Athletes, indeed any famous person, are just like any of us. They go to work, go home, sometimes to their families, sometimes to an empty house, go grocery shopping, and pick their kids up from school. Sometimes the idea of that simple life isn’t the case though. Sometimes, athletes like to go on massive spending sprees. They feed their vices or they make terrible decisions, again, much like any of us.
While athletes and celebrities have a much better chance at coming back from the deep end than us, some athletes don’t get that chance. Their fame, fortune, and respect are gone, and their playing days are well behind them. What happens to athletes then? Some people just aren’t qualified to do much other than throw a ball around a field, or run really fast.
For years, athletes have found themselves losing everything and not having a way to climb back into society. When that happens, people tend to take notice. If nothing else, it makes a good example of how not to live your life. Whether they blew their fortunes on pet tigers, committed the most heinous of crimes, or plain got really unlucky, here’s our list of the Top 20 Athletes Who Threw Everything Away.
Let this be the example that perhaps changes your life, or at least entertains you for a few minutes.
20 Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth was a standout wide receiver at Colorado in the early 90s, playing alongside Kordell Stewart and receiving All-American honors. He helped his team win a Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl before being drafted 27th overall by the Carolina Panthers in 1997.
His first year was promising, hauling in 545 yards and 4 touchdowns. But his career was cut short in his third season when he was arrested for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend.
Carruth was found guilty of conspiring to murder her in a drive-by shooting in 1999 and has been locked up ever since. Today, he’s a prison janitor earning 40 cents a day, where he’ll remain until 2025. He still maintains his innocence and hopes for a retrial one day.
19 John Daly
John Daly has had a rough life. The once promising golfer has struggled with alcohol addiction for years, struggled with his weight, lost millions to gambling debts, beat ex-wives, and has lost $300,000 in a frivolous lawsuit.
He’s lost $55 to $57 million in gambling from his own estimation. On occasion he’s won, like $850,000 from slots the day before one of his marriages. These are small figures compared to what he’s lost, but it’s just enough to keep him wanting to chase that thrill.
However much money he’s lost is nothing to what he’s lost on the golf course. A once promising career never fully materialized for Daly. He won two majors, in 1991 and 1995, but since then he’s barely managed to make the cut for many championships, let alone be in serious contention for any of them. One has to wonder how much his personal issues are holding him back.
18 Travis Henry
At one point, it looked like NFL running back Travis Henry was going to be a star, a long-term icon in the league. His career turned out to be a roller coast though. He was lighting the league on fire in his first three seasons in Buffalo, before hitting a slump for two seasons, finding a return to glory for a season, and getting kicked out the league entirely a year later.
In 2008, he was suspended a year for violating the NFL substance abuse policy, though he did win the appeal and got it reversed. He was already out of the league and desperately vying for a comeback. Things only got worse from there. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years in prison for financing a drug trafficking ring. It’s surprising he had that kind of money, considering he has nine children with nine separate women. In fact, earlier that year, he claimed he was broke, perhaps as some kind of preemptive legal defense.
17 Maurice Clarett
Maurice Clarett never got the chance to be as great as he could have been, because he threw everything away before he had anything to throw away. The Ohio State standout running back was dismissed from the team in 2002 after just one year. He was seen yelling at coaches, caught cheating on tests, filing false police reports, and taking money from fans and boosters.
He sued to be part of the 2004 NFL Draft, but lost and that’s when the drug and alcohol abuse started. When he entered the 2005 draft, he was somehow still drafted in the third round by the Broncos.
In the end, Clarett never played a game in the NFL, instead briefly playing in the UFL before being arrested in 2006 after drinking and driving with several weapons in the car and resisting arrest.
16 Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius is a six-time Gold medalist in the Paralympic Games and was one of the best track runners in the world. After competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics as the first amputee runner, Oscar Pistorius became an international star and household name. He was the poster boy for overcoming adversity and beating the odds, even if he didn’t win anything while at the Olympics.
That image came crashing down in 2013 when he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, though he claims he believed she was an intruder. He was sentenced to five years in prison for culpable homicide in September 2014, a sentence called “shockingly light and inappropriate” according to prosecutors.
15 Lenny Dykstra
Lenny Dykstra is a three-time All-Star and World Champion, but he was never as good a player as he could have been due to injury. His career lasted 12 years and he only played for two teams. Playing that long should leave anyone pretty well off financially.
Except Lenny Dykstra.
Dykstra had a string of bad financial investments and a handful of arrests after his playing days were over, but all that came to a head in 2009 when he filed for bankruptcy after a failed high-end charter jet business. He ended up selling his World Series ring and living out of his car.
But things would get worse for him. Dykstra lied under oath during the bankruptcy hearing about his assets and bounced a check to a prostitute months later. He was accused of sexually assaulting his former housekeeper and grotesque exposure. Finally, he was arrested in 2011 for embezzlement, bankruptcy fraud, and obscuring justice stemming back to his bankruptcy hearing in 2009. He was sentenced to three years in jail.
14 Aaron Hernandez
After being taken in the fourth round, Hernandez was ready to prove himself with the Patriots. He was off to a good start as well, initially having better statistical seasons than fellow TE and future Pro-Bowler Rob Gronkowski.
But Hernandez threw it all away when he was sentenced to life for the murder Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player and his former friend. Sadly, that hasn’t stopped him from apparently joining a gang and starting fights.
13 Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker is the number one exhibit for an athlete making terrible financial decisions, and having exceptionally bad luck. He made over $110 million over his career in the NBA, but managed to lose all of it through bad retail investment and buying lavish gifts for his friends and family. He was also robbed at gunpoint twice over his NBA career.
While that may be a case of bad luck and good intentions gone bad, Walker has also been arrested for DUI, writing bad checks, and has accumulated massive gambling debts.
12 Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams is perhaps one of the strangest players to ever play in the NFL. His entrance into the league was odd enough when the Saints traded away their entire draft to get him. After a few years in New Orleans, he went east to Miami where he became a star.
But in 2006, he inexplicably left the NFL and went to California to study holistic medicine. The sports world was shocked, as a multimillion dollar athlete was leaving it all behind to essentially smoke marijuana and do yoga. He was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2006 season, forcing him to play in Canada that year when he decided to return.
He would come back to the NFL and actually play several years, but he was never the same player. He’s since said he left the NFL not because of weed, but because of the Dolphin’s bad quarterbacks, and that if he had a do over he would have never entered the NFL at all.
11 Marion Jones
Marion Jones was once thought to be the greatest female track athlete of her time. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, she won three gold medals and two bronze, becoming the first female to win five medals in a single Olympics game.
But for years, the steroid cloud hung over her career, including the infamous BALCO investigation, where she admitted she lied during to the investigation. Her medals would eventually be stripped and Jones was sentenced to six months in jail.
She tried to come back to the world sports, in the WNBA, but after a middling few years she was cut and never played again.
It’s hard to tell how good Marion Jones would have been without the steroids, as is the case with any athlete, but Jones could have been a great runner without.
10 Tonya Harding
What happened between Tonya Harding and her rival Nancy Kerrigan is something straight out of a movie, or at least a modern day reality show.
Tonya Harding was a pretty good figure skater, not great, but pretty good. In 1994, she and teammate/rival Nancy Kerrigan were training for the 1994 Olympics. Kerrigan, by all accounts, was great, better than Harding at least.
In January 1994, Nancy’s ex-husband and current bodyguard hired a man to break Kerrigan’s leg. The man couldn’t find her at her private training event, so instead he went to the practice for the US Figure Skating Championship. He attacked her in the hall leading to the locker room and the aftermath of the attack was caught on camera.
Tonya Harding denies any involvement in the plan, despite her ex-husband and bodyguard both telling authorities it was her that hired them. She ended up escaping jail time and only received three years’ probation, community service, and a $160,000 fine. But her career was effectively over. She somehow made the 1994 Olympic team, but didn’t accomplish much. After that, she was banned for life.
Harding tried to stay in the spotlight with a sex-tape and ridiculous attempt at becoming a boxer, but she never skated competitively again. To this day, Harding denies she had anything to do with hiring the attacker, and insists she knew about the attack but couldn’t tell anyone because her ex threatened her.
Either way, she has no problem making herself out to be the victim, even seeming to all but blame Kerrigan for her career turning out the way it did.
9 Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas was once an All-Star and it’s only because of that reason that he wasn’t immediately kicked out of the NBA forever in 2010.
In December 2009, Arenas admitted to storing unloaded weapons in his locker in the Verizon Center in Washington DC. He claims he handed them over to team security, but either he was lying or he had more. If anything, it should have been a sign of things to come.
The following month, in January 2010, Arenas used an unloaded pistol to threaten his teammate Javaris Crittenton over some unpaid gambling debts. The NBA suspended him without pay indefinitely following the incident, and he was charged with carrying a pistol without a license.
Somehow, Arenas was only suspended for a year. He was traded to the Magic in December and played for a season and a half before briefly playing in Memphis before his career was over.
Considering he pointed an unloaded weapon at a teammate and had weapons in his locker, the fact that he wasn’t outright suspended for life is astonishing, especially considering someone coming up on this list was suspended for life for a much less violation.
8 Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson was poised to be the all-time leading rusher for the Kansas City Chiefs, until fans petitioned ownership to bench him from reaching that milestone. Larry Johnson went from a fan favorite to bum in the blink of an eye.
After taking over for another fan favorite Priest Holmes in 2005, Johnson quickly became a Pro Bowl starter and one of the best rushers in the NFL.
Johnson was multiple times for violence against women. In 2009, Johnson was facing a lawsuit from another women he beat, called out fans and coaches on the team, and hurled homophobic insults on Twitter. He was suspended from the team, needing only 75 yards to set the Chiefs all-time rushing record. Then the fan petition started and Johnson was eventually cut. He bounced around the league for a few years but rarely saw action.
7 Manny Ramirez
Ramirez once made 11 straight All-Star appearances. You would never think someone like him could end up playing in Taiwan and minor league teams, but Ramirez’s career fell apart pretty quickly after being caught taking steroids.
He initially retired in 2011 rather than facing a suspension, but ended up coming back and serving a 50 game suspension in 2012. He signed with the A’s, but only played in the minor leagues. He bounced around, playing for the EDA Rhino’s in Taiwan before coming back to the US for a few minor league chances.
6 Ray Rice
Ray Rice is a Super Bowl champion who went to three straight Pro Bowls. Most impressively, he almost single-handedly turned Rutgers University into a powerhouse during his time there.
None of that mattered anymore when a video emerged of Ray Rice hitting his fiancee, knocking her out, and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator. It was ugly and the lies he told to cover it up only made things worse.
The situation got Rice kicked out of the league for a year and his jerseys and other merchandise banned from the Ravens stadium. The NFL has a big problem with domestic violence right now, but since Rice’s crime was caught on camera, it’s preventing him from finding a team, even as the NFL gears up for training camp.
5 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods was once considered the greatest golfer in history, but now he’s washed up, struggling to even make the cut of even the smallest tournaments.
It all fell apart in November 2009, when reports surfaced that Woods was having an extramarital affair. In fact, he was having several affairs. Something happened later that month that caused Woods to go crazy, driving his car into a fire hydrant, smashing into a tree, and running over several hedges.
Woods admitted to cheating on his wife, who would later file for divorce and take the kids, and several advertisers pulled their sponsorship, including AT&T and Gatorade. Worse, his career flat lined, and he hasn’t won a Major since, winning only eight tournaments in over five years.
4 Mike Tyson
Where to begin with Mike Tyson? Going to jail on sexual assault charges? Biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear in a match? Admitting to not practicing to fight Buster Douglas? Blowing all his career earnings on exotic pets like Tigers? Going into bankruptcy? How about a mediocre acting career? Admitting that he almost died due to alcoholism?
I’m not one to judge the life of a man I never met, but Tyson has approached his life the same way his fists approach the face of one of his opponents. He was once the most feared boxer in history and his legacy was solid. Maybe he doesn’t care about his legacy or his money, but his lavish lifestyle and criminal activity have affected more in life than just him, like Desiree Washington and Evander Holyfield.
3 Allen Iverson
Some argue that Iverson ruined his own NBA career by being a ball hog and not being able to take a step back and let someone else be the alpha dog. A Rookie of the Year and NBA MVP trophy collect dust on a shelf somewhere, with an empty spot or two for the NBA Championship rings he never got.
Ranked 23rd all-time in points scored, Iverson never could get the ring he so desperately wanted. In his final years, he bounced around the NBA. In 2010, an ESPN report surfaced that stated Iverson would "drink himself into oblivion or gamble his life away" and that he was banned from several casinos in Detroit and Atlantic City. Months later, another report said that Iverson was broke, heavily in debt by “all accounts but his own.”
The lowest moment came during his divorce proceeding, when Iverson shouted at his ex-wife “I don’t even have money for a cheeseburger.”
After briefly returning to the 76ers in 2010, Iverson bounced around in Turkey before announcing his retirement. He signed to coach a team in China, but things have taken a strange turn, when he was reportedly being held hostage by the team after refusing to play himself. It’s a far cry from his MVP season in 2001.
2 Pete Rose
Today, Pete Rose is more known as a gambler, the athlete who bet on his own sport, than a legendary baseball player. Forgotten are the days when he was by far the best player on the field. Currently, he hold the record for most hits, most games played, most at bats, most singles and more. A sure fire lock for the Hall of Fame, right?
Not quite. In 1989, Rose was caught betting on MLB games as Manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Recently, it’s come to light he may have also bet while he was a player. Although it’s unclear whether he bet against his own team (although he has bet on them to win), he was banned from Major League Baseball for life and is still ineligible for the Hall of Fame.
A year after his ban, he pled guilty to charges of tax evasion and went to jail for five months.
1 Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong was a peculiarity. In a sport no one in America cared about, he became a true American Hero. Winning multiple Tour de Frances and beating cancer, he became the stuff of legend.
That picture of the unbeatable American was shattered in 2014, when long speculation that Armstrong had been doping was proven to be true by Armstrong himself. He was banned from cycling for life and his Tour medals were taken away.
There’s more to the story than Armstrong taking steroids. Apparently, he led a massive doping ring, forcing teammates and other cyclists to dope as well, and threatening anyone who tried to speak out against him. He was more than a doper, he was a mob boss as well.
It's funny, sad rather, how many athletes who were once considered the greatest in their sport have just thrown everything away. It’s hard to tell how great some of these athletes really are when they take steroids, and some of them don’t really care about their legacy anyway. The impact these people have had in the sports world, both before and after their respective scandals, will be there forever.