With professional sports playing such a large, central role in our culture today, we can sometimes get caught up in looking upon the athletes that play those sports as next-level humans. They’re on TV, they’re in the news, they’ve got more money than any 10 people could spend in a lifetime, and their level of athleticism is so far superior to ours that we marvel at their ability to do only what we can dream about.
But once you remove the veil of pop culture, the lights of the stadium and the logo on the front of their uniforms, you come to realize that professional athletes are just like you and me. They’re just people who happen to perform their chosen sport at an extremely high level, that’s all. They still have their strengths, their weaknesses, their idiosyncrasies, and especially their vulnerabilities. Believe it or not, they’re human, even though they might play like they’re alien-born superheroes.
Pro football players are no different. We watch them clash on the gridiron for a few hours each week and then get on with our lives. We think of them first as Sunday NFL stars and not so much as everyday people. But they are, and they’re not immune to making bad life decisions or ending up in embarrassing situations.
So whether or not they will ever live these down, here are 15 things, ranging from cringe-worthy at best to downright egregious at worst, that these Super Bowl winners probably want you to forget.
14 Joe Namath's Drunken Interview With Suzy Kolber
While it was funny at the time, it was probably a godsend for Broadway Joe when he drunkenly humiliated himself during a live sideline interview with ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber at a Monday Night Football game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots in 2003.
Namath, who won Super Bowl III with the Jets in 1969, answered the segment’s first question pretty well for a guy three sheets to the wind, but it was all downhill from there. Slurring his words, he repeatedly told Kolber he wanted to kiss her, which to her credit, Kolber handled pretty well. The only good thing to come out of the shameful incident is that it made Namath realize he had a drinking problem and helped put him on a path to recovery.
13 Ben Roethlisberger’s Assault Accusations
Not once, but twice has Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger been accused of sexual misconduct. The first stemmed from an alleged incident involving a resort employee in 2009 at a Harrah’s property in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and the second from a claim that he had assaulted a college student in a nightclub bathroom in Milledgeville, Georgia.
While neither incident resulted in criminal prosecution, the negative undertones of what he was accused of doing has dogged him ever since. He lost at least one big endorsement deal from the ordeal, and he has been the target of a lot of hate from opposing fans across the league.
It won’t be easy for him to shed the “villain” label as he enters the final years of his playing career, but the allegations are certainly something he wishes would fade from our memories soon.
12 Eugene Robinson Soliciting A Street Worker
If it’s irony you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. Eugene Robinson won a title with the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 as a Pro-Bowl safety, but when went back to the championship game as a member of the Atlanta Falcons two years later, he’d have a lot less luck than the first time around.
Robinson was awarded the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award for the player best exemplifying integrity, leadership and character for the 1998 season the night before Super Bowl XXXIII. That very same night, he solicited a Miami prostitute who, unfortunately for him, was actually an undercover cop, and arrested him on the spot. Not a good look for the Bart Starr Award winner.
The next day’s title game went about as bad as it could for a guy who got thrown in the slammer the night before. Robinson gave up several key plays in a losing effort and ultimately gave back the award.
11 Bill Belichick and Spygate
While their repeated behavior in recent years doesn’t much help matters, Spygate is probably the original sin that led to the New England Patriots being widely referred to as the Evil Empire.
In what head coach Bill Belichick called a “misunderstanding of the rules,” the Patriots were investigated by the NFL and eventually Congress for illegally videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals during a game in 2007.
For his transgressions, Belichick was fined half a million dollars, while the Pats organization was docked $250,000 and their first-round draft pick in 2008. With New England caught blatantly cheating, it led to a lot of speculation about their previous Super Bowl wins in 2002, 2004 and 2005 and probably has Belichick wishing you’d forget all about it.
10 Ray Lewis' Murder Investigation
There is still a cloud of mystery surrounding former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ involvement in the stabbing deaths of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker outside an Atlanta nightclub on the morning of Jan. 31, 2000, and Lewis wants the whole situation to go away.
It was the night of Super Bowl XXXIV in which the St. Louis Rams beat the Tennessee Titans at the Georgia Dome, and Lewis’ group of friends got into a fight with another group leaving a watch party in downtown Atlanta. When the dust settled, Lollar and Baker had been killed, but apparently no one had seen who was responsible.
Despite some missing key evidence, Lewis stood trial and ended up accepting a plea bargain to testify against a couple of his friends. But the prosecution’s case fell apart, and no convictions were ever made. Still, Lewis’ reputation suffered for the rest of his playing career and sticks with him even today.
9 Joe Montana's Mustache
Do you ever look back at old photos of yourself and violently cringe at what you thought was stylish back in the day? I imagine legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana does that every time he sees a picture of himself and that ridiculous horseshoe mustache he was sporting in the early-1980s.
Look, I get facial hair is all the rage again these days, and you may or may not come down on the side of the ‘stache, but that thing was brutal. It just looked out of place the way it flanked the corners of his mouth and populated his otherwise clean-shaven face. We’re bordering on creepy here, folks. Throw in his shaggy blonde mop, and the whole thing is… off-putting. I’d be willing bet he’d rather no one remember that look.
8 Brett Favre's Texting Scandal
It’s bad enough to blow up some woman’s cell phone with lewd texts, but once you start (allegedly) blasting out photos of your junk and leaving her harassing voice mails – as a married man, no less – you put yourself in danger of landing on lists like this.
Brett Favre, for all the good-guy, fan-favorite reputation he had built up for 16 years as the darling starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, changed the way people thought about him in a matter of weeks when he went to play for the New York Jets in 2008.
He ended up admitting to the voice mails he left on then Jets media host Jenn Sterger’s phone and was fined $50,000 when he refused to cooperate with the league’s investigation into the matter. It was one of the lowest moments in Favre’s career, and he no doubt would prefer you forgot about it.
7 Ray Rice’s Domestic Violence Case
The video evidence of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice laying his hands on his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, inside an elevator in 2014 is pretty damning. It’s hard to watch without harboring a seed of contempt for the man, and it’s definitely not something that you can just erase from your memory.
What made it worse was the way he subsequently dragged her out of the elevator and dropped her on the ground without much concern about causing further injury.
After an initial two-game suspension, the NFL exiled Rice for the entire 2014 season. Immediately before that, the Ravens had released him from his contract. He has since been reinstated by the NFL, but it’s hard to put that sort of violence out of mind, and no team has since signed him.
6 Michael Irvin’s Drug Arrest
Former Dallas Cowboys superstar receiver Michael Irvin has gotten into his fair share of drug-related incidents, but perhaps the most embarrassing was in 1996, when a party in an Irving, Texas hotel room two days before his 30th birthday was broken up, with Irvin inside, and copious amounts of illegal paraphernalia scattered about.
Irvin was arrested and later indicted on second-degree felony charges involving cocaine and marijuana. He served four years of probation for the crimes and paid a $10,000 fine as well as 800 hours of community service. He was also suspended for the first five games of the 1996 season.
While these are pretty serious substance crimes, Irvin still maintains a prominent role in his community and was even inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. But his past transgressions will be hard to forget no matter what kind of upstanding citizen he is today.
5 Sean Payton And Bountygate
He may not have been a direct participant in the Bountygate scandal that rocked the NFL beginning with the initial reports in 2010, but the buck ultimately stopped with New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, who reportedly failed to shut down the program despite orders to do so. As such, he took the lion’s share of the blame for it.
It’s a dark blemish on Payton and the Saints organization as a whole. Players were supposedly challenged to injure guys from opposing teams in exchange for cash bounties. And while nothing was necessarily proven, a two-year investigation by the NFL into the conduct of the Saints’ front office led to Payton being suspended for the entire 2012 season and a thug reputation being hung on the 2010 Super Bowl champs.
4 Warren Sapp Soliciting A Street Worker
Warren Sapp joined the long line of NFL stars busted for hiring a lady of the night when he was caught soliciting a prostitute in Phoenix, Arizona in 2015, while he was there covering the Super Bowl for the NFL network. Not only was he arrested for soliciting, he faced charges of assault when an apparent dust-up erupted over the exchange of money.
It’s bad enough to get arrested in an unfamiliar city, but when you’re a former Super Bowl champ and expected to be on TV to talk football in the coming days and then you get the boot from your employer after getting bailed out of jail, it’s gotta be one of the most humiliating situations imaginable.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure his scandalous act will be forgotten any time soon.
3 Tom Brady’s Photo With A Goat
Maybe it was some sort of foreshadowing. After all, like it or not, Tom Brady is the GOAT – as in Greatest Of All Time. But that model photo of him in GQ Magazine holding a goat is too bizarre for words.
The dude’s got five Super Bowl rings, a supermodel wife and a lifetime of wealth to his name, so it’s hard not to look cool no matter what the situation. But Brady managed to do exactly that with the photo of him embracing the farm animal and that “what the hell are you looking at?” face he had on.
Surely, he can’t be proud of that embarrassing little nugget of blackmail material, but it will undoubtedly live on in meme-like infamy until the end of days.
2 Peyton Manning's Postseason Record
There’s no denying Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, and he’s even won a Super Bowl or two along the way. But if we’re being honest, he probably should have won a few more.
For whatever reason, though, Peyton Manning was nowhere near as good in the playoffs as he was in the regular season. Despite having the second-most career playoff starts among NFL quarterbacks, Manning owns the most playoff losses, including nine one-and-out postseasons and a record of 14-13.
In case anyone began to forget how very mediocre Manning was in the playoffs, you can’t not remember the Broncos’ 43-8 drubbing in Super Bowl XLVIII at the hands of the powerhouse Seattle Seahawks. Of course, even though his end-of-career title in the 2016 championship game will do wonders to reverse his reputation, he’ll always be just a hair over .500 for his postseason career.
1 Jason Pierre-Paul’s Fireworks Incident
Remember rule No. 1 your parents told you about playing with fireworks? It probably went something along the lines of don’t blow your fingers off. Well, apparently Jason Pierre-Paul missed that meeting. In a July 4, 2015 accident, Pierre-Paul managed to mangle his right hand when a firework exploded up in his hand.
Beyond embarrassing, it can be hard to do your job in the NFL when you only have one and-a-half hands to work with. Despite the new challenges he’s faced since then, Pierre-Paul seems to be doing just fine as one of the defensive leaders of the New York Giants.
He made a PSA about fireworks safety the following year, but I have a feeling that was more to save face than anything. Since, you know, he couldn’t offer a hand.
Sorry about that one.
1. Plaxico Burress Shooting Himself
It’s hard to be gangster with a hole in your leg. Plaxico Burress found that out the hard way when he accidentally discharged the weapon he was illegally carrying in a New York nightclub in 2008 and put bullet into himself.
Gun safety apparently wasn’t top of mind for the former Super Bowl champion wide receiver, because according to him, he was carrying the weapon inside his waistband and accidentally pulled the trigger when it began to slide down his pant leg.
He was charged with two counts of felony gun possession and ended up serving a two-year prison sentence. He was released by the Giants but returned to football in 2011 and played for the Jets and Steelers before retiring following the 2012 season.
Sorry, Plaxico, that’s just not something people forget.