Top 25 Greatest Athletes with Tarnished Reputations

Some athletes are the epitome of greatness. Plenty of them are family oriented, hard working, determined, and kind enough to give back after earning millions. Everybody and their neighbor knows that professional athletes own charities for their favorite causes and some get involved with the charitable initiatives of others. Others are polite, compliment their opponents after games, and, as is sometimes posted on social media, some athletes tip obscenely well.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be so great, and there are some athletes who don't hit that gold standard. In the world of NFL football, Ndamukong Suh has the reputation of being possibly the most despicable player in the league, while he is also one of the best defensive tackles in the game. In the NHL, Steve Downie is an example of a player who has dished out some devastating hits and earned himself a reputation as an angry, undisciplined thug. In terms of off the field behavior, former MLB pitcher John Rocker went from being somewhat of a nobody to being a league pariah after a homophobic, racist, and overall offensive tirade during an interview. Most recently, a mixed martial artist, War Machine, (Jon Koppenhaver) mercilessly beat his ex girlfriend, adult film star Christy Mack. More interesting than talking about athletes who have terrible reputations to begin with, is talking about successful and respected athletes whose reputations have been tarnished by either their own actions or those of others.

This article will discuss such players. Not all of these players have completely destroyed reputations, and the list will be organized from those athletes who have slightly damaged reputations to the ones who were once respectable and admirable but now suffer from a negative image. Additionally, with regard to what is meant by "tarnished" reputation, in essence, if one cannot mention an athlete's name without others thinking about a certain negative event or comment made by the athlete, that is a tarnished reputation.

Obviously, since this is the internet you may disagree with us. It may cause you rage and discomfort, so insult the writer in the comments section so that everyone can see how cool and smart you are.

25 Prominent Baseball Players in the PED Controversy

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

24 Michael Phelps

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It is inaccurate to say that Phelps' reputation was completely destroyed by his actions after his Olympic achievements. Unfortunately, however, he has been arrested twice for DUI and also had the infamous picture snapped of him with a bong. When a normal athlete is arrested for drunk driving, obviously the media wets themselves, but with Phelps they went completely mad.

23 Brett Favre


22 Muhammad Ali


In an interesting case, depending on where one stands on the Vietnam War, 1960's and 70's politics may play a role in how one sees boxing's greatest trash talker of all time. Born Cassius Clay, Ali converted to the Nation of Islam in the mid 60's and when he was drafted into service in 1967, he refused, claiming only wars directed by Allah or his messenger could be participated in by Muslims. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Despite his conviction having been overturned in 1971, there are still many who consider him a draft dodger, and many who recall the Nation of Islam as a hate group, and despise his involvement in the movement.

21 Jose Canseco

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

20 Tonya Harding


19 Ray Lewis

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

18 Floyd Landis

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

17 Sammy Sosa


Sammy Sosa, one of the finest hitters MLB has ever seen, falls into a slightly different category than those hitters who were implicated in the steroid controversy. While Sosa himself was one of the players questioned in front of Congress, he maintains his innocence even to this day.

16 Todd Bertuzzi

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Bertuzzi was always considered to be a tough player and a physical power forward, but prior to the Steve Moore incident, he was not considered one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. Rather he was a gritty, aggressive forward who could put the puck in the net. He had six 50+ point seasons between the 1999-2000 and 2005-2006 seasons.

Unfortunately, he slammed Steve Moore's head into the ice back in 2004. This was after an unpenalized illegal hit on Markus Naslund by Moore in a previous game. Bertuzzi and Moore were chirping in between plays, and when Bertuzzi went to instigate a fight, Moore turned away. The hit ensued and a group of players ended up piled upon the pair. Moore was seriously injured, sued Bertuzzi and won. Let's have a golf clap for the precedent set for athletes to sue each other for in game physical altercations.

15 Oscar Pistorius


It's joke time: "When Oscar Pistorius said he wanted to be treated like all non-amputee athletes, who knew he meant O.J. Simpson?"

14 "Shoeless" Joe Jackson


This story goes way back to 1920. Shoeless Joe was one of the best hitters not only of his own era, but still holds one of the most impressive on base percentages and batting averages of all-time. His .423 on base is good enough for 16th, and his .356 is third in history behind only Hall of Fame-rs Ty Cobb and Roger Hornsby.

He was banned from baseball in 1920 after the Chicago White Sox lost the 1919 World Series. Jackson and several teammates were accused of accepting money to lose the series. Some sources claimed that Jackson admitted to the bribe, while others disputed the accuracy of such a claim. He and his accused teammates were acquitted in criminal court, but commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them all regardless. His rationale was that the league was in the process of cleaning up its act with regard to accountability and even these innocent players had to go in the name of that goal.

13 Marion Jones


Jones was one of the United States' best female sprinters around the turn of the century. She won multiple gold medals in the 1997 and 1999 World Championships in addition to three gold medals at the Sidney Olympics in 2000. Despite claiming to be completely drug free throughout her high school, collegiate and professional career, it was later determined, by her own admission, that she had used PED's.

12 Kobe Bryant

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

11 Tiger Woods

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

10 Ben Roethlisberger

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

9 Michael Vick

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

8 Joe Paterno


Note: admittedly, this is an article about athletes with tarnished reputations, and while Joe Paterno is primarily remembered as a coach, he played college football at Brown prior to his coaching career.

7 Ray Rice

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to 2014, Ray Rice was recognized as one of the best running backs in the game. Between 2009 and 2012, he had four 1000+ yard rushing seasons, adding at least 450 yards receiving in each of those years. In 2014, however, he was involved in a heavily intoxicated altercation with his girlfriend (now wife) Janay. Just about everyone has seen the video by now, with Rice knocking her out and then dragging her limp body out of the elevator.

6 Adrian Peterson

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

In part two of the NFL's face-palm worthy, controversy-filled 2014 season, Adrian Peterson beat his four year old with a switch, leaving welts and severe cuts. He defended himself saying he was raised with similar disciplinary protocols, but this defense did not work. Society is still somewhat divided regarding spanking, but hitting with objects, and causing lacerations is no longer kosher. Peterson was not allowed to play after week one of the 2014 season. While he is still on the Minnesota Vikings' roster, and will have a chance to play in 2015, it is unclear whether he will be welcomed back by the team.

5 Mike Tyson

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Tyson was frequently in trouble as a youth but fist fighting someone for trash talking is pretty normal for teen and preteen boys (at least it used to be). He had a rough upbringing but between the mid 80's and early 90's, he was one of the rising stars in the boxing world. In 1991, however, he sexually assaulted an eighteen year old beauty queen. He served just three years from prison, and while many people point out his conversion to Islam, it seems necessary to add that he also converted to the church of "completely insane."

4 Alex Rodriguez

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

3 O.J. Simpson


2 Lance Armstrong


Prior to 2012, Lance Armstrong was a hero. Some still consider him a hero (they're right) but vastly more people consider him a cheater, for having used PEDs for years and lying about it. He participated in a sport in which it has been alleged that nearly everyone uses some form of PED. Of course, because he was the greatest of all time, he was the one thrown to the wolves. The sport banned him, many of his fans denounced him, and of course Oprah did everything she could to nudge him just a bit further under the bus.

1 Pete Rose

Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Rose leads the MLB record books in hits, singles, at-bats and outs. Unfortunately, he was banned from the game when he bet on his team's games while he was managing the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980's. His potential membership in the Hall of Fame is a frequent topic in baseball circles, but Bud Selig has stated repeatedly that he is not considering lifting Rose's ban.

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Top 25 Greatest Athletes with Tarnished Reputations