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
Professional baseball itself took a serious hit to its reputation in the 1990's and early 2000's for its lax PED policies. The MLB came under fire not only because drug use is a method of cheating but also because of health issues that can result from chronic PED use. While many individual players used or were alleged to have used steroids, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds were some of the most notorious, and as they were all prominent hitters, their reputations have suffered, with many people arguing they, among others, should be removed from the record books.
24 Michael Phelps
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.
When you're an Olympic hero, "boys will be boys" doesn't exist.
23 Brett Favre
There's no elegant way of putting this one. Brett Favre, the Gunslinger, and the long time quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, allegedly sent a picture of his man-parts to Jenn Sterger. One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time received a serious backlash for these accusations and was investigated by the NFL for his actions. Despite the fact that he was found to have not violated the NFL's conduct policy, many people still remember him for this controversy.
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.
Keep in mind, we're not taking sides here, just giving you the facts...
21 Jose Canseco
The 35th all-time home run hitter makes 21st on this list and presents an interesting case among baseball players involved in the ongoing PED scandal in the game. Unlike many of his peers, Canseco admitted to using steroids, tarnishing his own reputation but also absolving himself in the eyes of some who argued "at least he's honest now"..However, Canseco has experienced animosity among other baseball players because of his book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big. In the book, he named many teammates who he claimed had used PEDs and lied about it. He went on to claim that, in his estimation, 85% of all baseball players had used some form of performance enhancing substance.
20 Tonya Harding
This entry is a two-parter. But we challenge you, the reader to recall the last time you heard the name "Tonya Harding" and thought of something other than a "wedding video" or a beating of one's opponent. She won several skating championships, including the U.S. Championship in 1991. But all in all, everybody remembers her for having her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, attacked back in 1994. Later in the same year, a video of her and ex-husband Jeff Gilooly surfaced, earning her more "publicity."
19 Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis is one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the NFL. If he is not selected to the Hall of Fame in the first year of eligibility, it will be a travesty. While his fans may remember him as the intimidating and dominant leader of two Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens teams, plenty of others remember his alleged involvement in a double homicide that occurred back in 2000. He and the members of his group that night were accused but never convicted of any murder charges. Lewis himself pled guilty to obstruction of justice, received a year of probation and was fined a quarter million dollars by the NFL. While still considered one of the greatest of all time at the linebacker position, Lewis' reputation is forever tarnished because of his involvement in those killings.
18 Floyd Landis
The first of two cyclists on this list (obviously), Floyd Landis was the winner of the 2006 Tour De France. Landis was found to have used PEDs after his win but maintained his innocence for four years until 2010, when he not only admitted to his own having used substances, but also incriminated much of his team. He was banned from competition temporarily and while his ban is up, he has retired after having difficulty finding a team with whom to race.
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.
There is a second reason for Sosa being separate from other players, and that is the corked bat. Back in 2003, Sosa was found to have used a modified bat and was suspended eight games. His excuse was that the bat was only intended for use in practice. Whether this is the truth or not, his reputation was tarnished in the aftermath of his suspension.
16 Todd Bertuzzi
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.
Bertuzzi went on to play almost another decade in the league but has not been able to shake the reputation he earned from his hit on Steve Moore. Though he was never thought to be a saint on the ice, his aggression and physical play were dirty on occasion and he has not earned the "biggest dirtbag ever to play" that with which some have labeled him.
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?"
Too soon? Our apologies, the writer has some sensitivity issues. The South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter shot and killed his girlfriend in 2013, when he believed that his home was being broken into. He was found guilty of culpable homicide in 2014 and was sentenced to five years in prison. It may be too soon to make such a call, but it is safe to say that while Pistorius may always be remembered as the amazing sprinter "The Blade Runner," he will also be known just as prominently for killing Reeva Steenkamp.
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.
Many argue to this day in favor of Jackson's innocence and there is still a push to have him included in the Hall of Fame. Either way, his involvement in such an accusation, and one of the most notable bans in the history of the game is remembered as much as his performance on the field.
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.
During the infamous BALCO investigation, it was determined that Jones had lied and had used many forms of PEDs before, after, and during the Sidney Olympics. She was found guilty of having lied to investigators in 2007 and was ordered to return all medals won in Sidney. She spent six months in prison for her actions, and was forced not only to publicly apologize but also to retire from track and field.
12 Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a young worker in the hotel at which he was staying prior to a medical procedure in 2003. He argued that their interaction was consensual, but after the young lady would not testify in court, the charges were dropped. He reached a civil settlement with her and apologized, but obviously that does not make up for his actions. Plenty of comedians have suggested waiver and consent forms that celebrities should have partners fill out prior to intimate encounters. It may be a joke, but in some cases perhaps not a bad idea.
11 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods had possibly the best reputation of any athlete going for a while. He was the best golfer in the world and had a pleasant, charismatic demeanor both on and off the links. Of course, all good things come to an end and, so, possibly the classiest man in sport was found to have been sleeping around. But he wasn't sleeping around like most men do with one or two women (if you're lucky), he had dozens of women came out of the woodwork with colorful stories of Tiger's preferences and appetites. The women ranged from cocktail waitresses to adult film stars. Woods has since revitalized his career, winning multiple tournaments in 2012 and 2013. He has been dating skier Lindsay Vonn since early 2013, but we have to wonder whether he lets her regularly search his phone.
10 Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben had a career year in 2014, tying Drew Brees for the most passing yards of the season, and having his highest touchdown to interception ratio of his career. The Steelers' quarterback could probably save a five year old cancer patient from a burning building and some of his critics would still howl over his alleged misconduct in 2010. In that year, he was twice accused of sexual misconduct with women. He received zero convictions but just the accusations were enough to tarnish his reputation.
9 Michael Vick
One of the greatest running quarterbacks of all time is also one of football's most notorious former criminals. He was found to have been a major player in a dog-fighting ring back in 2007. He was suspended from the league and spent nearly two years in prison. Vick was never a model citizen by any means, and his early career was marred by plenty of minor controversies. His dog-fighting conviction, however, was a completely different story. It makes complete sense, as to a great deal of people, a pet is a family member. You wouldn't put Aunt Betty in a backyard bare-knuckle boxing match against the cat lady across the street, and plenty of people consider dog fighting just as offensive (and rightfully so).
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.
The late Joe Paterno may well be known more for the Penn State scandal that enveloped his later life than the decades he spent as Penn State's football coach. In essence, his last few years are a troubling example of a (thought to be) great man, falling from grace. Paterno was instrumental to that football program, but there is no excuse for allowing one of his closest colleagues to abuse children as he did for years. Paterno is and will always be a tough subject in the world of college football. On one hand, he is one of the greatest college coaches of all time; sending dozens of players to the NFL, but on the other hand, he covered for Jerry Sandusky, a man who abused children through his own charitable organisation that aimed to help underprivileged youth.
7 Ray Rice
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.
Rice being suspended by the league and cut by the Ravens was the one of the biggest NFL stories of 2014. It is still unclear whether or not he will play in the league again. It's time to settle this debate right here, right now in TheSportster.com comments section: does Ray Rice deserve a chance to play football again? Is it possible for a man who did something extremely socially frowned upon to redeem himself and play the game again?
6 Adrian Peterson
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.
Similar questions can be asked of the Peterson case as the Ray Rice assault case. Obviously the controversies have their differences, but if Peterson genuinely comes to understand the flaw of his actions, should he be allowed to play again?
5 Mike Tyson
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."
In his later boxing career, he notably bit part of Evander Holyfield's ear off and later announced his intention to eat Lennox Lewis' children. These are just two examples, but you get the point. He redefined crazy. Nobody talks about Mike Tyson's unique boxing stance anymore, or his combination of speed and forceful punching. It's all about the crazy.
4 Alex Rodriguez
While Sammy Sosa warranted his own mention in this article for his multiple controversies, A-Rod definitely deserves his own as well. While plenty of baseball players have been caught for PED use, A-Rod is one of the most notorious due to his having been suspended twice for the offense. While he is still one of the greatest baseball players of his time, having a high batting average but also a great presence in the field, many people consider his early admissions to PED use, in conjunction with his recent involvement and full season suspension in the Biogenesis scandal to be reasons enough to tarnish his career as a whole.
3 O.J. Simpson
Juice is still one of the greatest running backs of all time. But, people will always focus on the negative, which is why more people remember the Ford Bronco chase than his 2000 yards over 14 games rushing season. O.J. Simpson is probably the most famous man ever to be acquitted of murder. Whether or not he committed the murder, for anyone who forgave him, even after his book entitled If I Did It, he committed several felonies in Las Vegas back in 2007 for which he is now in prison.
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.
His foundation still exists, as do his Tour De France wins, despite the fact that the Union Cycliste Internationale stripped them and banned him, but everyone will always remember the doping investigation and his public character assassination.
1 Pete Rose
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.