has drawn several critics. He’s also refused to visit the White House after winning the Super Bowl, bad-mouthing both Barack Obama and George W. Bush in the process.
The worst came in 2008, when Harrison was arrested on domestic violence charges stemming from his then girlfriend wanting to baptize their son and Harrison refusing. Wide receiver Cedric Wilson was also arrested on domestic violence charges at the same time, however when the Steelers chose to keep star Defensive End Harrison, they cut Wilson, a receiver buried on the depth chart.
Mixing domestic violence with religion will never turn out well, however as stated multiple times throughout this article, winning cures everything. After he retired in 2014, the Steelers asked him to return to fill up their injured defense and he has since signed a new two year contract, a move the Steelers PR team can’t be too happy about.
13 Rob Gronkowski
While he’s never broken the law (as far as we know), the Patriots can’t be too happy with “The Gronk’s” off the field antics.
Whether he’s dancing shirtless at a strip club, taking his new motorboat for a ride, taking shirtless pictures with an adult entertainer, and the “Summer of Gronk” in 2012, straight-laced owner Robert Kraft has probably had to up his heart medication several times since drafting the star Tight End.
Views of Gronk are mixed; maybe you view him as a 20-something year old kid who just wants to have fun or maybe you view him as some kind of terror to society. Either way, he’s quickly becoming the face of the Patriots in lieu of the Tom Brady “Deflategate” scandal and Robert Kraft is going to have to up his dosage of heart pills yet again.
12 Dwight Howard
Most athletes show their true colors early in their career, but not Howard. Dwight Howard started his career as “one of the good guys.” He worked hard, kept his head down, and didn’t talk to the media. That is, until one day he decided he didn’t want to be in Orlando anymore.
This kicked off years of complaining to the media about how he wanted to leave Orlando, but not really, then yeah actually I do want to leave to no I don’t want to leave, come to think of it. Eventually he burned his bridges, demanding the Magic either trade him or fire head coach Stan Van Gundy.
The front office had enough and Howard eventually found his way to the Lakers, which kicked off several mediocre seasons for the once great team. Howard again waffled back and forth about whether or not he wanted to be there, complained about his lack of opportunities to make big plays, and was called “soft” by Kobe Bryant, a nuclear bomb sent straight from PR hell.
Howard’s found a way to keep his head down in Houston, where he’s actually an integral part of a really good team. Still, the front office must be biting their nails at the thought of Howard going back to his old ways.
11 John Terry
The day after September 11, 2001, Terry got drunk at a bar in a hotel and mocked US tourists, along with two other teammates. Somehow, this is only the tip of the iceberg for the Chelsea captain.
John Terry has had multiple parking tickets for parking in handicapped spots, assaulted a bouncer at a bar, has been caught urinating in public multiple times, got a teammate's wife pregnant, sent graphic texts to underage girls, racially abused a teammate, and oh yeah, he also tried to pay off the teammates wife whom he got pregnant.
If you don’t see the walking PR disaster this guy is, then stop reading, Terry.
10 Dez Bryant
While at Oklahoma State, Bryant racked up a $861,350 bill for jewelry, which he purchased with credit. That either screams arrogance or confidence, depending on whether or not you’re a Cowboy’s fan, but the retailer didn’t care and sued the Wide Receiver in 2011 because Bryant never paid it off.
Like many other athletes on this list, Bryant has been arrested for domestic violence. Not for striking his wife or girlfriend, as if that matters, but his own mother. Granted this is the same mother who was arrested for dealing drugs when Bryant was eight years old, but does that justify it?
No, is the answer.
9 Alex Rodriguez
Need I say more than just his name? Contractually, yes, I do.
For years he denied PED use, until coming clean in 2009. But that wasn’t true, Rodriguez only partially came clean, saying that he stopped using steroids before he became a Yankee.
Rodriguez was using HGH up until 2013 when he was caught buying from Biogenesis of America, which got A-Rod banned for 211 games. Even today among fellow PED users, A-Rod is still targeted as a continuing steroid user.
Earlier in his career, Rodriguez consistently struggled in the postseason. There’s nothing fans hate more than an overpaid superstar not performing well in the postseason. He eventually turned the struggles around, but the aforementioned steroids might have had something to do with that.
Above all, people just love to hate A-Rod, including the Yankees organization itself. How does a marketing executive deal with potentially one of the best players to ever play the game taking steroids and becoming hated by his own team?
8 Ndamukong Suh
Suh started his NFL career being known as a tough, gritty player. However that reputation quickly evolved into “bully.” A poll conducted by Sporting News amongst fellow players, Suh was named the dirtiest in the NFL.
To date, Suh has forfeited a total of $611,169 due to suspensions and fines from the NFL for his play, including kicking former Houston QB Matt Schaub in the groin, slamming former Browns QB Jake Delhomme by the neck and bashing Green Bay G Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the ground and stomping on his chest.
Nothing says “tough player” like aggravated assault. Unlike Harrison though, Suh doesn’t have many supporters, because instead of attacking the league, Suh takes his anger out on other players, intentionally trying to hurt them.
That could be the reason why the Lions let him go this offseason and why the Dolphins were so eager to pick him up after losing Richie Incognito.
7 Patrick Kane
Well, Kane was originally going to be lower on this list due to assaulting a cab driver over 20 cents in change. Now things have changed. Now Kane has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his own home.
The Hamburg police in New York have confirmed they’re investigating him for an "incident that allegedly occurred" between Kane and a local woman. He may be innocent, but this is one of the worst crimes you can commit and that kind of cloud hanging over Kane and the team is not good for anyone involved.
6 The 49ers' (Former) Defensive Line
Ray McDonald and Aldon Smith are one of the most devastating combos in the NFL… to a team’s PR department. The 49ers eventually wised up and cut them both, but not after the damage was done.
Ray McDonald was arrested in Santa Clara due to domestic violence, but he was never charged. Not being an elite player, the 49ers released him immediately. The Bears immediately picked him up, which caused a firestorm in Chicago and the rest of the NFL. Two months after signing with the Bears, Smith was arrested on charges of domestic violence, which would later become false imprisonment as well.
Aldon Smith was recently released by the 49ers after his third DUI arrest. Smith is also under suspicion of committing a hit and run. Aldon has also been arrested in the past for illegal procession of an assault weapon, driving under the influence of marijuana, and threatening a TSA agent and saying he had a bomb. Unlike McDonald, however, Smith is a really good football player and already teams are lining up to sign him.
Never change, NFL, never change.
5 Greg Hardy
Hardy was arrested on domestic violence charges and threatening his girlfriend on May 13, 2014. After continuing to play the following season, the Hardy case was dropped when the girlfriend didn’t show up to testify. Everything looked good for Hardy until September 2014, when Hardy was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, which means he couldn’t play, but he was getting paid.
That changed on April 22nd, 2015 when Roger Goodell suspended Hardy the first 10 games of the 2015 season, after signing with the Dallas Cowboys. This suspension was later lifted to 4 games due to an arbitrator.
What an “interesting” scenario we have. Roger Goodell, whom everyone hates for having too much power, uses that power to suspend a guy who was accused of domestic violence, which is then lightened by the Player’s Association’s arbitrator whom everyone also hates for defending wife beaters and convicts. Then, the Dallas Cowboys, who willingly signed this player as soon as they could, reinforce their status as the most hated team in the NFL with an owner like Jerry Jones, who previously stated that domestic violence was “intolerable” six months before the signing.
Please change, NFL, please change.
4 Jameis Winston
He “allegedly” sexually assaulted a woman and stole crab legs from a grocery store, but he also allegedly sexually assaulted a woman.
By all accounts, Winston is immature at best, and a danger to those around him, particularly women, at worst. Erica Kinsman, the woman who accused Winston of sexual assault in 2012, appeared in the documentary “The Hunting Grounds,” detailing the alleged incident and aftermath.
"I was subjected to a number of death threats, and my parents' home and work addresses were posted online,” she said. “I have had my most horrible life experience played out and debated in local and national media that couldn't care a less about me."
None of this stopped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from selecting him #1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, because they needed a quarterback.
3 Ray Rice
Shifting gears away from the NFL… oh, wait.
Rice was arrested for beating his fiancée to the point of knocking her out. Video then surfaced of Rice dragging her out of the elevator and dropping her on the floor. The ensuing drama was the beginning of a long cavalcade of the previously listed NFL stars having domestic violence problems. Rice was suspended, then he wasn’t, but then he was again.
The NFL were seen as clueless buffoons for waiting to act, then as power hungry after some thought they acted too harshly. The NFL Player’s Association were also damaged by this for repeatedly defending Rice, knowing for a fact he beat his fiancée and using the situation to attack Roger Goodell anyway.
Fans and reporters calling for their team to “get off their high horse” and sign Rice have and will meet similar PR disasters. One can hope, at least.
2 Hope Solo
Finally, something that doesn’t involve a woman being assaulted by a man. This time, it’s a woman being assaulted by another woman. At least the NFL isn’t involved this time.
Solo’s half-sister and her son were allegedly both assaulted by the star goalie one night after Solo got drunk. ESPN reports that she was subdued by police officers after continuing to threaten and yell insults at the pair even after she was put in handcuffs.
The ESPN report also proves that Solo was lying when she said she had been cleared in court, but instead that the judge dismissed the case on procedural grounds and that the accusers are filing an appeal with the Washington state Supreme Court.
The story broke right before the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and hung over Team USA like a black cloud, until they won and no one seemed to remember anything about a salt or quarts of cream.
1 Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather doesn’t need to be in a team sport to cause massive headaches to his PR staff. That’s mostly because he clearly doesn’t have one, but partially because he doesn’t seem to understand that you can’t punch people (i.e. women) when they’re not in the ring.
Instead of talking about his domestic violence arrests and convictions (all four of them), let’s instead talk about Mayweather’s continued denial, despite the arrests, convictions, documented evidence, and violent tendencies in and out of the ring. In a documentary aired on ESPN, at the same time the story involving the latest woman he beat was breaking out, Stephen A. Smith walked with Mayweather on a tour of his luxury house, laughing about all the fun times he’s had.
Let’s also talk about celebrity culture, and how half of the music industry showed up to support Mayweather, including Beyoncé, Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, Justin Beiber, and even Donald Trump.
Mayweather is a one man PR wrecking machine, bringing down the entire sport of boxing, ESPN, the celebrities that associate with him, and not to mention his own brand. In some sort of last stand, he banned Michele Beadle and Rachel Nichols from covering the fight (because somehow he can do that) because they called boxing fans to boycott the fight, but not Keith Olberman who did the exact same thing.
There’s your PR nightmare.