Just because an athlete can amaze us with their abilities and entertain us with their athleticism doesn't mean that they have their act together and make good decisions. In fact, there are far too many examples of uncommon athletes making common mistakes resulting in a damaged reputation or a much harder life than you realize.
This is a list of athletes that made the worst life choices that changed the course of their lives for the worse. Not only are their acts of stupidity judged, but how far they fell is also gauged on this list. That's the main reason a convicted murderer is slotted behind a rapist and an athlete involved in a dramatic domestic violence case, as sometimes we expect some athletes to be stupid, and others, we see as saints.
While there are no saints on this list, most of these athletes had impeccable, if not great, reputations before their dalliances with stupidity. Obviously, there are a couple athletes with horrible reputations before their decisions on this list that only attracted more of the spotlight on them after their questionable life choices.
20 Michael Phelps Pulls a Bong
While getting caught smoking marijuana out of a bong wouldn't make the list for most athletes, few ever had the pristine image that Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps had and ruined with one picture. And we're referring to a guy who already had a DUI conviction from 2004 on his record. The angst against smoking weed has lessened since the Phelps' photo was released by a British tabloid in 2009, but when it happened Phelps lost sponsorships and the respect of millions of fans worldwide. It taught Phelps a lesson to never smoke weed in front of a stranger with a camera phone.
19 Terry Orr Steals from His Teammates
There is a sanctity in professional sports teams' locker rooms that athletes aren't supposed to overstep. Players are supposed to trust each other and not be dishonest. However, former Redskins tight end Terry Orr took advantage of that trust to steal from his teammates in a shoe company investment scheme. Orr was considered a great guy by his Washington teammates on his way to winning two Super Bowl rings which allowed him to get a number of his teammates to invest significant amounts of cash with Orr. But, Orr used the money to pay of debts, including his house payment which he eventually lost to foreclosure. Orr was convicted of bilking $141,000 from his teammates, but was accused of stealing hundreds of thousands more. He served 14 months in federal prison for his actions.
18 Tonya Harding Has Ex Take Out Nancy Kerrigan
Some people might argue that Tonya Harding getting her ex, Jeff Gillooly, to take out Nancy Kerrigan before the U.S. Ice Skating Championship wasn't a poor life choice, but a shrewd business move. However, are years of making money off of being infamous worth losing all of a person's integrity? That's what happened after it was discovered that Harding paid to have the #1 ranked U.S. figure skater, Nancy Kerrigan, attacked with a tire iron by Harding's ex-husband, Gillooly, and other hired goons. Harding didn't admit culpability, but the incident was a huge distraction for the skater with Gold Medal aspirations. She finished a distant 8th in Lillehammer Olympics under the intense scrutiny of the media.
17 Carl Lewis Sings National Anthem
Carl Lewis is one of the greatest athletes that has ever walked the planet Earth. He won 10 Olympic Medals, including eight Gold, and it could've been more because he was unable to participate at the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the American boycott. But, even though Lewis set numerous track and field records, the first thing that comes to mind about the guy that still owns the indoor record for the long jump he set in 1984, is the time he sang the National Anthem before a Bulls-Nets game in New Jersey. The incomparable Lewis strode to center court, did a whack warm up and then proceeded to butcher the National Anthem unlike anyone had done before. It sounded like a hog was being butchered and is still one of the first highlights shown about Lewis whenever his name is brought up.
16 Sammy Sosa Uses Extreme Topical Cream
Lets get this clear, it's okay to be who you were born to be and Sammy Sosa needed to know this before he made the horrendous mistake of using a way too intense topical cream. After his MLB retirement, Sosa slipped into anonymity with his rare references coming up when baseball Hall of Fame discussions began. That was until Sammy showed up at a public event looking like he bleached his skin. Sosa claimed it was a mistake from using the wrong topical cream, however, many dermatologists have come out to directly contradict Sosa's claim that the cream bleached his skin. The dermatologists all said that it was an impossibility and that he must've meant to bleach his skin or he should've sued. Sosa never sued and seemed content to walk around looking like someone doused him in baby powder.
15 Javaris Crittenton Brings Gun to Work
While most people will always remember that Gilbert Arenas brandished a gun in a dispute with a teammate in the Wizards' locker room, it was the other guy with the gun that had made the real poor choice. Javaris Crittenton was the other Wizard in the showdown, and his life has spiraled out of control after that point. Arenas and Crittenton had been arguing for days over gambling debts and in a show of force Arenas laid out four guns in front of Crittenton's locker. Javaris wouldn't be outdone, so he pulled out his own gun to show he had heat. Both were suspended, but Arenas' career wasn't over yet. He still collected most of the $100 million contract he signed before the incident, but Crittenton was finished. The promising 21 year old point guard never played an NBA game again and is now in prison on manslaughter charges.
14 Mike Richards Gets Busted with Oxycodone
There have been many athletes busted with drugs, and a few more are on this list, but few have lost as much as NHL player Mike Richards has with his arrest at the Canadian border without a prescription for the large amount of oxycodone on him. Richards was arrested and his team, the LA Kings, terminated his contract that still had $22 million remaining on it. The NHLPA filed a grievance for Richards, but the Kings settled it for considerably less than Richards was owed. He did sign on with the Capitals in January of this season, but his stupidity to be caught with a controlled substance at the border cost him millions of dollars.
13 Nate Newton Gets Busted Smuggling Weed, Twice
It's bad enough that former Cowboys O-lineman Nate Newton blew through his considerable earnings in the NFL, but he had to revert to drug smuggling to save himself. And after getting caught with 213 pounds of marijuana in 2001 during a traffic stop, he was caught again five weeks later with 175 pounds of the wacky weed. You would think a man under investigation for drug smuggling would be smart enough to remain low key after being arrested with enough pot to keep Ricky Williams happy in his heyday. But, he obviously wasn't and not even the best lawyers could keep him out of jail. He spent 30 months behind bars.
12 Jason Pierre-Paul Plays With Fireworks
Everything was wonderful for Jason Pierre-Paul before the 2015 NFL season. The former All-Pro was coming off a 12.5 sack season and was in negotiations with his team, the New York Giants, for a new contract. However, before he could get his contract he had his July 4th fireworks accident. The end out of South Florida didn't realize he was holding an explosive firework at his family picnic when it went off in his hand. The explosion took his index finger, the tip of his thumb and turned his middle finger into a flap of skin. The grotesquely deformed hand made it impossible for him to start the season on time or for the Giants to offer a long-term contract. Instead, he was given a one-year incentive laden contract. Pierre-Paul didn't meet the expectations and he missed out on millions of dollars, as well as having all ten of his fingers.
11 Plaxico Burress Brings Gun to the Club
Trouble seemed to follow Plaxico Burress whereever he went as an NFL wide receiver. Not the kind where he hurt others, but usually himself. He was fined numerous times for missing practices, has been busted for tax evasion and has been sued for bad driving. But nothing compares to the self inflicted wound Burress gave himself at the LQ nightclub on Lexington Avenue in New York. The wide out, who caught the Eli Manning TD pass that capped their comeback to top the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, accidentally pulled the trigger of his glock pistol while trying to prevent it from sliding down his sagging jeans. It was a superficial wound and Burress was out of the hospital the next afternoon, but that wasn't the real damage. Burress didn't have a New York gun license and city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, demanded no preferential treatment and to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. He served two years in prison and his NFL career was all but over. He played two more sub par seasons that resulted in only 48 catches after his time in jail.
10 Mario Balotelli Throws Darts at Youth Footballers
Yes, you read that headline correctly. Enigmatic soccer superstar Mario Balotelli could be on any list where craziness, bad decisions and and poor life choices are the criteria. None of the youth players were hurt by Balotelli hurling the darts at them from a first floor window. But, it was just more bad press for a guy that is constantly in the news for doing something stupid. He's stomped an opponent's head, had run-ins with the law and made questionable decisions with large sums of money, however, throwing darts at children because he was, 'bored,' is indefensible.
9 Michael Vick Sets Up Dog Fighting Ring
Right in the midst of one of the most promising NFL careers of this century, Michael Vick threw it all away with his involvement in a dog fighting ring. The first African-American QB ever taken #1 overall was a shooting star for the Atlanta Falcons when he was busted and eventually suspended. Vick was convicted of being the ringleader of "Bad Newz Kennels," which bred dogs for the direct purpose of dog fighting for gambling. It was discovered that poor performing dogs were hung or drowned on Vick's Virginia property where the 'competitions' took place. Vick was suspended for two seasons and changed more than his name to Mike. He admitted his wrong doing and came out against violence against animals. But, the damage was done and Vick never truly recovered from his poor life choice.
8 O.J. Steals Back Memorabilia
Obviously, a double murder is a much more serious charge and a far worse life choice than robbing someone at gunpoint. But, when considering what he had been through and knowing what would happen if he got caught, it's hard to believe that O.J. Simpson would conspire and attempt to rob his memorabilia back. O.J. was convicted of being the ringleader of an armed robbery of a memorabilia shop in the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas. One of the owners, Thomas Riccio, was there and has an audio recording of the robbery. Riccio was dumbfounded that the infamous Simpson would rob him at gunpoint with no disguise on. He said, "When I saw him, I thought, 'O.J., how can you be this stupid?'" Well, he was that stupid and is spending his second chance in jail over a couple autographed pictures.
7 Lenny Dykstra Starts 'The Players Club"
Things were going pretty well for the recently retired Lenny Dykstra before he began 'The Players Club" magazine. He was a successful car wash owner, a shrewd investor and no one knew about the steroid and gambling allegations that would eventually come out against him. However, Dykstra began to spread himself too thin when he sold his car washes and began the high brow magazine, which abruptly failed. Dykstra tried to turn the business into a travel/ financial advisory business for pro athletes, but that failed even worse. He lost all of his money and his life has spiraled out of control since. His children have accused him of defrauding them as well being convicted for bankruptcy fraud. The guy known as 'Nails' went from respected to living out of his car after one bad decision started this horrible run of failures.
6 Travis Henry Starts 'White Powder' Ring to Pay Child Support
Sometimes even the worst decisions had the best intentions. Well, that might not apply to this situation considering that Henry has 11 children with 10 different mothers, his life choices should be questioned. However, the former Pro Bowl running back was trying to figure out how to pay his reported $170,000 a year in child support payments when he was broke and out of football in 2008. He decided to fund his child support payments with drug money. However, his plans backfired and he was busted as 'the ruthless money man' in the conspiracy and was fined $4 million and sentenced to three years in federal prison.
5 Diego Maradona Shoots at Reporters
The oft troubled international soccer superstar has upset many people of many nationalities. He's called Americans stupid, he's been arrogant to Brazil and their football team, he was busted with cocaine in the Italian League and he scored the 'hand of God' goal versus England. But in 1994, he didn't enrage an entire country and his crimes weren't victimless, he enraged a group of reporters by shooting an air gun at them. Maradona hid behind a Mercedes outside of his home and started firing the gun at the reporters waiting outside for him. He injured four and was promptly arrested for assault. It took four years for a conviction and his punishment was light, but what kind of a life choice is shooting an air gun at people that can immediately report your actions?
4 John Daly Loses $1.5 Million Gambling in Vegas
John Daly has a serious gambling addiction. It's serious enough for the long driving golfer to have lost $1.5 million in one sitting of playing slots at a Las Vegas casino. Daly admitted to sitting down at a $5,000 a turn slot machine and preceding to lose the $1.5 million before he got up to leave in July of 2005. That was the low point for Daly who claims to have lost over $60 million gambling throughout his troubled career. By the way, it would take 300 pulls at $5,000 a turn, while losing each pull, to amount $1.5 million in losses.
3 Aaron Hernandez Leads Second Life
Most football fans were shocked when they found out that Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was living the life of a street thug while he was playing in the NFL. Who would think that a player with a $43 million contract would succumb to the temptation of drugs and violence, which that particular life glorifies? However, Hernandez wasn't a mature person and he continued to act like a gangster, even after there was no reason for him to do so. He has been convicted of murdering one of his friends, Odin Lloyd, and has been charged with a previous double-murder. It's one of the fastest downfalls of any athlete in American history.
2 Kobe Bryant Invites Hotel Employee Into His Room
Before July of 2003, Kobe Bryant had a pristine reputation. Yes, he may have been short with the media and disrespectful to his Lakers teammates, but there was nothing dirty about his personal life. Until he checked into a spa in Colorado the night before he was to have a surgical procedure. Bryant was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a 19 year old hotel employee after she claimed he invited her into his room and then violently sodomized her. Bryant was never convicted, because his accuser failed to testify in the case, but she did sue him in civil court. Bryant settled out of court, but never admitted his guilt. However, the incident cost him his credibility, created a bigger chasm between him and Shaquille O'Neal after Bryant claimed Shaq would cheat on his lady and Kobe had to buy a massive ring for his wife to buy her forgiveness. It didn't fully work, as she filed for divorce in 2011. However, Kobe was able to convince her to take him back in 2013.
1 Ray Rice Punches His Fiancee
It was a sickening video that is burnt into the minds of anyone who saw it. The video of Ray Rice punching his then fiancee, Janay Palmer, will make you gasp and sick to your stomach. It was a moment that I'm sure Rice wants back, not just for common decency because you shouldn't beat your wife, but because that punch cost him his NFL career. Rice can be seen spitting on Palmer while getting on an elevator and then smashing her with a backhand while they were on the elevator. She crumbled to the ground, unconscious and limp as Rice tried to pick her up. Rice was suspended two games until the video was released to the world and created an uproar. NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, backtracked, and upped the suspension to an indefinite one. Rice has yet to play an NFL down since his heinous actions.
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