Football is an intense, oftentimes violent game that attracts similarly intense personalities. Although most players are able to channel that ferocity into tackles and touchdowns, some have issues leaving it on the field and find themselves walking a dangerous road in their personal lives.
Whether it be abusing drugs and alcohol, indulging in illegal sexual activities, or simply allowing their rage to get the best of them, too many athletes have wound up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Surprisingly, crime rates among current and former NFL players are actually lower than in the general public. But because of their prominence in the public eye, their wrongdoings will always be amplified.
The following football players made disastrous decisions in their personal lives that affected not only themselves, but those who were unfortunate enough to be around them.
15 Johnny Manziel
Drafted as the savior of the Cleveland Browns franchise in 2014, Johnny Manziel's professionalism was constantly being questioned throughout his brief stint in the NFL. Could "Johnny Football," a quarterback who'd earned comparisons to Brett Favre and Drew Brees, keep his composure on the field and keep controversy at bay off it? The short answer: No.
Manziel already had a lengthy history of drug and alcohol abuse by the time he got to the NFL, and his bigger paychecks didn't help matters. In 2015, Manizel checked himself into rehab, but later that year he was caught in a drunk driving incident with his girlfriend, which would also spawn a domestic abuse indictment. Amidst numerous other infractions, including a video that surfaced of him partying at a bar during the team's bye week, Manziel was benched. The Browns released him during the 2016 offseason, and it remains to be seen whether the young quarterback will be able to commit to sobriety and resurrect his career.
14 Lawrence Taylor
Widely regarded as one of the greatest to ever play the game, Lawrence Taylor was far from a model citizen off the field. Even though most fans choose to remember "L.T.", the Hall of Famer who remains the only linebacker ever named NFL MVP, there was also a much darker side to him.
Early on in his career, Taylor admitted to abusing drugs and alcohol regularly, and was suspended from the NFL for 30 days in 1988 after his second failed drug test. Though he temporarily gave up drugs after that to avoid a third, career-ending infraction, Taylor wrote in his autobiography that his home was, in the worst times, "almost like a crack house." His on-again, off-again habit stayed on for a long time after his retirement, and Taylor claims he spent thousands of dollars each day on narcotics.
But it was Taylor's sexual appetite that got him into the most trouble. Charged with the statutory assault of a 16-year-old girl in 2010, Taylor pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and soliciting prostitution, two misdemeanors that earned him six years of probation and the tag of sex offender.
13 Keith Wright
Even the most diehard football fans are probably unfamiliar with defensive tackle Keith Wright, who bounced around six different NFL teams (seven, if you include the Hamburg Sea Devils, an NFL Europa team) during his four seasons as a pro baller. Wright spent most of his time in the NFL on various practice squads, playing exactly zero games as a starter.
Wright was arrested in 2011 for a string of home invasions that included a sexual assault. DNA evidence later linked him to the invasions, and investigators later found many of the stolen items still in Wright's home. He was convicted of 19 total charges, which included armed robbery, kidnapping, burglary, forced oral sex, and false imprisonment, a collection of crimes that earned him a sentence of 234 years in prison.
12 Nate Webster
When linebacker Nate Webster was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2000, he had already been arrested for the false imprisonment of his ex-girlfriend Natalie Brady after someone witnessed him grabbing her by the neck and forcing her into a vehicle. Though Webster pleaded not guilty, he would complete a pretrial intervention program in order to have the charges dropped, and settle a civil lawsuit with Brady two years later with undisclosed terms.
As far as red flags go, that one flaps in the air harder than most. And unfortunately, those foreboding signs came to fruition a decade later when Webster was convicted on four counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. While playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, Webster allegedly had relations with the 15-year-old daughter of one of his assistant coaches and, according to his indictment, threatened to harm her and her family if she told anyone of their relationship. Webster was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
11 Ray Rice
Regardless on where you stand on Ray Rice's exile from the NFL, it should be clear that Rice deserved to be punished for the brutish assault of his now-wife. The initial two-game suspension handed down from Roger Goodell felt like a lightweight penalty at the time, and the court-mandated counseling also seemed like a slap on the wrist to many.
While it's unclear what exactly transpired inside that elevator, it obviously wasn't a situation that either Rice or his wife want to relive, as both have spoken about wanting to be left alone by the media so they can repair their relationship in peace. Rice has, however, spoken out against domestic violence to various organizations and schools since the incident.
10 C.J. Spillman
Undrafted free agent C.J. Spillman's football career may have been nondescript, but his "extracurricular" activities earned him much more infamy. Spillman operated as a special teams guy for most of his career, leading the San Francisco 49ers special teams unit with 19 tackles in 2011. That would turn out to be the highlight of his career, however, as he failed to earn the starting free safety job and was cut by the 49ers in 2014.
Spillman would be picked up as a free agent by the Cowboys a day later, but near the start of the 2014 season, it was announced he was under investigation for a sexual assault that occurred at the team's hotel the day before they played a road game against the Rams. Spillman was allowed to finish out the season despite the investigation, but was not resigned by the team the following year. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison.
9 Jovan Belcher
The list of players, both living and deceased, who have been diagnosed with CTE -- a neurological, degenerative disease caused by multiple concussions -- continues to grow, bringing about far too many tragedies in the process. The murder-suicide committed by former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher is one of those tragic stories.
On December 1st, 2012, a shaken and disturbed Belcher drove the Chiefs' practice facility to commit suicide in front of his General Manager, head coach, and linebackers coach. Before doing so, he thanked them for trying to help him through his troubled relationship with his girlfriend, but told them it wasn't enough, and that he "can't go back now."
Just a short time before he ended his own life, he had fatally shot his girlfriend 10 times inside their shared residence. Belcher's mother later had her son's body exhumed to examine his brain for signs of CTE. An independent neuropathologist reported significant brain damage, prompting his mother to sue the NFL.
8 Michael Vick
When someone is trying to argue that we, as a nation, are too quick to forgive sports heroes after they've committed an egregious criminal act, Michael Vick's name often pops up. When Vick was drafted to the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, he was trumpeted by some as the Michael Jordan of the NFL, a bit of hype supported by his ubiquitous Nike endorsement.
But six years into his career, Vick would lose that endorsement after admitting in court that he "bankrolled gambling on dogfighting and helped kill some dogs" at a property he owned in rural Virginia known as Bad Newz Kennels. According to a federal investigation, Vick was not only involved in the financing of the operation, he also attended and participated in the fights. Worse, Vick also had a hand in killing several of the underperforming dogs using such gruesome methods as hanging and drowning.
After initially lying to a judge about his participation, Vick pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 23 months in prison. Though he was suspended from the NFL during that time, he was back playing for the Philadelphia Eagles just two years later, and two years after that he was re-signed to his endorsement deal with Nike.
7 Darren Sharper
Exactly how many despicable crimes does a legendary football player need to commit in order for his status in the NFL to be eclipsed by said crimes? That's a question that swirled around former Green Bay Packer safety Darren Sharper when his name appeared on the ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
Sure, as a football player, Sharper was a one-of-a-kind talent. He had a league-leading nine interceptions in both 2000 and 2009, the latter of which helped the New Orleans Saints go to and win the Super Bowl. But if Sharper's in serious consideration to have a bust in Canton, that means the Hall of Fame is willing to overlook the fact that Sharpe has admitted to sexually assaulting -- or intending to assault -- multiple women in four different states.
In 2015, Sharper pleaded guilty to drugging and sexually assaulting women in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Louisiana. His repeated offenses confirm Sharpe's status as a sexual predator, and after he serves his 20-year sentence, he will be required to register as a sex offender and complete a 3-year rehabilitation program. Whether all that is enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame remains to be seen.
6 O.J. Simpson
Despite a highly-publicized murder trial in which O.J. Simpson was painted as a jealous, abusive, cold-blooded man behind closed doors, his record-breaking NFL career is still fawned over by many. Coming off a Heisman-winning season at USC, Simpson would later go on to rush for the most yards by any running back in a 14-game season, win the NFL MVP, and become a Hall of Famer.
But even though "The Juice" was found not guilty in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, most people forget he actually was found liable for their deaths two years later in a civil trial, for which he was ordered to pay more than $33 million in damages.
Simpson made headlines again in 2007 when he robbed a memorabilia dealer at gunpoint in Las Vegas. He was found guilty of kidnapping, assault, robbery, and criminal conspiracy, and is currently serving a 33-year sentence.
5 Robert Rozier
Former defensive end Robert Rozier only played six games in the NFL before he was released by the St. Louis Cardinals amid allegations of drug use and other petty crimes. As it turns out, that would only be the start of his criminal record.
By 1986, Rozier had undergone a spiritual transformation, joining a black separatist cult known as "The Brotherhood" and rechristening himself Neariah Israel, or "Child of God." Rozier's induction into the cult came with a caveat: In order to join, he had to kill a white man -- a race the group referred to as "devils" -- and bring a body part back to the leader, Hulon Mitchell, a.k.a. Yahweh ben Yahweh, as proof of his dedication.
In all, Rozier admitted to committing seven murders at Yahweh's behest, operating as a self-described "Death Angel" for the group. He was given a reduced sentence of 22 years in exchange for confessing to four of the murders and acting as a witness in Yahweh's trial, where the cult leader was charged (and convicted) with conspiracy to commit murder. Rozier served only ten years of his sentence before being released and entered into Witness Protection, only to be arrested again for bouncing thousands of dollars worth of checks.
4 Rae Carruth
Former wide receiver Rae Carruth spent the entirety of his brief NFL career with the Carolina Panthers, who drafted him in the first round. But he's spent the entirety of his non-playing adult life in prison for conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend. In 1999, during his third season with the Panthers, Carruth hired a hit man to shoot and kill Cherica Adams, who was eight months along with his child. Carruth had wanted his girlfriend to have an abortion, but she refused.
According to the distressed 911 call made by Adams immediately after the incident, Carruth stopped his vehicle in front of hers in traffic, then someone else pulled up alongside of her and shot her four times. After she was rushed to the hospital, Adams was able to give birth to her son by way of emergency Caesarean section, but shortly afterward she fell into a coma that she never woke up from. Adams' son miraculously survived, but was stricken with cerebral palsy due to the traumatic birth.
After Adams died, Carruth fled. He was later captured hundreds of miles away, hiding in the trunk of a car outside of a motel in Tennessee. Though Carruth has never publicly admitted his involvement in the shooting, he was sentenced to 24 years in prison without parole.
3 Anthony Smith
On the field, Anthony Smith was paid to terrorize quarterbacks. Off the field, he was just as terrifying for free. Taken by the Los Angeles Raiders in the first round of the 1990 Draft, the defensive end racked up 57.5 sacks and 190 tackles over seven seasons. In his free time, he accumulated an eclectic array of criminal charges.
Smith was commonly described as something of a ticking time bomb by his friends. He did little to hide that fact, frequently telling sportswriters stories about his childhood that involved heavy drug use, gang activity, and not a small amount of theft. One such story was about how Smith had stolen a car and crashed it, killing two of his friends in the process.
In 2003, years after he'd retired from the NFL, Smith was charged with firebombing a furniture store after a dispute with the owner. But his main claim for being one of the biggest monsters in sports history came in 2015, when Smith was convicted in the murders of three men between 1999 and 2001, two of whom he kidnapped and tortured before killing them and dumping their bodies. He's also been charged with the 2008 murder of Maurice Ponce, though regardless of that case's outcome, Smith will serve three consecutive life sentences in prison.
2 Randall Woodfield
If a team drafts a football player with a substantial criminal record, they'd better be prepared for a backlash. Randall Woodfield already had numerous run-ins with the law when he was taken by the Packers in the 17th round of the 1974 draft. But just one year later, after being cut by Green Bay for unspecified reasons, Woodfield's rap sheet would expand in some truly terrifying ways.
In 1995, Woodfield was arrested for robbing women and forcing them to perform oral sex on him at knife-point. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but released in 1979 on parole. That would prove to be a terrible mistake, as Woodfield then engaged in a gruesome crime spree. He became known as the I-5 Killer, a mass murderer charged with the deaths of four people, and estimated to have killed 44 more and sexually assaulted almost 60 others over the span of just two years.
As recently as 2012, Portland's Cold Case Unit tied Woodfield to five additional murders.
1 Aaron Hernandez
There are some players who enter the league as completely unassuming characters, and then there are players like Aaron Hernandez. Long before Hernandez was drafted by the New England Patriots, he had a laundry list of criminal misdeeds that should have set off alarms for any potential NFL suitors.
In 2007, at the tender age of 17, Hernandez ruptured a restaurant employee's eardrum when the man tried to escort Hernandez out of the building after refusing to pay his bill. That same year, he was a major suspect in a double shooting that left two men wounded.
In 2012, Hernandez was again under investigation, this time for a double murder in Boston. (He's currently standing trial for that case.) One year later, a friend of Hernandez's filed a lawsuit against him, claiming Hernandez had shot him after an altercation at a Miami strip club. He was eventually indicted for witness intimidation, as the friend had reportedly witnessed the double murder in Boston the year before.
All of this before we even get to his most high-profile crime, the first-degree murder of semipro football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez is currently serving a life sentence without he possibility of parole in a maximum security prison.
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