The NFL is the preeminent professional sports league in North America and has been around for nearly 100 years. It has produced some of the most iconic franchises and recognizable players in the world. This multi-billion dollar enterprise has made football surpass baseball as America’s favorite sport and it is considered the gold-standard when it comes to sports leagues. The league AKA “The Shield” has survived its fair share of controversy over the last century, some of which it brought upon itself. From turning its head in regards to player safety to controversial team names to the litany of “Gates” that have occurred; the NFL, somehow, remains as popular as ever despite these transgressions.
However, one thing that really seems to stick in the craw of the league is when its players make them look bad. From the NFL’s perspective; they made these guys multi-millionaires so why would they ever say or do something that would disgrace the league? Some of these acts have involved current players such as Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring or the Minnesota Vikings party-boat scandal. But many, many others have involved former players some of whom were considered some of the greatest players of all time. We’ll take a look at those former players and the acts that caused shame for them and the NFL. There were many, many options to choose from for this list and there’s a good chance that more will pop up by the time you are reading this. Nonetheless, here are 15 former NFL players who disgraced “The Shield”.
15 Warren Sapp
During his playing career Sapp was involved in some minor transgressions both at the University of Miami and in the NFL. He dropped in the NFL Draft due to failed drug tests for cocaine and marijuana and had a bizarre on-field confrontation with the 47-year-old coach of the Packers, Mike Sherman. But in between those white lines Sapp was one of the best defensive tackles in NFL history and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013. After retiring, he took up broadcasting and was a studio analyst for the NFL Network.
He was first arrested and charged with domestic battery on the morning of Super Bowl XLIV which resulted in the NFL Network pulling him from their pre-game coverage. The charges were later dropped and Sapp eventually returned to the air. However, nearly five years to the day of that arrest; Sapp was again arrested around the Super Bowl with this one coming the day after Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. He was charged with solicitation as well as assault and even though the charges would be dropped, the NFL Network had enough. He was fired by the league-owned network just hours after his arrest became public and he hasn’t landed a broadcasting job since then.
14 Lawrence Phillips
Phillips is perhaps the best example of NFL personnel having blinders on when looking at a player’s off-field issues and only focusing on his play on the field. He was one of the best players in the nation at Nebraska but that’s also where his problems began as he attacked his girlfriend and smashed her head into a mailbox for sleeping with a teammate of Phillips. Today, if Phillips did that he wouldn’t get drafted but back in the mid-1990s that wasn’t the case and Phillips was taken 6th overall in 1996. He was a complete bust on the field and continued to be a menace off it both during and after his playing career.
In 2005, which was six years after his last NFL game, Phillips drove his car into some teenagers following a dispute in a pick-up football game. He was arrested, charged, and found guilty of felony assault with a deadly weapon – that weapon being his automobile. While in prison for that crime, he was convicted of another pending charge which included false imprisonment. Seven years into a 31-year prison term, Phillips would commit suicide in his jail cell in 2016.
13 Dave Meggett
One of Bill Parcells’ favorite players, the diminutive running back and returner followed the Hall of Fame coach from the Giants to the Patriots to the Jets. He was a three-time All-Pro selection and won a Super Bowl in New York. Meggett’s first known arrest occurred in 1998 when he allegedly assaulted an escort after a sexual encounter. He then seemed to put that behind him as he served as a college assistant coach and later the director of parks and recreation in North Carolina. However, he was forced to resign from the latter after sexually assaulting an ex-girlfriend. He would just receive probation for that conviction but that would pave the way for his biggest crime yet.
In 2010 he was convicted of criminal sexual conduct and burglary after having what he says was consensual sex with a college student in South Carolina. However, the jury disagreed and a judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
12 Dexter Manley
Instead of possibly ending up in the Hall of Fame, Dexter Manley ended up in prison multiple times. A two-time Super Bowl champion with the Redskins, Manley ranked fourth all-time in sacks when he left the NFL in 1991. But the only reason he left the NFL was because he failed four drug tests and was facing a permanent ban from the league. After his fourth and final failed drug test, Manley then played three seasons in the CFL.
Once his pro career was over, Manley thought he could return to drugs without fear of getting caught but that clearly was not the case. He was arrested four times in the first nine months after he retired from football for possessing crack cocaine. He would serve 15 months in prison but that did little to reform Manley. In 2002 he was convicted of evidence tampering for swallowing cocaine during a drug bust the year before. That would land him another two years in prison. Manley had kept a relatively low profile until 2016 when he punched a fellow employee at a Construction Services company in the head. Manley was charged with assault, received probation, and was fired from the job.
11 Billy Cannon
In the illustrious history of LSU football; Billy Cannon is the school’s only Heisman winner. After leaving college, instead of initially going to the NFL, Cannon signed with the AFL where he was a three-time All-Star and a rushing champion. After 10 years in the AFL, he then played one NFL season in 1970 with the Chiefs. Despite earning both his dental degree and orthodontist degree after he retired; Cannon ran into some trouble in the 1980s. A series of gambling debts and bad investments had him in need of money so he started, literally, printing money. He devised a counterfeiting scheme and printed $6 million in one-hundred dollar bills (That’s 60,000 $100 dollar bills). That earned him a two-and-a-half year prison stint in east Texas and he was released in 1986.
After his release, Cannon still couldn’t keep himself out of prison but this time he only returned as the dentist for the Louisiana State Penitentiary. At almost 80 years old, Cannon still serves as the prison’s dentist.
10 Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
Henderson played for the Dallas Cowboys during the 1970s which was when they were first dubbed America’s Team. Henderson had a nickname of his own, Hollywood, and he was flamboyant both on the field and off it. After winning a Super Bowl and being named a Pro Bowler, Henderson was injured in 1981 and retired at the age of 28. That’s when Hollywood took a turn for the worst. He then admitted that he snorted liquid cocaine during games with an inhaler that he hid in his pants!
In 1983 he was arrested for cocaine possession as well as sexual assault in California. Henderson claims that he gave two teenage girls cocaine in exchange for consensual sex. He would then enter rehab for 7 months which was then followed by a 28 month prison stint. He claims that he’s been sober ever since then and he hit the jackpot, literally, by winning $28 million in the Texas Lottery in 2000.
9 Travis Henry
Henry first came into prominence by sharing a backfield with Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee in 1997 and winning a national championship a year later. He then joined the NFL and had a seven-year career that included a Pro Bowl appearance and three different 1000 yard seasons. However, his career came to an end following a failed drug test and a one-year suspension in 2008. Things would get worse for Henry later in 2008 as he was arrested by the DEA for trafficking cocaine.
He used the millions he earned in the NFL to provide financial support to a state-wide drug ring and he would eventually be sentenced to three years in prison for financing a cocaine trafficking operation. However, before he was even sent to prison for this charge, he was arrested for failing to pay child support. Henry has (at least) 11 kids by (at least) 10 different women which is a ratio that would make Shawn Kemp jealous. Henry was released from prison in 2012 but no word on if he has added to his stable of kids.
8 Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf is, arguably, the biggest bust in NFL history though JaMarcus Russell also has a valid claim to that ‘title.’ The second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, Leaf played with four different NFL teams but only appeared in games for the Chargers and Cowboys. His numbers are hard-to-believe when you look at them as he completed just 48% of his passes and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 14 to 36. After his playing career ended he became a volunteer coach at West Texas A&M but was dismissed after asking one of his players for some opioids.
From 2009 to 2012 he was then arrested (at least) three different times on both drug charges and on burglary. He had a penchant for either illegally obtaining drugs or trying to steal them from others. After spending about two-and-a-half years in a Montana prison, Leaf was released in December 2014 and has started a foundation that helps people who can’t afford treatment for mental health.
7 Will Allen
This Will Allen who played cornerback shouldn’t be confused with former Buc/Steeler Will Allen who played safety. The safety-playing Will Allen is one of the NFL’s good guys and has a foundation that helps kids. The cornerback Will Allen was a 12-year NFL veteran who spent most of his time with the Dolphins and Giants. He made over $26 million during his NFL career but he must have been strapped for cash in retirement as in 2015 he was caught up with running a $35 million Ponzi scheme. The SEC (not the conference) charged Allen and his business partner for operating a scheme that professed to loan money to professional athletes. In reality, they swindled investors out of millions of dollars and Allen was indicted on 23 counts of fraud. In 2017 he was sentenced to six years in prison and also ordered to pay $16.8 million in restitution to the offended parties.
6 Mercury Morris
Morris is best known for being a running back on the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and for also being the first one to remind you that he was a running back on the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. Despite his big mouth, Morris could back up his words with his play on the field as he was a three-time Pro Bowler and is one of a handful of running backs on this planet with a career rushing average of over 5 yards per carry.
In 1982 with his NFL career in the rear-view, Morris got caught up in a drug ring and he was convicted of trafficking cocaine in Florida. He was facing a mandatory 15 year prison term but three years into it; his conviction was overturned due to entrapment. He was awarded a new trial and was able to reach a plea bargain. Thus, instead of serving 15 years, Morris was released after about three years in a prison just miles from the Orange Bowl. Morris is now a motivational speaker and is back to reminding everyone that the Dolphins are still the only perfect team in NFL history.
5 Nate Newton
One of the stalwarts in the legendary Great Wall of Dallas, Newton paved the way for Emmitt Smith to become the all-time rushing leader as a member of the Cowboys. He collected three Super Bowl rings, six Pro Bowl nods, and was one of the most affable players on those 1990s Cowboys teams…Not bad for an undrafted player who had to bust his chops in the USFL before the NFL came a-calling. But just two years after his final game, Newton was arrested in Louisiana and was found to be in possessions of 213 pounds of marijuana during a traffic stop. He essentially had an Emmitt Smith’s-worth-of-weight in weed in his van.
Out on bail, Newton was undaunted and thought no way could this happen again; but it did. Just a month later he was again busted and this time he had only 175 pounds of weed in his van. He was denied bail this time and had to spend 30 months in prison for drug trafficking. Since being released he has claimed that he’s clean after getting right with God and he now runs football camps in Texas.
4 Nate Webster
Webster had a simple enough NFL career as he was a backup on the 2002 Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers squad, then played with the Bengals, before working his way into a starting role with the Broncos. It’s what happened before, and especially after, his NFL career that earns him a spot on this list. While in college at Miami, Webster was arrested for false imprisonment for grabbing his girlfriend and throwing her into a car he was riding in. But after completing a pre-trial diversion program, the charges were dropped.
In 2011, and three years after his playing career ended, Webster would find himself in even more trouble and was unable to get out of this one. He was charged with having sex with the 15-year-old daughter of one of his assistant coaches with the Bengals. Webster also threatened the girl with a gun to maintain her silence to keep the relationship going. He was convicted of unlawful sexual contact with a minor and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
3 Todd Marinovich
One could argue that the former first round pick disgraced the NFL as both an active player and a former player. During his brief, two-year NFL career Marinovich had serious substance abuse issues but was able to pass drug tests by using a teammate’s urine. He also somehow figured out that taking LSD wouldn’t show up on drug tests so that became his drug of choice. After choosing drugs over football, he then left the NFL and turned to a life of cocaine, heroin, and meth usage. After six years away from football, he returned to the CFL and the AFL in the late 1990s but the drug usage followed him. He even admitted to cutting his hand on a crack pipe during halftime of a game. In the 2000s he had more arrests for drugs and also threw in a sexual assault arrest for good measure.
After spending roughly 20 years on drugs, in and out of rehab, and dabbling with football; Marinovich had appeared to turn the corner as he took up painting and drawing. However, he never truly quelled his addiction as in 2016 he was arrested after being found naked and in possession of marijuana and meth in a neighbor’s backyard. In March 2017 a judge ruled that if Marinovich can successfully complete a six-month outpatient rehabilitation, then he will avoid jail time.
2 O.J. Simpson
The poster-boy for disgraced former NFL players is undoubtedly Orenthal James Simpson. Juice was certainly one of the greatest football players of all time as evident by his selections to both the College Football Hal of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also won the Heisman Award at USC, won an MVP award with the Buffalo Bills, and is one of just 6 NFL players to be named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year. But you can’t talk about O.J. Simpson without first mentioning the Trial of the Century in which Simpson was acquitted for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, Ron Goldman. As the ESPN documentary “Made In America” depicted, Simpson’s problems with Nicole Simpson weren't relegated to just one fatal night; as he had many brushes with the law for alleged domestic violence against her.
Even though he was acquitted of criminal charges for the murders of Simpson and Goldman; he was found liable for wrongful death in civil court and ordered to pay over $33 million in damages. He was forced to sell many of his assets and in 2007 he attempted to get some of them back in a robbery in Las Vegas. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 9 years. That means that the Juice could be loose (and free) from prison at some point in 2017.
1 Darren Sharper
At one point, Darren Sharper was considered the best safety in football as he was a perennial Pro Bowler, a two-time interceptions leader, and is a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade team. But once he retired, he needed something to fill the void of football and that something was being a serial rapist. Just two months after his last NFL game, Sharper was first accused of rape in Miami. Then came a rape in New Orleans, followed by more in Los Angeles, and even more in Arizona and Las Vegas. Along the way he also picked up drug charges as he and friends first drugged the women before raping them. He would be convicted in four different states with sentences ranging from three years in prison to 20 years. He gets to serve the various sentences concurrently so 20 years is the maximum he will spend behind bars. Court records show that there were a total of nine victims but the federal judge in the case believes there could have been as many as 16.
What makes this worst than O.J. is the fact that Sharper was actually working for the NFL when he raped the women. He was a TV analyst for the NFL Network and even though he was first arrested for sexual assault in January 2014; it took the NFL six weeks before they finally fired him. Sharper disgraced The Shield and The Shield disgraced themselves.