Of all the major North American sports, football undoubtedly has the worst track record when it comes to its athletes getting in trouble off the field. In recent years, the many arrests of NFL players—including high profile players such as Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson—has been a black eye on the league, prompting commissioner Roger Goodell to enforce stricter penalties in an effort to clean up the sport’s image. From the end of the 2015 Super Bowl to August 2015 alone, over 20 players were arrested, with crimes ranging from assault to drug possession to animal cruelty.
But it’s not just active players who are getting into trouble; it’s also former players. Unfortunately, the NFL has a long and dark history of its players hitting rock bottom after they leave the game. And it’s not just criminal activity; it’s also bankruptcy and addiction. As new studies on the physical and mental effects of repeated head traumas come out, we are also learning that former players often suffer permanent damages from playing football, sometimes leading to erratic behavior or even untimely death.
Here’s the list of 15 football players who hit rock bottom after leaving the NFL.
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15 Terrell Owens
As one of the more polarizing figures in the history of the league, the inclusion of Terrell Owens on this list is sure to bring a smile to the face of more than a few football fans and players, including former teammate Donovan McNabb, with whom Owens had his fair share of run-ins. Say what you want about Owens, but with six Pro Bowl appearances, over 1,000 career receptions, and over 15,000 receiving yards, he is inarguably one of the best wide receivers ever to play the game.
In 2014, Forbes wrote an article about Owens’s financial troubles, calling him a “cautionary tale for financial advisors seeking to serve pro athletes.” In the article, Owens is described as being virtually broke as a result of being “swindled” by agents and a financial advisor. Not long after retiring, nearly all of the $80 million that T.O. earned in his career was gone.
Owens now has his own weekly podcast, called Timeout with T.O., on which he talks about recent NFL games and news.
14 Tiki Barber
When Tiki Barber wasn’t fumbling the ball, he was actually a pretty good running back, rushing for over 10,000 career yards and being named to three Pro Bowls, all with the New York Giants.
After retiring, Barber tried his hand at a number of different jobs. Rather than become a football analyst, the route that most retired NFL players take after retiring, he attempted to become a serious journalist, covering the news and politics. He was a co-host on Fox & Friends before moving over to MSNBC and briefly working on Morning Joe, a morning talk show. He continued to work for NBC for a while until he was let go, at which point he moved over to CBS and began hosting his own morning radio show.
Unfortunately his post-NFL career didn't pay enough to cover the cost of his divorce settlement with ex-wife Ginny Cha, whom he left when she was just three months pregnant. According to The New York Post in 2010, the year of the divorce settlement, Barber was broke after losing his job at NBC and therefore unable to afford the support payments.
13 Mike Webster
Mike Webster’s post-retirement struggles were recently portrayed in the Hollywood film Concussion, starring Will Smith. A nine-time Pro Bowler and four-time Super Bowl champ, Webster, who is regarded as one of the greatest centers of all time, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Unfortunately, just five years after being inducted into the Hall of Fame he passed away from a heart attack after a long struggle with the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Now viewed as a prime example of the dangers of football, Webster’s story unfortunately is just one of many to come to light since Dr. Bennett Omalu made the public aware of the damaging effects of repeated head trauma. Once heralded as one of the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers of all time, Webster would go on to live a life filled with pain, both physical and mental. Before being taken care of by his teenage son in his final days, Webster lived out of a pickup truck and in train stations.
12 Justin Strzelczyk
Justin Strzelczyk’s tragic story is also depicted in the film Concussion. Like Webster, Strzelczyk is believed to have suffered from CTE as a result of years of damaging blows to the head. An eleventh round pick out of the University of Maine, Strzelczyk would go on to have a lengthy career as an offensive tackle in the NFL, one that would ultimately lead to his untimely death.
After retiring in 1998, Strzelczyk, who was known to be a heavy drinker, had several run-ins with the law. In 2000, he was arrested for carrying a gun without a permit, and in 2003 he received a DUI and had his license suspended for a year.
After his DUI arrest there was reason to believe that the former Steeler was turning his life around, as he quit alcohol and all forms of drug cold turkey. But the effects of CTE eventually got the best of him, and in 2004, Strzelczyk began to act paranoid, believing that the devil and “evil people in Pittsburgh” were out to get him, even going so far as to say that doctors “controlled people with anti-depressants.” Soon after, Strzelczyk died in a car crash when he collided head on with a large truck at 90 mph while attempting to evade the police. His death and erratic behavior were originally suspected to be the result of a drug/alcohol relapse, but it was later revealed that he had been suffering from severe brain damage, most likely from his days in the NFL.
11 Clinton Portis
Clinton Portis, who spent most of his career with the Washington Redskins, finished just shy of 10,000 rushing yards. Drafted in the second round out of Miami, Portis was an exceptionally consistent performer, putting up well over 1,000 yards in every full season in the league, with a career best 1,591 yards with the Denver Broncos in 2003.
Just a few years removed from the NFL, however, and Portis, who was named one of the 80 greatest Redskins of all time, is already in serious financial trouble. USA Today reported in December 2015 that he owes more than $5 million (he owes $500,000 to his mother alone, according to his bankruptcy filing). This despite making over $40 million in his career. Other expenses that put him in the red include several luxury cars, mortgage payments to the tune of over $1 million, and support payments to four women.
10 Deuce McAllister
Deuce McAllister put together some great seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including a career best 1,641 rushing yards/516 receiving yards in 2003, which earned him his second Pro Bowl appearance in a row. McAllister ended his successful careering the NFL on a high note, winning a Super Bowl ring in 2010 despite not playing.
Deuce is reported to have made about $70 million in his career, which makes his post-retirement financial struggles all the more surprising. Less than a year after leaving the NFL, McAllister’s house was lost to a Sheriff’s office auction. Most of his financial troubles stemmed from a failed car dealership, which put him roughly $7 million in debt.
9 Warren Sapp
With seven Pro Bowl appearances, Hall of Famer Warren Sapp is considered one of the best defensive tackles of all time. An intimidating figure at 6’2” 300 lbs., he was known for his hard hitting style of play, which garnered equal parts praise and criticism from around the league. Although he was prone to angry outbursts on the field, off of it he was a jovial giant, rarely seen without a big smile on his face.
Sapp wasn’t smiling, however, in 2010 when he was arrested for domestic battery. And his smile turned to an outright frown in his 2015 mug shot after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute.
Sapp’s post-retirement troubles are not limited to his run-ins with the law, however. He’s also had problems with his finances, filing for bankruptcy in 2012 in order to combat his overwhelming debt. His bankruptcy filings revealed that he had less than $1,000 in the bank and had lost both his Super Bowl ring and his NCAA championship rings.
8 Mark Brunell
Leftie quarterback Mark Brunell was named to three Pro Bowl teams, all while with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A fifth round pick, he was a surprise success in the NFL, playing for nearly two decades for five different teams while racking up over 32,000 passing yards and 184 passing touchdowns.
Unfortunately Brunell was not as successful a businessman as he was a football player. After losing a ton of money in poor investments, most notably by opening up numerous Whataburger establishments throughout Jacksonville, he was forced to file for bankruptcy. According to his 2010 Chapter 11 filing, Brunell had roughly $25 million in liabilities compared to just $5.5 in assets.
7 Travis Henry
Former Pro Bowler Travis Henry had a few good seasons in the NFL, rushing for over 1,000 yards on three separate occasions. However, his career was cut short by drug-related suspensions and arrests.
Henry has 9 children with 9 different women, so unsurprisingly he has had trouble keeping up with child-support payments, which led to his arrest in Florida in 2009. He reportedly has to pay over $170,000 a year in child support payments, which can’t be easy now that he no longer has a large NFL salary.
His 2009 child support payment arrest, however, was not the first time that he found himself behind bars. In 2008, Henry was named a key figure in a drug trafficking ring in Colorado, and he was sentenced to three years in prison. Not bad considering he could have been given ten to life.
6 JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell is one of the best (or perhaps worst) examples of a college football player who failed to make the transition to the NFL. A star at LSU, the Alabama native was drafted first overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007. Needless to say the Raiders had high hopes for Russell, who was coming off a Sugar Bowl win, wherein he was named MVP, but he fizzled out in no time, passing for just over 4,000 career yards and throwing more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (18).
One of the reasons Russell couldn’t cut it in pro ball was his conditioning. Near the end of his career he was listed at roughly 300 lbs., making him look more like a lineman than a quarterback. In 2013, it was reported that he had lost over 50 lbs. in an effort to make a comeback into the league, but it never amounted to anything and he officially played his last game in 2009, just three years out of college.
Being a 20-something retiree has not been good for Russell, who developed an addiction to codeine cough syrup (“lean”) and was arrested in 2010 for possessing the substance without a prescription. That, however, would be the least of his worries, as he apparently went broke in just a matter of years after leaving the NFL. Despite signing a $61 million contract (with $32 million guaranteed), he lost his $2.4 mansion to foreclosure in 2011 and was in dire need of a job.
5 Vince Young
After pretty much singlehandedly winning the Rose Bowl in 2006, Vince Young looked like a sure bet to be a perennial Pro Bowl QB in the NFL. But despite a solid rookie campaign in 2006 and a bounce back season in 2009, the former Heisman runner up never amounted to much, and was relegated to the roll of backup. After leaving the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him third overall, Young struggled to find a place in the NFL and retired in 2014 after being released by the Browns.
Even though he didn’t have the career he would have hoped for, Young still walked away from football with $34 million in salary earnings and $30 million more in endorsements. But he somehow managed to blow most of the money before even retiring, leaving him in a less than fortunate financial situation while still in his early 30s. It got so bad for Young that during a lawsuit over unpaid loans, the two-time Pro Bowler’s attorney said, “I would just say that Vince needs a job.”
4 Keith Wright
Drafted at the very end of the sixth round in 2003 out of Missouri, defensive tackle Keith Wright played in the NFL from 2003 to 2006, at which point he was assigned to NFL Europe, where he lasted only a short while.
Considering that Wright isn’t exactly the most accomplished football player, his fall to rock bottom might not seem like much of a drop. But what earned him such a high spot on this list wasn't the height from which he fell; it was the depth to which he sank. Roughly five years after leaving the sport, Wright was arrested in relation to a number of home invasions and sexual assaults. A year later he was found guilty of 19 charges and sentenced to a whopping 234 years and 8 months behind bars.
3 Ryan Leaf
Quarterback Ryan Leaf is less known for what he accomplished on the gridiron than for what he didn’t accomplish on it. Considered by many to be one of the biggest draft busts in the history of the NFL, Leaf, who was selected second overall out of Washington State in 1998, threw for just 3,666 yards with an abysmal 50.0 QB rating in his abbreviated time in the league.
Things only got worse for Leaf when he left—or rather was shunned from—the league. After several burglary and drug-related charges beginning in 2009, the former Heisman Trophy finalist was sentenced to seven years in custody, the first nine months of which were to be spent in an addiction treatment facility.
2 Lawrence Taylor
Often regarded as one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the sport, Lawrence “LT” Taylor racked up 132.5 sacks and over 1,000 tackles in his illustrious career, which included 10 Pro Bowl visits, 2 Super Bowls, and an MVP. Taylor played his entire 13-season career with the New York Giants, who retired his number in 1994.
Known for his controversial lifestyle during his playing days, the controversy only grew once he retired. His struggles with drugs and alcohol were well documented when he was with the Giants, once famously quoted as saying, “For me, crazy as it seems, there is a real relationship between wild, reckless abandon off the field and being that way on the field.” His problems became amplified once he retired, often finding himself in trouble with the law as a result of his hard partying lifestyle. In 2009, he was arrested for fleeing the scene of an accident, an offence that he had committed 13 years prior, and just six months later he was arrested yet again, this time for sleeping with an underage girl, which landed him on the sex offender registry.
1 OJ Simpson
Who else but OJ Simpson could be number one on this list? There’s no greater example of a “fall from grace” story than that of Simpson, a former Heisman Trophy winner and single-season rushing yards record holder who found himself standing trial in 1995 for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Simpson was found not guilty of murder. However, in 1997 he found himself on the losing ending of a civil suit that required him to pay $33.5 million to the families of the deceased (which they claimed he never paid).
Despite escaping the law once, he was unable to do so again in 2007, as he was found guilty of a number of felonies related to armed robbery and kidnapping and sentenced to 33 years in prison. Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada is a far cry from the upscale neighborhood of Brentwood, California, where OJ used to live.
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